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Exclusive Field To Plate with Kory Slye
Kory Slye has agreed to come back on the show. He’s the Outdoorsman Dad on social media and that’s where we met. He has agreed to do a food show. I don’t think I’ve ever done a food show or field to plate type show. That’s why I wanted to get you on because I know that’s one of your passions. Kory Slye from Western Pennsylvania. Welcome back to show.
It’s great to be back. Thanks for having me on, Bruce.
You’re always welcome here. We’ve taken a doe or a buck and now, we’re going to process it in the field. I want to go through all the steps that you take to get it from field to plate.
The most important thing is field care. If you don’t do it right in the field and you contaminate meat with entrails or something like that, you can put an off-putting taste on the meat. That’s an important step in the process and to get on the body temperature down as quickly as possible is also important. In the early season, I get the entrails out as quickly as possible, get it home and get it skinned down as quickly as possible. In Pennsylvania, in the early archery season, the beginning of October can get pretty warm. I’d love to let it hang in my garage, but that’s not all always the case. I can’t always do that. I got a garage fridge so I can hang it or I also use coolers. I put frozen water bottles in a cooler and put a nice clean rag on top of those frozen water bottles and put the meat right on top of that. I keep rotating it until I’m able to process the deer and debone it out and everything.
A lot of people get out of the mountains and they buy ice and they throw it in their cooler and then put the meat on the ice and that’s it. If they get a long trek, they use dry ice. I was listening to somebody talk and what he did was exactly what you did. They said it’s the best way to keep the meat. Take the gallon of plastic milk jugs, wash them out, fill them with water, put them in your freezer and then take those and put them on the bottom of your cooler. You put some cloth and then you layer the meat on there and as you said, then you rotate the meat as it is. There are great coolers out there. You can keep your meat a lot cooler and a lot longer and it can age. Let’s talk about the aging temperature. What your favorite aging temperature?
I don’t always have the best conditions to age and I’m only dipping my toe into aging. I do a wet age more than anything. I pat the meat dry and vacuum seal it and leave it in my fridge for a couple of weeks to wet age. I haven’t messed with dry aging. I’ve never had the perfect equipment to do that setup. I haven’t done that a whole lot. I’d like to get into that now that I got an extra fridge in the garage and can control my temperatures. I’m not a very good research source on aging. As you said, the frozen water bottles are a perfect way to keep things cool. What it does is when the ice melts, you don’t have your meat sitting in a pool of water sucking out all that flavor. It’s that water stays in that bottle and I rotate bottles and I rotate the meat inside the cooler so it keeps things nice and cold. I’ll put a water bottle in between the layers of the meat and it keeps things nice and cool. As you said, there are a lot of good coolers out there that helped with that process as well.
Let’s go back in the field. Whitetails is pretty simple to break down, to clean out, to process in the field and to gut. When you live out west as I do and start breaking down elk, it’s a little more arduous task. You’d have to stay organized and work through the process. When I think about whitetails, more people are quartering their whitetail and they’re not dragging it out anymore. I can remember back in the day, we’d drag them further than I like to even think about now, just because we couldn’t get in the fields because they were wet or whatever and we’d have to drag him out. Now, with ATV’s, it’s a lot simpler. Some people, especially DIY hunters who get back into the swamps, get on public land and they’re getting back, they’re breaking it down into quarters and then carrying out the deer that way. They’ll take the head with them or whatever parts they have to take legally and then they will break them down. Talk us through how you take a deer apart. How do you process a deer in the field?
I’ve never quartered it and packed it out like most hunters do out west. We have the Allegheny National Forest that’s nearby and I know of some hunters that get way back in there that pack it out like that. Where I’m hunting, I’m relatively close to a road. Half a mile is probably my longest drag, which is a long drag. I’m more comfortable with skinning a whole deer than trying to break it down in the field. A lot of times, it’s an evening hunt and by the time I get to the deer, it’s dark out. It’s easier to drag it out whole and then skin and break it down at home.
When I go hunting, I always have quart and gallon Ziploc bags because I keep the heart and I keep the liver. I keep the caul fat. Caul fat is that lacey fat that’s around the intestines and stomach and when you cook with it, it imparts moisture into the meat since venison’s a little leaner than beef. I removed the entrails as quickly as possible and if there’s snow or maybe a stream or something in there, I’ll wash out the cavity and then I’ll get that home as quickly as possible, especially in the earlier season when it’s warmer to get it out home and to skin it quarter it and get in the coolers. If it’s rifle season or the late season, I’ll bring it home, skin it and let it hang in the garage or in my shed for a few days. I don’t do a whole lot with aging at this point, so my goal is to get it home, get it broken down and get it cut up so I can start eating it.
You cut the deer out even at night. Do you take them apart at night?Article originally appeared in Houston Safari Club Foundation’s fall edition of 'Hunter’s Horn' Take Your Kids Hunting Click To Tweet
I try to be as prepared as possible. I always have at least three knives on me at any given time. I always have two or three flashlights with me, a headlamp and then a hand-held flashlight. It’s definitely not as fun doing that, but it’s easy enough to do when you have the right equipment.
I was in Iowa one time with Judd Cooney hunting at his farm. What they do if you hit a deer and they don’t see him go down in the evening, they just leave the deer because if he didn’t go down within 150 yards then he’s not going to drop right away. There are always elements to that. He leaves them overnight and then they go in the next day and they take big feeder sleds where you put feed in for cattle and they take those in and then they put the whole deer in it and then they take it out because they don’t take the guts out in the field. They don’t want the coyotes and all that to be feeding or attracting. That’s their process. When they get back to the barn, they hoist them up, open them up. Everything drops into the same sled, then they take it and dispose of it which I thought was a cool idea. We have sleds now at the farm because we got tons of coyotes. We put the entrails and everything into the pit and then we set up and shoot the coyotes, which is all well and good. I hope that’s legal in Wisconsin.
When I’m hunting with my dad, there will be two of us and my dad prefers to drag it out whole without gutting it in the field. At our rifles stands, we have a cart with wheels that will take it out and it makes it a little bit easier to get out. I don’t like to do that when I’m by myself. It’s a lot harder dragging an ungutted deer by yourself.
Do you take the tenderloins out in the field or when you get back?
When I get back for the most part, unless I make a mistake or it’s a bad shot and I can’t get things as clean as I’d want. I’ll take them out, but for the most part, I leave them in there until I get it hung up. Once it’s hanging, those are the first things that come out, go in the fridge and have it for dinner.
The fresher you get them the better and it depends on the temperature. You can leave them in the deer and you can age them a little bit. That’s what we do. We try not to let them freeze because they’re too hard to work getting the hide off and everything. Typical Wisconsin meat pole or any meat poles you’ve ever seen in the pictures, it’s the way you hung up the deer. They stayed up there until you went home and then they still had the hide on. The venison then and the venison now, we’re getting a little bit better. Having said that, we get the deer home, it’s early season so we’ve broken it down. What do you do for packaging?
I have a vacuum sealer that I use for the back straps. I use butcher paper if I’m going to do a roast and then I use quart freezer bags for any ground meat. It’s easy to put about a pound in there and then you squish it flat and you push all the air out and it’s easy to store. I preferred to use the quart bags for the ground meat. When I’m cutting up a deer, I like to think about what kind of meals I want to make. The front shoulders for a bone and blade roast. I’ll keep that whole and I won’t take any meat off for a grind. For the hindquarters, I like to separate the hindquarters by the muscle groups.
Once you get in there, you can easily pull apart by the muscle groups with just a little few cuts here and they’ll come apart themselves. I’ll freeze those whole. I have a Kamado Joe. It’s a ceramic charcoal grill. It’s a wood-fired oven. I like to throw whole chunks of the hindquarter on the Kamado Joe at 450 to 500 degrees and get them to medium rare and pull them off, slice them thin. It’s some of the best-eaten venison that there is. It doesn’t take a whole lot to make venison taste good. One of my go-to ways to cook a back strap or a piece out of the hindquarter is olive oil and then cover and seasonings. I like to use Tacticalories seasonings. They have all different blends and flavors. Salt and pepper is one of my favorite blends. It gives it enough heat that gives it that flavor but not overpowering and you can make a good meal out of that.
You mentioned you’d take some of the hamburger, but you don’t make it in the hamburger. You keep it just in a pound piece of meat that you’re going to grind later. Is that correct?
What I typically do is I grind it all at once and I separate it into pound quart bags. With the family of five, my wife and my three young kids. A pound feeds us pretty well, but soon we’re going to have to probably up that two pounds. It’s quick if you push it flat to get all the air out, it doesn’t take very long to thaw it out. My wife loves cooking with the venison. We make a lot of easy meals. We enjoy the ground venison. We’ll keep a roast here and there, the bone and blade roasts and stuff like that, but the ground venison is what the kids like to eat. There are all manner of tacos, sloppy joes and chili and all that type of stuff that my kids will eat too. We use a lot of the ground venison.Where would I be if my Dad didn’t take me hunting when I was a kid? Click To Tweet
You’ve taken the deer apart and then how do you set up your meat processing done? Because you have a grinder and you got bins and if you’re going to make jerky, if you’re going to make sausage or heat them up, what we call kielbasas for the morning, how does all that work?
It depends on how many deer I have so far that year. The first year, we keep it simple. The stakes and the ground venison. We don’t do many roasts with that first one because we prefer ground. As I’m more successful, I start getting a little more creative. I’ll keep a whole roast, but typically after I get it skinned out and it’s in the coolers and a family of five, my time is limited during the day. When I typically work at processing the deer is at night when the kids go to bed. I’ll do a hindquarter or a front shoulder per night and I’ll debone it. As I said, the hindquarters I keep and the muscle groups. The front shoulders, I typically grind.
I’ll keep some shanks for an osso buco. I try to save all the rib meat and everything. Even my trim meat that a lot of people throw away, I keep that as well. I keep the trim meat and the bones to make my own stock. I will keep the backstraps as whole pieces. I cut them once lengthwise and have whole pieces the length of my arm and I’ll freeze those like that. I work on that throughout the week and get all that. Once I get all my trim pieces and pieces for the grinder, I’ll grind it in one night. I don’t typically mix anything in into it if I’m grinding, just straight venison burger. I’ll get that all grounded. The kids love helping me grind the burger and we’ll put those in bags and get everything frozen. I love venison sausage and I usually do a 50/50 grind with pork butt. I’ll buy a pork butt from the local butcher.
I have a kitchen scale, so I tried to do even weights 50/50 and Tacticalories also has venison sausage kit. They have a maple seasoning and a spicy seasoning and both of those are good. Jerky to me is a novelty, it’s a treat. It loses at least 50% of its weight. It’s not very cost-effective. If I’m fortunate enough to get a third or fourth year, for the year, that’s when I start making the jerky and bologna and snack sticks and that type of stuff. I’ve done jerky, both with ground venison and with the whole muscle slicing it thin. I think slicing it thin from the whole muscle definitely tastes better. You have that same texture and taste that you would from the jerky that you’d buy in grocery store.
The ground jerky doesn’t get that snap when you bite into it. I have made my own sausages with natural casings. My grinder has that attachment. It’s an arduous process, probably only because I’ve done it a couple of times so I’m not very good at it. We set aside a whole day to make the sausage and stuff the casings. The back straps I do no matter which year it is, I do it the same way. I leave it whole. I either cook it whole, which what I do most of the time and sometimes I made Philly cheesesteaks. I have a meat slicer, so we’ll slice that real thin and hit it in a cast iron hot for a couple minutes and put that with some cheese and onions and peppers. You can’t beat that.
Back in the day when we used to go out west and hunt the nine-day season gun hunt, the bunkhouse crew get a number of animals. We’d have a garage set up. It was like a butcher shop. Everybody had chipped in and we had all the casings and the bins and everybody’s responsible for their job. You go through the process and you keep pushing the meat. If four guys have an antelope and a mule deer, you’ve got a couple of hundred pounds of meat to process. I think about those days and we were fortunate to have a couple of machines that we could do all the things that we wanted to do and we had the recipes. How do you keep your recipes for making the summer sausage or making some of the other things, is that passed down or where did you get them from?
Not a whole lot’s passed down. My dad wasn’t the greatest wild game cook. He has a bologna recipe that I liked that he’s given to me, but he’s doesn’t have a big recipe catalog. My grandmother was a great wild game cook, but she never wrote anything down. By the time I was old enough to appreciate it, she was too old to get in the kitchen. A lot of the recipes I have are from different wild game cookbooks and online. Once I got comfortable, I started experimenting for myself and I had an idea of what I wanted to do and I’m never quite sure how I want to do it, but I had an idea.
I would do some research online and then I look at different recipes. I was like, “I like that aspect of that recipe but I don’t like that part. I like this part of this recipe and I like that one too.” I would combine different recipes with the different aspects that I liked the most to create my own dish. One was passed down to me as well. When I was growing up, we did a lot more small game hunting rabbits and squirrels. I would always give those to my aunt and she would make this amazing small game noodle soup. It was chicken noodle soup, but it was a small game. I’ve tried to replicate that with some success. I’ve gotten a lot more creative and trying to get it out of the box than what I was when I was still living at home.
How much wild game does your family eat?
We do not buy any meat other than maybe chicken. We don’t buy any meat from the store. I have a friend that raises beef and we’ll get 20 or 30 pounds of ground beef from him. Apart from that, all of our red meat is venison. I think we went through about four deer in the freezer and I’ve already started into the deer. I’m halfway through the deer that I’ve already gotten this past season. I’d say we go between three and four deer a year. I supplement that. We do a lot of fishing. I have a perch and walleye in the freezer. I do some small game hunting. I’d like to do more squirrels and rabbits here and there. I’m trying to get into turkey hunting but I’m not a successful turkey hunter. I have friends that were gracious enough to give me turkey. We’ll add that to the mix. I have a good friend that gives me goose breasts. I only have a couple of those left. I’ve tried to diversify my wild game freezer as much as possible, but the majority of it is venison. We go through quite a bit of it a year.People are too disconnected with their food. With this organic philosophy, people will realize where their food comes from. Click To Tweet
What do you think about all these people that are organic? They’re into the word organic. You’ve been eating organic for a long time.
I can see why some people push back on it. It’s a different culture or lifestyle or why do you need it now? I welcome it. Now that we have kids and you see all the processed food at the grocery store. I’m much more conscientious of what my kids are eating. That doesn’t mean they don’t eat the junk food that’s not good for them. I can only give it to them. I can’t force him to eat it. They don’t always eat what I cook much to my chagrin. I like the organic aspect. People are too disconnected with their food. With this organic philosophy, people realize where their food comes from is important. If we have more people buying into the organic and sourcing their own food, then we get more support for the hunting community, the hunting lifestyle and the hunting culture.
As everybody knows, hunter numbers are declining. When that happens and the general public starts to view hunting in a negative light, then our rights start to get picked away because the majority rule is saying, “Hunting’s not needed. Hunting’s barbaric” when you and I both know that’s not true. The organic aspect, the food aspect, the localvores, I definitely welcome because if it’s bringing new people into hunting and bolstering our ranks of hunters. We have a strong voice when it comes to public land legislation and hunting legislation. We have the numbers to make our voice heard.
That’s a good case because S.47 was passed in Congress and that’s for public lands. You might think, “What’s some important about that?” We own public lands and there’s a whole group that is involved in that and millions of people got involved and helped the passage of that bill. Public lands are important because hunting is a tradition and it goes back for me for 53 years. You’re not that old yet. When you think about hunting, how about your kids? What are you teaching them about hunting?
They’ve seen me process deer and fish. They are not the least bit squeamish when it comes to a dead animal. I try to involve them in the process, even though those never-ending lines of questions can get tiresome at times. I got to remember, they’re curious and we want to encourage that curiosity. We want to foster that love for the wild game and hunting. I answer those questions as best as I can and I show them what the different things are. I take them hunting with me. My daughter has gone small game hunting with me and she’s been there and watched as I’ve shot squirrels. She understands where food comes from. She didn’t get upset. Even if she did, that’s a natural reaction to that. I tried to explain things that we’re killing these animals to use them. We want to respect them by using and utilizing them as much as possible. That’s what I’m trying to teach them to know where their food comes from. They love helping me put the deer in the grinder and making a burger and help make sausage and kids love to bake. We try to involve them in the kitchen as much as possible.
Do you have any books out on cooking?
I do not know.
I know with the Outdoor Dad, you’ve written blogs and articles and such. If somebody wants to get ahold of you or read some of your stuff, where would they go to do that?
I have a blog on WordPress. It’s OutdoorsmanDad.WordPress.com. I’m on Instagram, @OutdoorsmanDad. I have a Facebook page as well, Outdoorsman Dad. I try to post regularly on the blog. It’s a mix between my thoughts and opinions and news in the outdoor realm. I put recipes up there as well. There are a few recipes that I have in OutdoorNews. It is a regional publication that’s in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania. I’ve had a few recipes published in there, but the best way is my blog.
What recommendations would you give to somebody that said, “I liked to hunt deer, but every year I go and pay a processor $100 or more to get my meat back.” I’ve got a couple of different thoughts on that, but what are your thoughts of taking your meat to a processor?Don’t be afraid to experiment, to try new things, to try different recipes. Click To Tweet
I haven’t in a long time. My view on it is, I have the equipment. I have the knowledge. My dad has taught me most of what I need to know for processing the deer. Most importantly to me, it’s a part of the whole hunting experience. I enjoy processing my own deer almost as much as I enjoy hunting the deer. To me, 9:00 at night standing at the kitchen counter deboning out a hindquarter is relaxing. I can see that whole deer turned from an animal into a gourmet meal on my dinner plate. It gives me senses of accomplishment.
For people that are taking their deer to a processor, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people don’t have the time, but there are a lot of resources out there that are available where people can learn how to do it themselves. Processing a whitetail isn’t that difficult. Then you learn so much about the animal, the anatomy and how your shot placement affected the animal and what you should do next time. It takes a few pieces of equipment. A couple of sharp knives, somewhere to hang a nail on the rafter in your garage to hang it up. Maybe a hacksaw and you can do the majority of the work yourself. I would tell people, don’t be afraid to do it. There are a lot of resources out there. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to get the equipment that you need in order to do it. It’s a learning experience and to me, it’s enjoyable. I would encourage people to try it out for themselves.
The one thing that I’ve learned over the years just because of work and everything. I’d hunt and then I take the deer to the processor because when I was in Wisconsin, I lived in Colorado. I wanted to get a process before I threw it in cooler and took it home or even flew it home. The question I always wanted to ask and did ask is, will I get my own deer back? Sometimes the answer’s no. I’m going, “Wait a minute. I don’t know how that person took care of it in the field. I don’t know how long it was hung. I don’t know anything about that meat.” Yet, I’m paying them good money. I know what I did to my deer. I know this is grade A and it’s as good as it can get and somebody else is going to get my dear and I’m going to get somebody else’s dear. I would ask that question, “Am I going to get my own deer back?” If you say no, then go find yourself a different processor or learn to do it yourself. It’s not that hard. We took the bunkhouse crew and Randall and his friend and with my limited help, I think we processed six deer and it took a while.
We didn’t do it all in one sitting. In the end, we had X number of pounds of grind. We had steaks and chops and roasts and you get the back strap and we butterflied those. You get the tenderloins and they were gone before the end of the week because we ate pretty good. When you think of that, it doesn’t take long, especially if you make an investment in the tools and then one cleanliness is critically important and hanging the deer and then doing it yourself. Once you do that, you’re going to get where Kory is and I am, that all of a sudden, you’re part of the whole process. Harvesting is great and that’s fun, but processing a deer and then eating the deer, it’s better than the hunt. To me it is. I think Kory, it’s the same for you. You’ve expressed that already that it takes so much pleasure in getting the deer, get it home and then preparing it and gourmet meals on the plate. It doesn’t get any better than that.
When you take it to the processor, you never know what you’re going to get back, if you’re getting the amount back that you should get back. Just take that completely out of the equation and do it yourself.
Do you have any final thoughts for people that are going to get involved in the field to plate?
I would say don’t be afraid to experiment, to try new things, to try different recipes. If you know the cut of meat and you know what you’re going for, there are a lot of different ways to get there. I was afraid to ruin the meat and waste something, but that will happen every once in a while. Don’t be afraid to try something different than just steaks and hamburger. There are a lot of resources out there that you can make some pretty amazing meals out of wild game.
Kory, I want to thank you for spending your time with Whitetail Rendezvous and just sharing your input. I look forward to the next time we get to sit down and talk about hunting whitetails in Western Pennsylvania.
Thanks for having me on, Bruce. It was fun.
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About Kory Slye
Kory’s father introduced him to hunting and fishing the woods and waters of northwestern Pennsylvania at a young age.
His father created the foundation of knowledge so Kory can spend his falls chasing whitetails with bow, rifle, or flintlock. In the spring he is often on the stream, chasing after trout. When he’s not in the field or on the water you can find him in the kitchen or in front of his smoker, creating a delicious meal from the wild game he has harvested.
Now that he has three kids of his own, Kory has become the Outdoorsman Dad and writes about his outdoor adventures and how he introduces his kids to the great outdoors. He has been featured in various publications, including Pennsylvania Game News, PA Outdoor News, and Houston Safari Club’s “Hunter’s Horn.”
He also contributes to several websites. You can find his articles at huntingtheempire.com, harvestingnature.com, the GoWild App, or his own website, outdoorsmandad.wordpress.com. You can follow him on Instagram @outdoorsmandad or Facebook @outdoorsmandad.pa