Up until the past few centuries, hunters have been making use of their entire kill. Meat, organs and bones; every part of an animal served a purpose for human society for thousands of years. The advent of hunters and butchers alike only keeping the skeletal muscles for meat and discarding the rest of the animal is a relatively new phenomenon. This is especially common among hunters. With deer, even among muscle, certain cuts such as the meat from the shank, flank and neck are often avoided. All in all, this leaves good meat untouched and left to waste.
Americans are particularly picky when it comes to meat, with most eating but a few of the generic cuts from any animal on a regular basis. Over time, people in the Western world have trended away from consuming “offal” meats; essentially, any part of the animal aside from skeletal muscle. This is largely due to the stigma that organs aren’t safe to eat or doing so is somehow barbaric and disgusting when in reality, people have routinely eaten organs as a nutrient-rich necessity, and even a prized delicacy, throughout human history.
Unfortunately, many Americans do not have the option to eat highly nutritional organs on a regular basis, if ever. Most farm-raised livestock is fed on grain as opposed to grass, which results in relatively unhealthy animals with lower quality meat and, often, inedible organs. This leaves hunters with the greatest access to fresh, grass-fed animals, which, in America, are often deer. It is the privilege of hunters to make use of the whole deer and take part in the bounty of nutrients and health benefits the practice provides. In essence, hunters have the ability to consume a diet closely resembling early man’s.
The most commonly consumed parts of any animal are the various muscles supporting the skeleton; however, from a nutritional standpoint, these cuts are the least nutrient-rich. In nature, predators go for the organs of an animal first upon making a kill and leave the musculature for last, since the organs are much denser in nutrients as well as various vitamins and minerals. The liver is the most nutrient-rich part of any animal and contains higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than any other cut of meat or organ; however, venison heart is also nutrient-rich, is very easy to work with and is regarded as a good starting point when it comes to learning to prepare and cook organs. Sliced thin and cooked at a low temp for a long time, deer heart is said to have a taste and texture similar to cuts reserved for steaks or chops, making it an ideal for people who are new to the practice.
Nearly all organs of a deer can be used for cooking but require various levels of preparation and care in order to be consumed. Among them, the most commonly eaten organs are the heart, liver, stomach and tongue. While other organs such as the lungs, brain, kidneys and intestines are not as commonly consumed, they are still edible and have plenty of uses for various recipes.
Additionally, deer blood and marrow are often used in soups, stews and even sausages; however, hunters must bear in mind that organs spoil much more quickly than standard meat and are best if eaten within one or two days of the kill.
By taking the daring step of using organs in cooking, hunters receive significantly more sustenance from each deer they kill, leave less to waste and truly optimize nutritional benefits.