Venison is a term that refers to the meat butchered from a deer. It may be available by hunting, as well as commercially at grocery stores or in restaurants; however, its exact availability will usually depend on the country or region’s deer population and meat inspection and sales regulations. Deer meat tends to be lean and can be used in a variety of culinary dishes, but due to its limited availability in some areas, it is often used in items that preserve the meat rather than serving it fresh. Venison sticks, a snack product made from dehydrated venison shaped into thin pieces, is a common use for deer meat because it can be stored indefinitely. The product is often available commercially or can be made by hand at home.
The process of making venison sticks generally begins with mixing together ground venison with curing mix. A curing mix can either be homemade or purchased ready-made and typically contains a mixture of salt, sugar, and nitrate. These ingredients are primarily used to help prevent oxidation and bacteria growth in the meat during the drying process. It may take up to three days for the active ingredients in the curing mix to take effect, so the ground venison and curing mix are often combined and refrigerated, then periodically mixed again to evenly distribute the curing mix among the venison, prior to making the sticks.
Once the venison meat has been cured, it is then shaped into sticks. This is often done with the use of an attachment that can be used with a meat grinder to mold the meat into the preferred shape. There are also specialty devices made specifically for jerky and other snack making that can also work at squeezing the venison into a tightly packed stick shape. Shaping venison sticks by hand can be difficult because the shapes by not be uniform or tightly packed enough, making it hard for them to dry evenly. Once the meat is shaped into sticks, it is then dried in an oven set on a low temperature or commercial food dehydrator for anywhere from four to eight hours or until the venison meat is completely dried through.
Although venison sticks can be made with just venison meat and curing mix, many recipes call for other ingredients to add more flavor. Common flavor variations include garlic, chili peppers for spicy versions, or maple syrup for sweeter versions. These additional are usually added into the venison at the same time as the curing mix so that their flavors have time to infuse the meat.