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Thread: Meat care: pros and cons of "Crusting"

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Meat care: pros and cons of "Crusting"

    A question came up in another thread concerning the merits of allowing game meat to develop a "crust" (a relatively dry surface) while hanging in the field. I thought a separate thread on that issue would be a good idea. Here's my take.

    Meat goes bad one of two ways; from the inside out (bone sour) or from the outside in (dirt, surface bacterial contamination, fly eggs, etc). The primary purposes of a game bag are, as I see it, two-fold.

    1. Keep the meat clean. A good game bag should protect your meat from dirt, keep flies out, etc. This is why I don't favor a cheesecloth-type bag that allows fly eggs to penetrate the material when stretched.

    2. Keep the meat dry. Meat-spoiling bacteria require a mostly moist environment in which to multiply. Therefore, a bag that facilitates drying of the surface of your game meat is preferred over one that does not. So what kind of bag facilitates drying? That's where the controversy with synthetic bags lies, for the most part. In my opinion (and I have used synthetic and cotton bags in the field, even on the same meat pole), a game bag must breathe well. This allows moisture molecules to be carried away from the surface of the meat by air movement (wind, breezes, etc). It has been my experience that the interstices between the fibers on the synthetic bags are simply too small to allow moisture to freely pass. Rather, I have experienced the opposite; in warm weather a humid environment forms inside the bags, which actually speeds up bacterial growth, rather than inhibiting it. The first generation of synthetic bags were much worse than the new ones you see these days, but even the second generation material lacks the airflow I'd like to see. Hopefully the manufacturer is seeking out a material that allows better airflow, which would eliminate this problem. This would make the bags more useful in a variety of field situations. Second, the bag should be made of an absorbent material. Absorbent bags (cotton) will attract moisture as it evaporates off the meat, facilitating the formation of a dry crust on the meat. Synthetic bags do not absorb moisture, period.

    HUMID / RAINY WEATHER

    It should be mentioned that if conditions are very moist (rain, high humidity, etc), you are going to have a battle on your hands trying to get your meat to form a dry surface no matter what bags you use. This is when it is especially important to use bags that absorb moisture, rather than those that don't.

    REMOVING THE BAGS

    There are times when the best thing is to simply remove the bag while the meat is hanging. If flies are a problem, build a smudge fire to keep them off, and keep a watchful eye on the meat to ensure no eggs are laid on it. One of the best ways to ensure this is to remove the bags at dusk, if it is cool enough that flies are not flying. Then bag the meat first thing in the morning. This may allow your meat to form a dry surface.

    USES FOR SYNTHETIC BAGS

    So is there a use for synthetic bags? I think there is. Cotton bags take up a lot of space, and are much heavier than synthetics. So I carry the synthetic bags in my pack as I am hunting / guiding, so I am always prepared to bag meat immediately at the kill site. When I get the meat to camp, I change out to cotton bags so the meat will form a dry surface.

    IRRATIONAL DEFENDERS

    I have encountered a few folks that will defend synthetic bags in any and all circumstances, even saying that the formation of a crust is not important. I think this is bad advice and may reflect limited field experience. Yes, there are times when the synthetics are all you need. This is particularly true if the meat is going to a processor immediately or within a day or two. But it does not hold on longer expeditions where the meat may hang several days in the field until a pilot can pick it up and deliver it for processing. Cotton bags have served this purpose very well for many years. So while synthetic bags may have a place in certain circumstances, they are not the universal end-all, be-all, do-all that some claim. This is not about personalities or opinions so much as keeping meat clean, cool and dry.

    -Mike
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    Moderator AKmud's Avatar
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    Mike,

    What is your opinion on submerging meat in a cold mountain stream to help cool it? I have been able to do this with a couple of animals now and I think the meat turned out superior to letting it air cool. I put the quarters directly into the water (clean, cold, and fast running) without using a plastic bag or any other covering. After 10 minutes or so, the meat is cold to the bone and already stiffening up. So far (knock on wood), I haven't found any downside to doing this.

    Any opinion?
    AKmud
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    Quote Originally Posted by AKmud View Post
    Mike,

    What is your opinion on submerging meat in a cold mountain stream to help cool it? I have been able to do this with a couple of animals now and I think the meat turned out superior to letting it air cool. I put the quarters directly into the water (clean, cold, and fast running) without using a plastic bag or any other covering. After 10 minutes or so, the meat is cold to the bone and already stiffening up. So far (knock on wood), I haven't found any downside to doing this.

    Any opinion?
    I would be carefull doing things like this. I know areas that have very large alpine beaver "lakes" above cliffs feeding fast creeks complete with water falls. From below they look like fresh water but when you get up to the source you find three or 4 beaver families call that stream home!

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    Quote Originally Posted by AKmud View Post
    Mike,

    What is your opinion on submerging meat in a cold mountain stream to help cool it? I have been able to do this with a couple of animals now and I think the meat turned out superior to letting it air cool. I put the quarters directly into the water (clean, cold, and fast running) without using a plastic bag or any other covering. After 10 minutes or so, the meat is cold to the bone and already stiffening up. So far (knock on wood), I haven't found any downside to doing this.

    Any opinion?
    I've done this quite often while hunting deer on POW in hot August weather and have had excellent results every time.

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    Default submersion

    Quote Originally Posted by AKmud View Post
    Mike,

    What is your opinion on submerging meat in a cold mountain stream to help cool it? I have been able to do this with a couple of animals now and I think the meat turned out superior to letting it air cool. I put the quarters directly into the water (clean, cold, and fast running) without using a plastic bag or any other covering. After 10 minutes or so, the meat is cold to the bone and already stiffening up. So far (knock on wood), I haven't found any downside to doing this.

    Any opinion?
    I am not Mike but I love & its the best way when temps are warm & the meat needs to get cool.

    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I would be carefull doing things like this. I know areas that have very large alpine beaver "lakes" above cliffs feeding fast creeks complete with water falls. From below they look like fresh water but when you get up to the source you find three or 4 beaver families call that stream home!
    COOLING THE MEAT

    COOL THE MEAT QUICKLY IN WATER: In the field, you want to cool your meat quickly because the sooner the meat is cool, the better the meat will be. You should bleed, gut and skin your animal as soon as you can. Next you need to reduce the temperature of the meat. If you are near a river or lake you can submerge the quarters to bring down the temperature. Do not cool completely in water. Retain enough heat to dry the meat when it comes out of the water. For water cooling, I carry a sheet of visquine and spread it out in a lake of stream. Once the animal is quartered, I lay the meat on the visquine and let it cool for twenty-five minutes to an hour (depending on the mass of the meat).

    WHY WATER COOL YOUR MEAT? A bath in a stream or lake speeds the cooling process and bleaches out excess blood that feed bacteria and attracts flies. Alaska game animals have a very large meat mass. Consequently, if takes a long time for the meat to cool down. The cold water temperature of the lakes and streams in Alaska helps expedite the cooling process.

    WATER COOLING CONCERNS: (1) I’ve been told by several hunters that you should avoid getting meat wet. This is partially true, you don’t want to leave the meat wet. This is why you retain enough heat in the meat to cause drying once you remove it from the water (also see air drying for procedures to remove excess water). (2). I’ve also heard concerns about Giardia in the water getting into the meat. While I can’t guarantee the purity of the water or possible transfer of bacteria to your meat, I can say that I have never heard of anyone getting sick from water cooled meat, and I talk with a lot of hunters. The decision is yours based upon the conditions at your location, cleanliness of water and outside temperature. Tests have also been done in Canada by Bailight which show the strong acid in citric acid should take care of Giardia and will also help kill types of bacteria.




    This is a copy paste from Doug drum (Indian Valley Meats) I think it answers most of this about getting the meat wet

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    Quote Originally Posted by LuJon View Post
    I would be carefull doing things like this. I know areas that have very large alpine beaver "lakes" above cliffs feeding fast creeks complete with water falls. From below they look like fresh water but when you get up to the source you find three or 4 beaver families call that stream home!
    I donít see why it would be a problem. You donít eat the meat with out cooking it.

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    This isn't a typical "float hunt" scenario, so bear that in mind...

    I used a whack of synthetic bags on this year's moose. The hunt was above treeline, lots of willow around, and the moose died 2/3 mile from my float-out river.

    The day I shot the moose was the only day it didn't rain (Thursday 9/18).

    First quarter off the carcass was starboard side hindquarter. This was bagged in the popular synthetic caribou-size quarter bag (which is long enough to reach just to the hock). Fit in the caribou-size was not overly tight. Drawstring was cinched tightly to keep out bugs, and the quarter was laid on a leaned-over willow bush, hip-socket side up.

    Second quarter was starboard shoulder. This was bagged in the same caribou-size quarter bag. I laid this on another leaned-over willow bush. I noted that the moist area around the hip socket of the first hindquarter was already dry and forming a crust.

    Starboard side neck and backstrap went into a bag and then onto another willow bush. I noted the inside of the shoulder (moist side) was dry and forming a crust. I repositioned the hindquarter, leaving it hip socket side down.

    Flipped the moose and repeated the sequence, but put quarters in the moose-size bags. Same results - very rapid drying and forming of crust.

    Gutted moose, fished out tenders and whacked off the ribcages. These went in separate bags, laid on willows.

    Loaded up a backstrap and half neck load with my hunting load and made my way back to the river and camp at dusk. Laid meat bag on willow bush at riverside.

    Next day, I packed six heavy loads of meat and horn down to the river. Started drizzling halfway through. I figured that since meat had cooled and crusted so rapidly and well the day before, and since my next-day's float out would take less than a day, I didn't bother doing the willow/meat/willow/tarp stack. I laid the meat on a willow branch bed, but left the tarp off, favoring better ventilation and further cooling, in spite of the drizzle.

    Saturday the 20th, I floated out to the road. Dry day for the most part, but rained hard at the takeout. Quarters loaded into pickup damp.

    Saturday night (more like sunday morning), quarters were hung under the eave of our house in Anch. Weather was low 40s at night, low 50s during day. Sunday afternoon, meat had again dried and crust was present. Nice and cool. Spent Sunday-Thursday cutting up the meat. Final shoulder cut up on Thursday was in fantastic condition one week later, having spent its entire time in a synthetic bag. Bag had to be pulled off of crusted meat - it had stuck to it.

    That's this year's experience with synthetic bags, in a moist-ish hunt. Proof is in the pudding - any of this forum's leading synthetic bag critics are invited to PM me and I'll happily donate a smallish roast (from the last shoulder processed) or wad of ground meat for your careful taste testing (and swap some hunt stories and lies while we're at it - I'm not trying to be an arse here).

    I can't see how meat care could possibly be a problem with these bags on a float hunt, if you take the time to tarp the meat pole and keep the bags covered and hung. This based on my observations of drying time both immediately after removal from the animal on a dry day, and recovery drying after being rained on.
    Last edited by Vek; 10-06-2008 at 11:48. Reason: clarification

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    Member martentrapper's Avatar
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    Vek..................I don't believe you!! Please send a package of burger, some tenderloin steaks, and 2 decent size roasts to me in Nome. I'll let everyone know if your right!!!

    Cooling meat in water is fine, but once it comes back out, it will begin going back up to whatever the air temp is. If your meat gets to town quickly, your OK. If it's raining/drizzling and 55 degrees out.............and you have another 5 or more days in the field, you may be up against the proverbial rock and a hard place.
    Flies will find meat quickly, often times in less than a minute! If temps stay above the 30's at night, they will be on your meat 24/7. The higher the temps, the faster the eggs will hatch too (I think). Bags are essential to keeping the bugs off in the field. Even with crusting, some areas of meat will be vulnerable to bugs and bacteria.
    If you skin out all the meat, do a careful job. Leave as much of the white membrane on the meat as you can. It crusts quickly.
    Field conditions will play a large part in the success or failure of getting out with good meat. Sometimes the best solution is to not pull the trigger early in the hunt, or, if you have, a sat phone call for an early take out.
    I have heard of hunters coming out of the field with spoiled meat and being cited for wanton waste.
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    Member jeff p's Avatar
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    Default Vek

    Yea I am with MT on this one let me get you my address you are going to have to ship a bunch of it here as well I will let everyone know

    By the way hats off to you I have done the solo moose thing before so I know what you have been through to some degree.

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    Ha! I should have stated that I won't ship - anchorage area only, and I'll be researching on this site whether a previous grievance with the synthetic bags has been stated or implied...

    All I know is that this moose meat is pretty doggone mild - moreso than any easy-to-care-for, immediately-boned, cold-weather mule deer I've shot. That to me indicates adequate field care, when the meat is even milder than a known slam dunk (below-freezing backcountry muley, boned completely within four hours of kill).

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    So, I suppose it is too late to start a synthetic bags suck thread?

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    Not trying to stir any pots but my meat was fine after I returned from 8 days in the field using synthetic bags. It was wierd that the meat didnt crust but I had no issues with meat loss what so ever. I would use them again without hesitation.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Immersion of game meat

    Quote Originally Posted by AKmud View Post
    Mike,

    What is your opinion on submerging meat in a cold mountain stream to help cool it? I have been able to do this with a couple of animals now and I think the meat turned out superior to letting it air cool. I put the quarters directly into the water (clean, cold, and fast running) without using a plastic bag or any other covering. After 10 minutes or so, the meat is cold to the bone and already stiffening up. So far (knock on wood), I haven't found any downside to doing this.

    Any opinion?
    Mud,

    I've used the immersion method with satisfactory results with Dall sheep and moose, but not with caribou. I would assume it works the same with pretty much everything.

    I do not recommend doing it without plastic bags though, because of contamination issues. It isn't so much a giardia issue (as was pointed out, once the meat is cooked the giardia cysts are killed before they can emerge and reproduce in the person who ingests them.) It's more a matter of debris such as mud, sand, silt, or powdered glacial pumice imbedding itself in the surface tissues. The exact same effect is accomplished by bagging the meat in contractor-sized trash bags.

    I am not comfortable leaving meat in the water for an entire hunt, but would instead use the water cool method as a quick-cool tactic to prevent bone sour. This is usually complete with only an hour or two in the water, though I have left moose quarters immersed overnight on one or two occasions. But then I take them out of the bags, hand-strip the surface moisture off and start the glazing process. I don't think ten minutes is nearly long enough, by the way. You want to chill the meat to the bone. Just feeling it with your hands isn't going to tell you much. Stick a meat thermometer in it and you'll see what the core temp is, which is the whole point-- to prevent the fluids around the bones from spoiling from heat.

    This is a complex subject, with many variables. It has been my experience that rigid meat care practices are most important in warmer weather, with cooler days offering a much larger margin for error. In short, you can get away with a lot in cool weather. For my purposes, I recommend the practices I've written about as a matter of course, rather than practices that work "most of the time". Better safe than sorry. Speaking of cooler weather, this season was not a very good test, as it was a bit cooler than usual. Two years ago during September was another story though, with very warm temps well into the moose season. It's times like that when you find out what works consistently.

    As to the merits of the crusting process and the fact that the crust must be trimmed off, I believe that to be true. But the butchers I know who do game meat seem to prefer crusted meat overall, because of the protective aspects in terms of surface bacterial contamination.

    Hope it helps!

    -Mike
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    Moderator LuJon's Avatar
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    Vek, Shoot me an address I will be by after work to pick up a roast. We are out of moose meat untill I can get the wife up to Delta to fill her cow tag. A nice tender roast sure would make for some great enchiladas!! I will be sure to tell the guys whether TAG bags performed adequately...

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    I think a crust is critical to keeping flies off the meat. Flies always go to the cut/bloodshot/wet parts of the meat and stay away from the crust. I've never used synthetic bags, but want to try them sometime. Even with cotton bags I will remove the meat from them if conditions are right and if I think that will help get the meat crusted over and cooled.

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    Default Water cooled meat

    Akmud, I mentioned on another thread too that we submerged meat in a mtn. stream to keep it. At least in that particular instance it worked great.
    We didn't just cool it, however. We left it in the water, in heavy plastic bags. This was done because it was early in the hunt, fairly warm for the North Slope.
    No flies on it this way, either.
    I figured like this. Meat can last about a week wrapped in plastic in the fridge. That's beef that you get in the store, with an unknown history of freezing, thawing, etc. before you buy it.
    We killed these caribou, field dressed them immediately, and had them in the water within hours. The river was approximately refrigerator temperature.
    4 or 5 days later, we flew out to the haul road and drove home without further refrigeration, and the meat was good.
    It did go directly to a processor at that point though.

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    I inspected foods for the military for 21 years including beef and other live stock before, during and after slaughter. I have kept boned out moose in small game bags for up to 10 days hanging under a shaded tarp with no ill effects what so ever when daytime temperatures were in the high 50's.
    This year was a first for me as all the moose we shot we had to bring out on the bone. It was all crusted over and nothing was lost and no bugs to contend with.
    Crust or no crust? Who really knows for sure. I seriously doubt a crust helps protect the meat from spoilage. What a crust can do is to make it more difficult for insects to get into the meat. And then the crust has to be removed before processing.
    Mositure inside the meat can cause spoilage for sure. One condition that comes to my mind quickly is named "sour round".
    When we boned out animals and put the meat in smaller bags with each weighing upwards of 50-60 pounds it was in prime condition to be spoiled quickly because more of the surface area of the meat was exposed to the oxygen compared to leaving the meat on the bone. None of the boned out meant ever crusted over.
    Temperature and shade are very important to preserving meat. Goes without saying the cooler the temperature the longer it should last. Shade helps reflect the sun off the meat hence keeping it cooler. Water immersion would help if you are in a warm area and I would vote to keep the water off the meat if at all possible. But cool water immerision exposing the meat to the water would probably be better than keeping the meat warm.
    I don't pretend to have all the answers but cool the meat quickly and keep it as cool as you can. It isnt rocket science.
    Remember, different people have different definations of spoilage. What might be considered spoiled to you is considered a rare treat to others. During my food inspection years I was taught the defination of spoilage is when a certain food item is unsuitable to a given population.
    Some beef is aged three months in high end steak houses.

    Keep it clean, get it cooled as quickely as possible, and take care of it until you can process it.
    Happy eating

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    Member Vince's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snowwolfe View Post
    I Some beef is aged three months in high end steak houses.
    Happy eating
    see NOW this is interesting... got more info on aging it 3 months..... i have never heard that...
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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Another tip on cooling--

    Here's a tip for you- for your meat pole purchase tarps that are silver on one side, rather than the ones that are solid blue, brown, etc. Pitch the tarp with the silver side up and it will attract less heat, keeping your meat several degrees cooler, especially in warmer weather.

    -Mike
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    Default great thread

    It sounds like the posters in this thread all have found a way to make it work. I think all in all this thread will serve as a guide to anyone looking for ideas on meat care in the field & the TAG Bags can be a important PART of it.

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