All chopped up

Game meat processors gear up for the busy hunting season

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

For hunters, fishermen and meat-lovers at heart, walking into a meat-processing company means succumbing to a parade of heavenly scents. Rich smells from seasoned raw caribou and smoking venison saturate the air, and the sound of a buzzing meat grinder or the whack of a knife on the cutting board, just after slicing through a colossal moose hindquarter, may make mouths water. Cement floors and refrigerator walls augment the feeling that you are walking into an icebox.

Meat-processing companies like Horst Seafood and Jerry's Meats and Seafood in Juneau accept a wide variety of meats, from assorted fish to game meats such as goat, deer, elk, caribou, moose, bear and buffalo.

"I went into the meat department and thought it was neat," said Nelson Liborio, a meat cutter at Horst Seafoods.

"I had a chance to cut meat, and being a chef (in Hawaii), I had done all my boneless cuts before, but I never did anything with bone-in cuts or knew where every piece of meat came from on the animal," he said.

Liborio recently butchered almost 6,000 pounds of Dungeness crab, and he finished up a large moose.

"When the season opens, it is busy in here," said Liborio. "If you don't stay on top of it, you get buried."

Custom processing for game meat or seafood begins with the receiving room, where raw products are weigh- ed, named, labeled, and sorted by items or special orders.

Customers decide what kind of processing and products they want - smoking, vacuum-sealed, steaks, fillets, hamburgers, saus-ages, said Liborio.

The raw products are stored in a large freezer set at 20 to 38 degrees.

The meat cutters can produce smok-ed fish, pickled fish, dip, jerky, lox (a cold-smoked meat, thinly sliced like deli meat), haliburgers, fillets, steaks, and butterfly cuts (a technique of slicing the salmon so it appears in the shape of a butterfly). But don't forget the good old hamburger.

"When you do hamburger, you grind it first through a coarse plate, until your fat consistency is equal, and then it gets put in a fine plate and ground out again into what you know as hamburger," said Liborio.

Having an owner native to Germany, Horst Schramm, it is no wonder that sausages are the specialty of Horst Seafood.

"If you do sausages, the meat is put through once on a coarse (ground), and then the mixer takes it to the consistency that we want for whatever sausage we make," Liborio said.

The mixer is a round bowl-shaped machine with a large chopping blade that spins much like a food processor's blade. It whips the meat to consistencies ranging from chunky to pasty smooth.

"Sausages have different textures," said Liborio.

"There are some sausages that are course ground - you can see the meat chunks - versus a hot dog, which is actually like a paste when it's put into the sausage casings."

"Casings" is the term preferred by Liborio, as opposed to "intestines." But for people with weaker stomachs, Horst Seafood also stocks a casing made from egg yolk, ideal for snack sticks or pepperoni sticks.

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