Getting rid of tendons, ligaments, and sinew—known collectively as silverskin—is a fact of life for those of us who like to process and cook our own wild game. It’s usually pretty obvious where and how to cut off these white and/or silver portions, but good technique and attention to detail will leave you with more meat and in better shape than if you just hack away at it.
Silverskin is fine to eat, but it will cause the meat to contract when it hits heat, making everything hard to chew. We leave it on all sorts of tough cuts that we’re going to slow cook because silverskin will eventually break down into gelatin, but it’s best to remove from any muscle you’re going to cook hot and fast. It also gums up a grinder like nothing else, so you’ll want to get most of it off your burger meat.
There are two basic ways to remove silverskin: with the sinew facing up or facing down. It’s a matter of personal preference but both are good to know for different situations. We’ll start with silverskin facing up.
For this demonstration I used a backstrap from a whitetail deer. Backstraps, also called loins, have a thick sheath of silverskin running along the outside of the muscle that some native tribes once used for bowstrings (and Steve Rinella claims to have used for dental floss). Some of us will leave it attached for freezing to add a layer of protection to the meat, but you’re likely going to want to trim it off before cooking.
Start by pulling or slicing away any fat or fascia. Then pick one end of the piece of silverskin you want to remove and delicately slip your knife point up under it. With your blade angled upward and against the silverskin, slice toward the end of the sinew to create a tab. Holding and pulling against that loose piece of silverskin, start cutting the other way, knife blade still angled upward. Silverskin is a lot tougher than meat so with the right angle and pressure you can keep from cutting through it, almost pushing the meat off of that sinew. Keep slicing carefully until all the silverskin is removed. You may have to make a couple passes where it gets too wide for your knife blade.
The other method for removing silverskin, with the sinew facing down, may feel more familiar to folks who are used to filleting and skinning fish. You still will likely want to create the end tab I mention above with the sinew facing up, but then you can flip over the meat. Pulling on that tab, press your knife blade on a downward angle against the table and silverskin—just like removing the skin from a fish fillet. You should be able to pull the meat into the knife blade with that loose silverskin, rocking back and forth to free muscle from sinew. A long, flexible, sharp blade will make this much easier.
You can apply these principles to any cut of venison or any other wild game animal. As always, taking your time, making precise, deliberate cuts, and using a sharp, quality knife will yield a superior product.