Archive for the ‘Butchering Game Meats’ Category

The Untold Stories – Black Bear [Pt 1]


Gutting a Black Bear w/ Pocket KnivesWhen we started to take a look at the 2014 production schedule of From The Wild, it was clear that there were going to be some epic memories captured on camera. One of those was the haul-out of the black bear in crotch-deep water, then walking a mile or two in sloshing boots and soaked jeans with a bear carcass soaking the guys in blood. What I didn’t expect as an outcome of the project is the crazy, hard to believe true stories that simply wouldn’t or couldn’t make the episode edit for a variety of reasons – in the case of the bear haul-out, it was far crazier than shown in the edit, but I had to tame down the gore if we were going to have any chance at a broadcaster touching it. So that’s one memory left out of the edit – the intense gore associated with the project. We’re constantly debating the merits of sanitization of food content.

Another is the simple lack of time to spell everything out – an example being the bear skull below that did appear in the final shot. It’s the actual skull from the sow harvested in the episode. We’d taken a few days between the hunt and the post interviews, and in that time Trevor had boiled, peroxided, and painstakingly cleaned the skull – including gluing in any teeth that had fallen out during the process. No small task. I’m still impressed. Didn’t have time to mention the context of the skull in the show though.

Also didn’t have time to mention what’s happening in the photo top left. I laughed. We were prepared, and well equipped, with all field dressing gear in my vehicle. Except that evening we’d hopped into Jeff’s vehicle as it was far more capable in the mud holes we were going to need to get through in the area we wanted to check out. When it came time to gut the bear: no field dressing knives. Trevor happened to have a couple crappy pocket knives he’d been handed by a relative earlier in the week – still in his pocket. So the boys got to it with horribly qualified tools. These are two pro butchers who, side by side, kill and gut a dozen or two animals every week at work, struggling to gain every inch through the hide. Then Jeff says ‘no problem, I’ve had to gut an animal with my Durango key before’. Dodge Durango. Couldn’t believe it. #superhero

Worst of all though, is having to omit ‘that which might be misunderstood‘. This episode has an intense story attached to it that one day may make ‘Part 2′. Maybe.

My takeaway: for all the epic adventure we can capture and show on camera, there will always be so much more to the story. It’s a piece of the legacy of the series that’s becoming dear to me - an unexpected treasure.

Black Bear Skull

Episode 53 – Duck


Confession: I packed in waterfowl hunting for a number of years for a few reasons. First reason – the more I learned about appropriate practices around animal slaughter in general, the less it made sense to shoot a hundred+ pellets at any and all of the prime cuts of an animal, have it fall from the sky to bruise on the ground, not necessarily killing it immediately, and not to be bled. I would not do that to a pig, say. Second reason – I had yet to prepare it in a fashion that I could really get excited about in the kitchen. There are a million ways to screw it up, and it took half a decade for me to realize that it’s kind of like squid – needs proficient quick preparation execution, or very, very, very long cooking time. Skip absolutely everything in between at your own peril.

Having been served some really nice goose a couple months back by Danny VanCleave – the guide in Episode 52 – I was re-inspired to give waterfowl another chance. And I’m glad I did. Turns out my displeasure with it in the kitchen was simply due to my inefficacy around its preparation. I admit it. Still think the slaughter method is crazy and wasteful, and that plucking in the presence of any shot hole in the body is insane though…

Chef Unleashed, Or Not


Now for something a little different. Or way different as after 600+ posts this is my first post of somebody else’s work. Chris Cosentino [little known fact, Hank Shaw and I first 'met' commenting on Chris' blog] posted this video on Vimeo, along with a write up about it that’s worth a read. Summary: it’s super cool and meaningful but just too real for reality TV. Hence me feeling compelled to spread the good word.

I see this as important work. Important work about education and respect for what we eat. I’m not going to watch another show about 30 min meals [not even Jamie Oliver's], but I’d watch 100 shows like ‘Chef Unleashed’. It’s really sad TV execs have to say no to fantastic content. If it were ’1000 ways to enjoy boneless skinless chicken breast’, I’m sure Chris would get the green light. If he could do it in 30 minutes, wow. Sad. Enjoy the video. I did (clearly). [If you do, tweet up @offalchris to let him know.]

Meat Law


I am not a lawyer. Did I mention I’m not a lawyer? Sadly, I feel apprehensive to discuss law as it implies somebody will misinterpret this, act upon it [ie, do something stupid], and point to me as the source of their lack of awesomeness. Yeah, don’t do that please. I’m addressing this topic to try to share some of what I’ve learned in the past week about butchering at home, and to have an open discussion about it.

I first will refer you to the Acts, as I was: the Meat Inspection Act and Meat Inspection Regulation are the relevant pieces of legislation. These would presumably be the last word on the subject,  but as if often the case with law even after a few reads it was far from clear where the boundaries were for home butchering. I sought interpretations from the investigator at Alberta Ag that is probably sick of hearing from me by now.

The conclusion I reached based on what I was told, was that one can butcher inspected pork, beef, etc at home without permit or license, but that said meat cannot be given or sold, and is only to be used for one’s immediately family. I can’t find the legal verbage in the Act to support some of this [especially the 'give' part], but as aforementioned, I’m not a lawyer, and am relying on guidance from the Regulatory Services Division of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. One needs a Public Health Permit for the premises if one is processing for resale – makes sense. One cannot obtain uninspected meat direct from a local farm. [If I'm later told I'm misinformed about anything in this paragraph, I'll edit this immediately]

There is one clear exemption pertaining to uninspected meat – section 6.2(b) of the Meat Inspection Regulation clearly excludes wildlife as defined under the Wildlife Act. So I read the Wildlife Act. Section 62(1) says ‘a person shall not traffic in wildlife’, and although they go on to define ‘traffic’, it did not mention ‘give’. So I called a Fish and Wildlife officer to get an interpretation of ‘traffic’. First, he was clear that I could give away game meat. Note the difference – can’t give away inspected domestic meat, but can with game meat. I find that odd. Secondly, he was clear that any exchange for cash or other form of consideration could be deemed trafficking. I grew up knowing the sale of wild game meats was illegal – so this was not news to me. Reaching a conclusion on the wild game side was relatively easy – far easier than wading through the domestic meat side.

So at the end of the day, having burned a week of my time reading meat legislation and talking to those charged with enforcing those laws, I’m pleased with where my practices stand relative to the law. Which…I was before hand. Glad everyone’s happy. If you’re left unsure, contact Alberta Ag re: domestic animals and Fish and Wildlife re: wild game – they’ll be able to answer your questions better than I.

Investigated by AARD re: Butchering At Home


I just got an interesting phone call. It was a very nice guy from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Regulatory Services Division investigating my home butchering practices. Apparently my home butchering has gained enough public attention to draw some question as to the legalities of what I’ve been doing? Interesting. I thought I’d share the content and outcome of the conversation as it is relevant to my advocacy for home butchering.

The big question it seems was whether or not I’m buying meat, and then reselling it butchered, which most folks reading my blog would know is not the case. There clearly are regulations for meat processing facilities when the product is for resale, and I don’t think anybody [or at least I didn't think anybody] is under the impression that I’m running a butcher/meat shop in my garage and am charging for my services. The good news for home butchering is that so long as it’s for your consumption, you’re allowed to go ahead and do it. Apparently I’m on side. No problems there.

But that led me to a question: my friends and I buy 3 pigs from a local farm, and I write the cheque to the farmer when I pick them up – when my friends pay me for their share/pig, is that then deemed to be me selling processed meat? We’re cutting it together, and folks leave with their share. I was assured that there was no problem with this practice, some common sense would apply, and that it would still be clear that I am not in the business of selling value-added meats. There is no problem with me getting together with friends to butcher.  Good. I would hope not, but was interested if having the friends actually pay the farmer themselves for their animal would be a better practice.  I was assured there was no problem with my existing approach.

I was then asked whether or not I was getting animals via going to the farm, harvesting them there, and bringing them home. As I usually mention in the posts about the butchering, we pick our animals up from a local meat processor, who do the kill/chill, have it inspected, and we take the carcasses from there. Totally legit practice. Carcasses need to be inspected – totally get that. I’m all for that. No butchering of uninspected domestic meats, check.

So the conclusion was that what I’ve been doing was fine according to the law of the land. I have the contact name and number of the nice guy doing his job that called to investigate my practices. If you live in Alberta and have any question about your home butchering practices, I’ll be happy to pass his name on to you so that we can be doing the best we can to be on side with any regulations around it. I know I’m glad I have his number in case I have questions myself.

I have to admit, I’m left wondering who led the provincial regulatory body to believe that I might need to be investigated. I asked twice, but didn’t really get an answer. Interesting.


Butchering Cow Elk. I’m done.


I’m tired of butchering. I’m tired of writing about butchering. I’m tired of making you read about it. I’m done. So very, very thankfully, this was the end of the butchering road for 2010. No more. By next fall, I’ll be stoked to get back at it, I’m sure, but for now I’m happy to pack away the knives and butcher paper for the year and call her quits.

How on earth do I have a cow elk to butcher, you ask? A friend offered to share, and I opted for a hind quarter of a cow or side of calf if they were successful – and they were. I picked the quarter  up this morning and gave the guys a hand butchering, then cut my quarter here and there throughout the day – one of the perks of having a cellar sitting at 1C: I can now hang animals and tackle them whenever makes sense. Of note here is the copious fat on a later-season elk – I can’t say I’ve cut a game animal with this much fat, although my dad says all the elk in Nov/Dec are fat like this. As per Hank’s advice, I melted some fat in a pan to smell it and assess its quality and keep-ability – and it actually wasn’t all that bad. I expected worse. It had a fried-cheese-fat vibe, actually, that I’m sure some folks would be quite into. I kept a fat-on top sirloin roast for the first time in my life.

It’s been a pretty big year in the big game hunting department, my freezer sporting sections of antelope, calf moose, bull elk, and now cow elk. I also partook in tenderloin of both white tail and mule deer thanks to friends’ sharing. Quite the cornucopia of wild meats. The work is now done. Time to enjoy some winter rest.

How to Harvest a Tongue


I recently was invited to attend a culinary competition at NAIT. On the menu were local lake fishes, elk, bison, and pulses [legumes] from our province. Pretty cool to see pickerel starters done 12 ways by 12 teams – reminds me of home.

The table I sat at, which happened to be served the menu from the winning team, was attended by the family of one of the competitors – myself being the odd man out. Which led to discussions of why I was there. Which led to the question from a female diner “how do you remove the tongue out of a game animal? I’ve tried, and couldn’t get it“.  I’m fairly certain I’ll go my whole life without being asked that again while eating at a fine dining establishment.

What’s funny, is that I actually had taken photos of the process while on this year’s calf moose hunt. I took the tongues of both the calf moose and the bull elk – which is seen in the photo. I’ve harvested them ever since first trying them on this night.

A few words of advice for those wishing to give it a go. First, although doable, removing it while the animal is hanging is a chore. Things are moving around too much. Get the head set up securely. With this bull elk, the antlers and a stump provided the best setup I’ve ever worked on for the operation.  Next tip. Do it while the animal’s still warm. Every part of the process is easier if you do.

First, expose the bottom of the jaw as seen in this photo.  See that ‘V’ formed by the jaw bones? You need to run your knife along either side to free it up. I’ve found the tricky bit is freeing up the the bottom tip of the V. It doesn’t seem to want to let go there. I keep cutting out that V until I can grab the tip of the tongue from the inside, and pull it out. Once you get there, the rest is easy – simply cut away whatever else is holding it in, and take it off as far up as you can. What to do with it? .

I’m surprised at the bad rap tongue seems to have. It’s not weird. It tastes of the animal meat it’s from rather than like an organ or something funky. My dad made fun of me as I took the cheeks out of this bull elk – clearly not normal for the guys, and as the razzing and teasing carried on about lips and assholes [I did mention that I'd take the testicles if it wouldn't cause an evidence of sex concern while transporting the animal], I shot back with a comment how he who mocks off-cuts and wine drinking probably eats more of both in his hot dogs and brandy than I. We laughed.

Calf Moose Butchering Day 2010


For the last 20 years, I’ve butchered moose more years than not, always at my dad’s place with him involved. This was the first time I’d butcher a moose at our home, and to add to the fun, I was joined by good company: Allan from Button Soup, Kristeva of Howling Duck Ranch, and long-time-friend and sommelier-in-training Erin. Butchering is indeed a job where many hands make light(er) the work, and I’m grateful to have had them.

I’ve been keen to post some video on butchering game meats. It’s no instructional video, instead offering a brief look at how we tackled it this year. I laughed a bit inside while editing as this is not normally how we break down a moose – particularly bull moose. What normally happens is that the major muscle groups are removed largely while the carcass is hanging – perhaps more practical with a large bull, but not so here.

Our butcher-day-lunch? Ruffed grouse, elk loin, calf moose tenderloin, mule deer tenderloin, garden slaw, and mashed potatoes with leeks washed down with apple and saskatoon wine. About as seasonal and regional as it gets.

Gone Butchering…


I dearly wish I had the time to edit video at the moment, and will as soon as I can afford an evening, but the bottom line is when there’s a carcass hanging, priority one is getting it dealt with. And from the time you pull the trigger to the time it’s all in a freezer involves a WHOLE lot of steps, and a fair jag of time.

Because I’m picky with game cutting – no connective tissue [it doesn't break down like pork or beef], bones [they stink when cooked imo], sinew/silverskin [unless you like slimy snot, even post cooking], cartilage, or anything other than simply ‘meat’ for that matter is allowed – it’s a pretty time consuming task. With a cow or pig, you can make cross-muscular cuts into large sections, leave bones in, etc.  I’ve seen guys break down beef with a band saw in a few minutes. With game, it ain’t like that: every muscle is separated from its neighbor and cleaned thoroughly. At least that’s how I do it.

So that is what I’m doing.

re video: I shot a From Local Farms episode at Irvings Farm Fresh prior to my hunt, as well as footage of butchering of an antelope. Then I have this hunt video, and possibly a ‘how to butcher a moose’ video. I’m going to be busy for a while…

How to butcher an antelope.

How to butcher an antelope.

First, acquire an antelope. Mine arrived this morning at 06:30, wrapped up all nice.

Next, cut and trim as fast as you can before the temperature warms up and the wasps unleash their fury on you. This required that I start in the dark – a choice working environment when using knives. If the birds you attract look like they’re going to help you cut meat, thrown them a bone.

There, you’re done!