How to Know Whether Deer Meat Has Gone Bad

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There are a few ways to tell if deer meat has gone bad.
Image Credit: Nikolay_Donetsk/iStock/GettyImages

A venison steak, low in fat and having an abundance of vitamins and minerals, is often compared to a beef filet. There are a few differences, though: It's less juicy, has a smoother taste and hints of the woods come through if it is prepared properly. However, if the meat has gone off, what you're going to taste is not the acorn, sage, wild garlic or herbs that the deer ate during its lifetime. Let your nose tell you if the venison steaks are fresh, if the shank is past its sell-by date or if the very lean venison roast you are contemplating buying will remind you of Charlie Chaplin sawing away at a leather shoe.

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Wild Deer and Grass-Fed Deer Differences

Wild deer tastes like the wild. It's gamey and has a pungent odor that is often disguised with sauces. People who have grown up enjoying the rewards of deer season prefer this type of venison, saying it's what the meat should taste like.

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As the appeal of venison spreads, farm-raised venison is more appealing to the softer appetite for the meat, as it doesn't have the gamey taste found in wild deer. Olive oil, salt and pepper are the only seasonings you'll need with farm-raised venison, and most farm-raised producers pride themselves on the traceability of each piece of meat.

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Guide for Handling Wild Deer

Since deer shot in the wild are not subject to inspection by federal or state inspectors, the USDA recommends that any game shot in the wild be dressed immediately after shooting to prevent spoilage and disease. This means keeping the deer at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, opening up the carcass immediately and removing the intestines. This not only improves the quality of the meat but prevents bacteria from forming.

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Some states won't allow venison to be transported across state lines due to the possibility of disease. Check with your state regulators if you intend to hunt deer out of state. Preventing the spread of disease protects consumers and wildlife.

Buy From a Reputable Butcher

If it is purchased from a reputable butcher, venison meat is safe. It has been inspected and has been deemed free of disease. The best way to assure yourself that the venison is fresh is to purchase farm-raised meat. Most packages come frozen and must remain so until you prepare it. Signs of frozen liquid in the packaging means it's been frozen, defrosted and then frozen again.

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The color of venison is a deeper red than beef. Check for coloring that has started to go gray, which is a sign that the meat is going bad. Be sure there aren't translucent sections that look like rainbows on the top of the meat, as this is another sign of aging. Trim off the fat, as it will impart a strong "off" flavor to your finished dish.

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Bad Meat Is Bad Meat

Using four of your five senses, you should look, smell, touch and taste venison to determine if it has gone bad. It will look gray. It will smell strong and earthy. Touching it to see if it bounces back is another indicator of whether the meat is fresh, and tasting the prepared venison is the final indicator of a good or bad piece of meat.

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