In 2019 after the close of my Pennsylvania big game season I needed to pick up some more big game processing equipment. I’d filled my antlerless tag in the last hour of the last day of my trip, leaving me to gut, cut, and pack my meat into a cooler overnight to leave for the 23 hour drive home the next morning. It was an experience I’ll not soon forget.
Once I got my deer home to Colorado I was faced with a dilemma. Do I thaw all my meat, cut all the silver skin off of it, re-freeze it, and then look for a butcher? Or do I do everything myself? I like to do things the hard way, so I set off to Cabela’s, and picked up the Cabela’s Carnivore 1/2 Horsepower #8 Grinder and the 5 pound sausage stuffer. I was just going to take the dive directly into the deep end of the processing pool.
My reasoning was, if I was going to process my own game, I was going to do everything I could. A 1/2 horsepower grinder should be able to handle most of the things I’d throw at it without taking up a load of space. I wanted something that I could process an elk or part of a moose without batting an eye. My 2019 elk season was painfully short, but my 2020 season brought more game being sighted and better odds overall at getting a kill. So while I haven’t processed an elk with it yet, I’ve made homemade sausage, burger, and processed two large whitetails with it.
Motor: 350W induction 1/2 horsepower
Settings: On / Off / Reverse*
Grinding Capacity: 5-7lbs of meat per minute
Dimensions: 20″L x 9.5″W x 17″D.
Weight: 45 lbs.
*Note: Our model had an older sealed switch with only on/off. Newer models have an on, off, reverse switch.
On the base of the unit there’s an integrated drawer you can store most if not all of the various accessories for the grinder. I found it doesn’t quite all fit, but I’m sure there’s a way to keep it inside without cluttering your junk drawer.
All of the major components are made of a food safe stainless steel that makes it easy to clean and lubricate when necessary. When cleaning I wipe down the grinding plates with a light coating of vegetable oil so they don’t flash rust.
The 1/2 Horsepower #8 grinder from Cabela’s is the smallest commercial grinder in their Carnivore series, but is the most affordable for the home processor. The MSRP of the Cabela’s 1/2 horsepower grinder runs at about $349 but look for it to be a little lower after big game seasons close out for the year in January and February.
What’s in the Box?
Inside the box you’ll find the grinder itself along with a 10mm coarse grinding plate and 4.5mm fine grinding plate, a Cool-Tek gel ice pack, and a sausage stuffing accessory pack. The sausage stuffing pack includes several funnels, a two piece snack stick funnel, a sausage funnel, and a stuffing star. Also included is a white food grade plastic plunger to force meat into the grinder, it’s equipped with two plastic tabs to stop it from getting dangerously close to the running auger when the grinder is in use.
Cabela’s offers a couple of interesting accessories that fit their Cabela’s Carnivore series grinders. The Cool-Tek ice packs keep the metal parts cool while in use. Specially designed they simply pressure fit around the flat surface containing the auger with an elastic band.
Probably the most useful accessory available though to the solo meat processor like myself is the Cabela’s Electric Meat Grinder Foot Pedal for $50. Simply a switch on a foot pedal you place in line with the power plug of your grinder or electric sausage stuffer this allows you to start and stop your grinding or stuffing while keeping your hands free to load the hopper, plunge the meat, or deal with the sausage casing. If you’re not terribly coordinated like I am, you need all the free hands you can get.
The Cabela’s Carnivore 1/2 horsepower grinder is as easy to use as you could imagine. I keep the Cool-Tek ice packs in my standup freezer in the garage all year round. These wrap around the “throat” of the grinder around where the auger sits inside the unit. It keeps the area of the grinder that imposes the most friction on your meat cool. The grinder comes with one in the box, but it might be worth getting an additional one to eke out some more grind time on a large pile of meat. In order to keep the grinder as cool as possible I’d also recommend placing several other pieces in the deep freeze before use. Put the grinding plate, auger, cutting blade, meat tray, and the large angled chute into the freezer for maximum effect. This keeps the unit cooler longer, and extends your grind time.
Being that this is a commercial grade grinder I’ve never had issues stressing the motor during long grinding sessions. However, what you’ll find is the auger, the blade, the grinding plates, and other parts heat up. This heat causes fat to build up along the auger and behind the grinding plate. Especially so if you’re grinding boneless pork shoulder, which I find makes the perfect meat to fat ratio for grinding your own homemade sausage.
You will generally run out of counter space or meat before your unit gets too hot to damage it. However, it’s something to keep in mind. Friction generates heat, and if you want the very best performance keep as much of the unit as cool as possible for as long as possible. If you can manage it, take your chunked up meat and spread it on a cookie sheet and stash in your freezer for a little bit before grinding. Don’t get the meat chunks rock hard, just a little firm. That, coupled with your pre-chilled grinder pieces will ensure the longest possible run time of your grinder before it gets gummed up with fat and needs to be cleaned during prolonged use.
This is one of the most useful pieces of kit in my big game processing arsenal next to my commercial knives. I use my grinder all the time by comparison to other more specialty pieces like my meat slicer. If you’ve ever thought about making your own sausage, this grinder and a Costco package of two boneless pork shoulders make for an easy time. I process about 10-20lbs of delicious breakfast sausage at a time and then vacuum seal the loose sausage for biscuits and gravy throughout the year.
There’s very few if any misses with this product. I wish they’d have filled the gap and provided the medium grinding plate in the box. I’d have also liked to see a reverse on my unit, but that’s since been fixed with the units offered in 2020 / 2021 with a change to the switch. It is awfully heavy at 45lbs so lugging it up and down stairs can be a bit of a chore. But all of those are minor when compared to the capabilities you’re bringing to your home kitchen.
For processing game you can hardly keep up with the Carnivore. It will easily process the advertised 5-7lbs of meat per minute. You find yourself loading the hopper at the top of the grinder and using the plastic plunger to keep up with the grinding capacity. For the cost to benefit on this unit I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to someone processing 2-3 large game animals per year. Enjoy making your own sausage? This is definitely the unit for you. You’re not going to use this if you’re cutting meat as a side hustle, but it easily fills the role of a grinder for me as a person who likes to DIY.