Many Alaskans are transitioning from hunting moose to processing and storing them. As a relative newcomer to the state, KTNA’s Phillip Manning says he is a neophyte to the labor-intensive process that is taking what was once a living animal weighing half a ton to roasts, steaks, and ground meat. When he heard that a friend had taken a moose and was planning to start processing, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to put on some old clothes and head over with his recorder.
As I arrive at Jason and Kathryn Hacker’s home, I’m greeted by the sight of a moose head with large antlers and hanging portions of the animal large enough to put most beef cattle of my home state of Texas to shame.
“We’ll put a fan on it, so it’ll get a crust on it. That keeps the bugs off of it pretty good, too. Once you get more involved as far as processing goes, you have to flay all that crust off and get it down to whatever sizes you want.”
That’s Jason Hacker. He brought down the moose last week, and is walking me through the process that will eventually lead the animal to his family’s dinner table. He’s currently working on a hindquarter, which he says will yield quite a bit of meat. All in all, he thinks he may get 800 pounds from his moose, enough to feed the whole family well into next year. Friends and neighbors who pitch in also get to take some of the bounty home. Processing the meat will probably take the better part of a week, and I was curious how he determines what sort of cuts to make. He says the location of the meat on the animal is a big factor.
“On some of the stuff I’ve got right here, it’s the lower part of the leg, so it’s got more tendons and it’s a little tougher stuff. You wouldn’t want a steak or something out of that, obviously. You’d be chewing on it for a week and not really getting anywhere with it. That helps, and if you’ve got a big roast, and you need to cut it down to a smaller piece, you’ll have a little bit left over. You can turn that into burger, too.”
Turning the small cuts into burger meat will be my job, today. I put on an apron and gloves while Jason shows me how to work the meat grinder.
“You just feed them down in there….There are different settings for this–well not settings–different meshes. So, you can grind it once and come out with a chunkier hamburger, then you can change that out and run it through again and get a finer burger.”
I fire up the grinder and start feeding in thin strips of meat. Within about ten minutes, the grinder has produced enough ground moose to fill a large kitchen bowl. While I wait for more small pieces to send through the machine, I talk to Jason’s wife, Kathryn. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty with the butchering, but right now she’s focusing on getting the meat packaged for the freezer. She says that after eating moose for years, she has trouble going back to beef.
“It’s healthy, it’s organic, it’s free range. The animal was treated well. Even my vegetarian friends don’t have too much of a hard time with us doing this, because the animal wasn’t mistreated in any way. We’re always respectful and thankful to the animal for providing food for us. There’s no hormones or growth-injected anything, so yeah, compared to beef this is incredible.”
I asked Kathryn what sort of dishes are possible with moose, and she gave me a litany of food items that could fill a feature piece all on its own. Kathryn and Jason both say they enjoy the versatility of the ground meat and the ease of cooking a roast.
As we talk, Kathryn mentions that I should contact Steve Harrison, the P.E. teacher at Su-Valley High. She says he organizes the Moose Club, which teaches students how to process moose. I did call Harrison later, who says the club, which is in its third year, uses equipment purchased with grant funding to retrieve and process roadkill moose. Students take part in the processing, and the meat is donated to charity.
By then, there are plenty more small cuts of meat to be minced. After a few more rounds with the grinder, it’s time for me to head back to the radio station, having checked an item off of my, “Learning to be an Alaskan,” list.