Breaking down a deer

By on October 5, 2017

Meadow Creek Barbecue’s Deer Demo features master butcher

During a break, attendees at Meadow Creek’s Deer Demo talked hunting and cooking while sampling food. Attendees were offered special sale prices on processing equipment after the demo. Photos by Michael C. Upton

During a break, attendees at Meadow Creek’s Deer Demo talked hunting and cooking while sampling food. Attendees were offered special sale prices on processing equipment after the demo. Photos by Michael C. Upton

When it comes to deer processing, Rick Fetrow knows what he is talking about.

Through his work as chairman of Hunters Sharing the Harvest and his day job as Senior Field Sales Consultant at Tyson Foods, Fetrow has amassed a unique treasure trove of knowledge about butchering. The professional butcher shared his secrets and special insights about deer butchering and processing to a group of 31 hunters and game enthusiasts Saturday, September 9 during Meadow Creek Barbecue’s annual Deer Demo in New Holland.

“Everybody’s got their own way of doing it, but I’m going to show you the way I know best,” said Fetrow at the beginning of the demonstration.

The event, in its third year, offered attendees a chance to watch Fetrow skin and butcher a whole deer, sample the freshly butchered meat, and take advantage of one-day only sales at one of the country’s premiere manufacturers and distributors of barbecues and smokers. The informative and sometimes humorous event showcased Fetrow’s skills, which started as a simple hobby in 1993. The story started in a hunting camp, where Fetrow filled his deer tag and used his knowledge of meat processing to clean and disassemble a deer into steaks, chops, and other cuts and offered to do the same for his friends. Those friends brought Fetrow other customers. And so on, until after only a year Fetrow’s count boomed from seven to 51. Now he had a small business.

“I never thought it was going to grow like it did,” said Fetrow. “I was using neighbors’ fridges. Then I bought a walk-in freezer. Next thing I knew it took over my whole property.”

Ultimately, Fetrow sold his butcher shop. During the company’s last year, 2005, he processed 2,100 deer.

“I manufactured over 100,000 pounds of bologna, sausages, meat sticks, and jerky,” said Fetrow.

Some of the unsold equipment stayed behind to aid in his next endeavor, Grandpa’s Country Catering. Never doing anything on a small scale, Fetrow grew this new business from one cooker to a mobile fleet, which served more than 250 pig roasts during the summer of 2016. Still, his work at Tyson is his main employment.

“What I do is teach food safety. I go around to area supermarkets and restaurants and teach people how to cut meat,” said Fetrow. “That’s what pays the bills. This here is a hobby that got out of control.”

Deer Demo attendees shared the best bits of Rick Fetrow’s deer. The bbq experts at Meadow Creek cooked and served fresh tenderloin steak bites to those who joined the demonstration.

Deer Demo attendees shared the best bits of Rick Fetrow’s deer. The bbq experts at Meadow Creek cooked and served fresh tenderloin steak bites to those who joined the demonstration.

The demo deer came from an area near Dillsburg, York County. Before it was cleaned and brought to New Holland, Fetrow estimated the doe at approximately 90 pounds. For the demonstration, the deer hung from a winch suspension mounted to the back of Fetrow’s truck, which made removing the hide and separating the meat from the carcass easier.

“I know this is not as big a deer as some of you guys shoot, but last night it was kinda dark,” said Fetrow. “You take what you can find when it’s getting dark. I was a little nervous. By luck this dumb one came out and I got lucky.”

The deer is perfectly legal and serves a purpose other than the demonstration.

“This is part of a crop reduction program. [There are] too many deer in an area [and] we are trying to get the population under control in conjunction with the Game Commission,” said Fetrow. “Any of the meat that is left [from the demonstration] is going to be donated to the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program.”

Hunters Sharing the Harvest is a non-profit program, which helps fight hunger statewide by providing venison to food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, hunger-relief organizations, and churches. Since its inception in 1991, the program has distributed 2.1 million pounds of donated venison.

“Last year we had over 120,000 pounds of donated venison. It was our biggest year ever,” said Fetrow. “We feed about 300,000 to 350,000 people per year.”

After the brief introduction, Fetrow got to work skinning the deer. He highly recommends gutting the animal in the wild, removing the animals hide as quickly as possible, and keeping the meat below 40 degrees. Fetrow first removed the shoulders, which do not hold a lot of meat; this he later ground to use for sausage. Starting from the midsection and working down, Fetrow located the filet and demonstrated how to properly cut steaks. These steaks were handed to employees of Meadow Creek Barbecue who readied a Big Green Egg cooker to make samples for demo attendees.

Next, Fetrow located and removed the backstrap, or loin, from the deer. Running from the front to the back of the deer, this cut will produce New York strips and sirloin steaks.

“I’m not supposed to show you how to do this, because meat cutters want to charge you $100 per deer,” joked Fetrow.

With each piece removed Fetrow gave an example of how to use the meat. The neck meat is good for crock pot meals. The small amount of meat on the ribs can be used for stir fry. The tongue tastes like roast beef. Moving to the hindquarters, Fetrow started a discussion on how to properly make jerky. This portion of the deer holds the sirloin tip, eye round, and other cuts.

“You gotta make a decision, ‘what am I hungry for?’” said Fetrow. “Because it can be roasts or jerky.”

After a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, chips, and a whoopie pie, attendees learned the details of processing venison into bologna, sausage-loose and stuffed-and snack sticks. The seminar lasted five hours. The experience, held every year in September, is memorable.

 

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