By Aaron Farley
It is that time of year again. All hunting seasons are closed, the freezer is getting empty, and I’m developing a nervous tick from hunting withdrawals. Rather than sitting around the house going stir crazy, this is a good opportunity to organize and plan for next year’s harvest.
A couple years ago we started using a categorical storage system in our freezer that has been extremely helpful. Before our new system, we used the “stack it in the freezer and dig it out when you need it” method of storing our venison and other meat. As you can imagine, finding a roast for dinner was not an enjoyable task. One day while holding a yoga-like position by lifting the freezer lid with one hand, digging into the bottom for some deer steaks with the other, and balancing on one foot I decided the system was not working. That was when we started organizing our chest freezer with diaper boxes. Yeah.
One thing we have an abundance of is diaper boxes. For almost five years straight now, there have been at least one (often two) toddler sized poop factories living in my house. The side effect, other than the empty wallet, is that we always have diaper boxes. Turns out boxes make great organizing containers for the freezer. They are thin walled, and when placed well, take up very little additional room in the freezer. Here is how we organize our freezer now:
Boxed by Cuts
When we stack our meat into our freezer, we have 5 different categories and a box for each. Boxes for larger cuts have larger boxes. Smaller cuts, or ones we have less of (ie. backstraps), get smaller boxes. Here are the categories we use in our freezer:
Roasts (roast cuts, not always used as roast)
Loin (back straps, tenderloins)
The boxes do not stack perfectly to fill all the space inside the freezer. To utilize space, we stack vegetables, pecans, and other loose items at the end of the rows where the boxes leave gaps. We often have whole chickens and a few half gallon milk jugs of frozen water for our cooler in these gaps as well. The boxes also allow us to move stuff around in the freezer without worrying about everything collapsing into a pile in the bottom of the freezer.
FIFO (First In First Out)
Since we usually have 4-6 deer in the freezer each year, we use a First In First Out (or FIFO) system to make sure we steward the resource well. All the meat in the freezer is wrapped in white paper, so it is easy to let a pack slip by through the year and find it once it’s pretty old. We carefully date each package, and then stack our boxes accordingly to help keep things rotating through the freezer. By using the first meat harvested first, we get the most distance out of our yearly harvest.
When we process a new deer, we butcher and wrap the meat into desired portions and then lay it out on the top layer in our freezer to freeze. Once it’s frozen, we take out the corresponding box and slip it in underneath the other meat in that box. Now, when we decide to fix steaks on the grill for dinner tomorrow, we can take from the top of each box knowing we are using the older meat first.
Some exception is made to the FIFO rule when throwing a party for friends, or when eating the meat fresh before we need to freeze it. FIFO is simply a rule of thumb we use to make sure we make good use of our resources and prevent freezer burn or decomposition as best we can.
One Year Rule
As a general guide, we do not keep meat in the freezer for longer than one year. However, with our family of 5, this is not usually an issue. If I am able to process 4 deer in a season, we will have eaten all of the meat before summer. If I am able to process 5 -6, that will sometimes get us close to the end of summer. Our family eats primarily from the freezer full of meat I’ve killed, so it goes fast. However, in those years when we are blessed with more than normal harvest, or when I am able to rack up on fish, we may have meat that will last a year.
When we realize the days are getting near for the meat to “expire” (or what we consider to be the end of it’s tasteful range) we begin to get rid of it. Sometimes we will give some to family and friends who use the meat well. Sometimes we have parties and celebrate the spoils with what is left in our freezer. Whatever the case, I feel like a bad steward of this great bounty if it wastes, so we put it to good use.
Whatever you are doing to manage your freezer, I hope that it works well for you. If you are like us, and getting into your freezer is like playing Jenga, then I hope you can use some of these tips to bring order to the chaos.
– Aaron Farley, RusticMan.com