Monday, October 1, 2012

How do I age wild game in the fridge?

Jamie from Roaring Spring, PA asked:

I live in PA and like to shoot a few does for the table. Before I hunt bucks in November, I shoot them, skin them and quarter them, put them in the fridge for 24 hr then process and freeze them.

I would like to try aging this year. It's in the 50's during the day and 30's at night. How do I age the meat in the fridge, and for how long? Thanks!


Aging game is one of my favorite topics and without a doubt the most overlooked part of processing quality game meats. It's so important and very few hunters understand proper aging of game.

In fine steakhouses you will often see the term "Our steaks are aged a full 21 days." This statement is based on the fact that most finished cattle have a carcass weight of 700 lbs on average. So if you age the carcass 3 days for every 100 lbs of carcass weight, you are looking at 21 days!

If you apply the same theory to your wild game meats, you would have this formula. A 100 lb dressed deer carcass should be aged at least 3 days at a temperature of 33 degrees F - 41 degrees F. I'm telling you what is "required" by the USDA. Try to stay within those temperature ranges. If the temperature goes above and then drops below, I'm not saying you're going to have bad meat... I'm just saying what the USDA book says. As you can understand, that's what I have to go by. "What you do is up to you."

What happens when meat ages?? Here is what's going on: The body moisture evaporates from the carcass. This is called dry aging. The good bacteria that is in all protein and is needed for the human digestive system begins to break down the muscle tissue and tenderize the meat. (Vegetarians don't get this good bacteria, which is often a major issue with Vegetarianism).

If you freeze the meat too quickly, you freeze the body moisture in the carcass, and the evaporation process can not occur. If you freeze the bacteria in the meat, the muscle tissue cannot break down. This is why aging game meat is so very important.

Dry age your meat and you will allow the game flavor to evaporate out and the bacteria will break down the muscles and give you a much better product!

Thanks for such a great question fellow PA Hunter!!

Brad Lockwood

"The Meat Man"


  1. The USDA recommends that you NOT age deer. In an article I wrote years ago, I interviewed a veterinarian at USDA and he said that there are only two animals indigenous to the US that benefit from aging. One is beef, the other is bison. In the article this vet explained that these two animals have a specific enzyme that helps break down the tissue. He went on to say that the idea of aging elk and deer is one of the most common "wives tales" in hunting. That said I JUST read an article today in an Alaska paper where a butcher insisted that aging his deer to a point where it is almost spoiled was the best he ever tasted.

    When I wrote the story I got a few angry calls from people who said the vet was crazy and didn't know what he was talking about.
    Even still I think I will go with the PhD from USDA.

    1. First of all Jim, thank you so much for your comment!

      Aging meat is one of my favorite topics because there are so many factors at play. As you know Jim, we are all hunters and I would say the good doctor probably never tasted a good piece of wild game in his life and is speaking purely from the credentials on his diploma.

      I can tell you this from extensive studies at Penn State University and my own personal experience of 25 years in the USDA commercial meat industry processing 700 - 1000 deer a year: Aging your wild game meat makes a HUGE difference in flavor and shear test (tenderness)! My credentials may not include a PHD, but do include multiple degrees from Penn State, President of The Pennsylvania Meat Processors Association, Head of the PA Regulatory Advisory Committee, and Owner & Operator of a Federally Inspected USDA Processing Plant... In other words: I've been around the block and have extensive "Hands On" experience concerning aging meats of all types.

      Another issue with aging is the body moisture evaporation factor - which the doctor didn't address. Keep in mind: As an animal carcass ages, the body moisture contained in the muscles of the animal begin to evaporate. This evaporation process is what occurs in the "dry aging" process that you hear and read about at top end steak houses. I promise you the evaporation of this body moisture will change the flavor of your game meats.

      Here would be my solid recommendation: Do a test yourself, cut a fresh steak off your next harvested wild game animal, vacuum seal it so all the body moisture is contained and the aging process can not occur. Then allow the remaining carcass to age for 3 - 5 days, cut another steak and see what you think!

      I would love to have pictures and all your comments for our blog page! Also, cut a fresh steak, vacuum seal it and freeze it. This will stop any aging from occurring inside the bag. You will have one aging in a vacuum bag, one frozen in a vacuum bag and the other dry aged properly.

      I have also worked with, and purchased commercial deer & elk meat from companies in New Zealand and they always age the meat before processing and shipping to 5 star restaurants that sell wild game meat so my thoughts would be: All of us can't be wrong! Age your meat for better flavor and tenderness!

      Let me know your thoughts!

      Thanks for the great comment!