saddle of venison on wooden board with big knife
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How Long Does Deer Meat Last In The Freezer?

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The season to get fresh deer meat is very short. So, when it comes around, most people tend to stock up as much as possible!

However, the downside to doing so is that the meat could spoil before you have access to new fresh meat.

So today we ask the question: how long does deer meat last in the freezer? In short, smaller cuts of deer meat or ground meat should only be stored in the freezer for 3 months. Larger meat cuts can last between 6-9 months. While technically the meat will still be safe to eat after this period, the quality won’t be nearly as good.

In this in-depth article, we’ll take a look at the many signs of spoiled deer meat in its various forms. We’ll also briefly discuss the proper techniques for storing and thawing frozen meat so you can get the best results when cooking it!

How To Tell If Deer Meat Is Fresh?

Before going into how to tell when deer meat is spoiled, it’s important to understand what it looks like fresh. This is for two reasons:

  1. It will help you avoid freezing meat that is already close to going off.
  2. It will help you better identify what caused the meat to go off (and ultimately how to prevent it in the future).

Deer meat, also commonly referred to as venison, is any meat cut that comes from any deer.

This meat looks very similar to mutton and beef in most ways. However, there are a few key differences that can help you immediately identify them.

To start: deer meat has a very dark, reddish-brown color to it. The color is highly saturated and rich. This type of meat is not very fatty, so you won’t have much (if any) yellow or white marbling or fatty edges on the cuts.

You should also feel the meat. Fresh deer meat has a very firm and tough texture with a relatively smooth and silky surface

And finally, as we always say, if it smells like meat, it’s not uber-fresh anymore. The best quality and freshest cuts of venison have a gamey smell — it also just smells like fresh meat.

But trust us, you will know when something smells funky. With meat, it’s easy to determine!

How Long Can Deer Meat Be Frozen?

So, whether you are buying frozen deer meat or checking your own stash, there are pretty much set-in-stone time frames for how long deer meat will keep well in the freezer.

Technically, venison could still be safe to eat even if it has been frozen for two years! But that doesn’t mean the meat will be good — by then the meat will be tough and almost completely flavorless.

Like most things that are ultimately frozen, there is an ideal period within which the item should be thawed and used. Anything over this time and the quality of the item will not be good.

So, deer meat will easily last in the freezer between 3-9 months — that’s the ideal period. Smaller cuts should only be stored for about 3 months. Larger cuts (like steaks or roasts) can last a little longer, between 6-9 months.

Again, your deer meat will likely still be safe to eat after this time, but the quality of the meat will not be great. Always thaw and use venison within 12 months of freezing (at the very most).

How To Tell If Frozen Deer Meat Is Bad

There are different signs of spoilage for different forms of venison.

Today, we will look at how to tell if frozen deer meat is bad, if freshly thawed ground deer meat is off, and if fresh (thawed) venison cuts are spoiled.

Signs Of Spoilage In Frozen Deer Meat

Sometimes you can tell whether or not the meat has gone off while it’s still frozen. The benefit is that it saves you a ton of thawing time. However, the signs won’t always be there or visible.

If your frozen cut of meat has a grayish-brown color, it could be a sign of very old or spoiled deer meat.

You can also look out for any signs of excessive freezer burn. The meat may still be edible, but freezer burn ruins its texture and flavor. It may not be worth thawing and cooking.

And finally, if you can smell any pungent, acidic, or plastic-like aromas, it is a sign that the meat has spoiled in the freezer.

Signs Of Spoilage In Thawed Ground Deer Meat

Ground meat has a bigger surface area than meat cuts. Therefore, it is a lot more susceptible to premature spoilage. The signs also differ from larger cuts, which is why we wanted to discuss them separately.

Now, freshly ground deer meat has a very rich, dark red-brown color (as we’ve covered above). But when it starts going off, it turns into different shades of brown, gray, and even green.

The meat will also completely lose its firm texture. Depending on how spoiled it is, it can even turn watery and completely mushy.

And don’t forget to check the smell. Ground meat will have an incredibly pungent rotting smell, almost like sewage! If you pick up any sour or rotting smells, it is not safe to eat.

If you are unfortunate enough to have cooked rotting ground deer meat, the flavor will give it away. Tasteless meat isn’t necessarily spoiled, but for safety, you shouldn’t eat it. If you pick up any bitter or sour flavors, stop eating at once!

Signs Of Spoilage In Thawed Cuts Of Deer Meat

Now, if your frozen cut didn’t show any signs of spoilage, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t gone off. Once thawed, it will be easy to determine if the cut has gone off.

So, to start, you will immediately notice a brown, black, or green color. The cut will lack any rich reddish-brown undertones, and the colors may even be patchy. These are all signs that show the meat isn’t good anymore.

The texture of the meat will also be incredibly mushy. Some cuts will even have a slimy layer on the surface. Neither of these is good. It is best to throw away the meat.

As with ground-thawed deer meat, the smell of spoiled meat will also be more pungent, sour, or sewage-like.

And again, if you, unfortunately, did prepare and cook the cut, if it tastes super metallic or sour (even flavorless), it’s best to put it aside.

Signs Of Spoilage In Deer Meat — Comparison Chart

Now that we’ve learned what to look out for with different forms of deer meat, here is a comparison chart to further break it down:

FrozenThawed GroundThawed Cuts
ColorShades of gray or brownShades of brown, gray, or greenUneven color with shades of brown, black, or green
TextureExcessive freezer burn or patches of ice on the surface of the meatWatery and mushy ground meatVery mushy texture with a potential slimy layer on the surface
AromaSour, acidic, plastic-likePungent rotting smell or it can smell like sewageSewage-like sour smells or pungent rotting odors
Taste(Please don't eat frozen and uncooked meat)Tasteless or slightly bitter or sourMetallic, sour, or flavorless

How To Properly Freeze Deer Meat

Now that we have looked at the in-depth signs of spoilage for deer meat and how long its different forms will last in the freezer, let’s look at how to freeze it.

Following the correct practices could ultimately extend or shorten the overall shelf life of the cut!

Step 1: Portion The Deer Meat

The reason portioning is so important is that it ultimately prevents food waste.

If you want to thaw a small portion of ground deer meat, but it’s been divided into 2-pound bags, you will need to thaw the entire bag. And as you know, you cannot re-freeze thawed meat!

Step 2: Wrap The Meat

If you are wrapping the meat, you can use freezer wrap or waxed paper. But, an even better option would be to store the meat cuts (or ground meat) in freezer bags or vacuum bags. There are a lot more robust.

If in any way possible, vacuum seal the meat. It will remove as much air as possible, making it more difficult for bacteria to spoil the meat. If not an option, remove as much air as you can from the bag you are storing the meat in.

Step 3: Wrap In Foil

Once the meat has been wrapped in the first layer, you can cover it with a layer of aluminum foil. It is an old trick our chef-friends taught us.

The aluminum foil acts as an additional protective layer against excessive freezer burn. Remember, freezer burn can ruin the texture and flavor of the meat without making it inedible.

Step 4: Label

Next is an equally important step that not many people do. It is highly recommended to label the cut of meat. You should write the type of meat, the meat cut, when it was frozen, and the estimated use-by date.

All of this will ensure that you don’t forget about the meat! It also helps stock rotation so that you can use the oldest products first so they don’t go off.

Step 5: Freeze

Finally, bet you thought we’d never get here! You can place the wrapped and labeled meat into the freezer.

Make sure that your freezer runs at a stable cold temperature. Ideally, that should be at 0ºF (-18ºC).

How To Thaw Deer Meat Correctly

The best way to thaw deer meat is slowly (this applies to all kinds of meat).

Place your frozen cut on a plate or roasting pan. Then, place the container or plate inside the fridge. Leave the meat to thaw overnight. Larger meat cuts will take more time than smaller cuts or ground venison.

If you thawed the meat in the fridge, it can be stored for another 2 days before you cook it.

You can also speed up the thawing process, but you’ll have to use the meat immediately.

First, you can place the deer meat in a container at room temperature. Depending on the size of the meat and the temperature of the room, it can take anywhere from 2-5 hours to thaw completely.

Then, you can also thaw it in the microwave on the defrosting setting for a couple of minutes. Monitor the progress to make sure the meat doesn’t cook. Even on the lowest setting, at some point, the outside will start cooking!

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