Venison Recipes - Preparing Deer Meat for the Table

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People ask me about the best methods for preparing venison practically every day. Sure, there are plenty of hunters out there, but there are also a lot of people who have been given deer meat but have no more than a vague idea of what to do with it.  

In the following, you'll find a thorough introduction suitable for novices, along with sufficient advanced information to aid even the most seasoned wild game chefs. (Many of the same concepts are covered in a video course that I offer. )

Sliced, smoked venison backstrap on a platter. By Holly A. Platt Heyser

First, let's cover the fundamentals. Exactly what is venison Despite how amusing it may sound, I actually get asked this quite frequently.  

Although the term "venison" has been around for centuries, it has recently come to specifically refer to the meat of cervids and wild bovids such as deer, elk, caribou, moose, and even more unusual species such as nilgai, blackbuck, and oryx.  

Even though it is neither a cervid nor a bovid, pronghorn antelope is still considered venison. Similar to domesticated animals, wild sheep and goats can reproduce Some people don't include bison in this category, regardless of whether they're domesticated or wild, and musk ox isn't eaten by enough people to be classified as either venison or bison.  

The common denominator among these species is that venison is a red meat. To any hunter, this goes without saying, but to someone who has never tasted venison, this may come as something of a surprise.  

If you’re curious about the best methods for hanging and dry aging venison, here you go.

Meat from venison is safe to eat

One of the great things about venison is that it can be eaten not only rare but also raw. When I was doing research for my venison cookbook, Buck, Buck, Moose, I looked through a ton of studies on food poisoning to see if there had been any cases involving venison, and there were hardly any in the last few decades.  

It's possible, though unlikely, to contract a food-borne illness from consuming venison that was either raw or undercooked. A few people have contracted listeria due to improper handling of the meat, and a few others have contracted e. coli. E. coli poisoning, which has been linked to eating undercooked deer meat that came into contact with the deer's feces.  

Toxoplasmosis, contracted by eating raw or undercooked venison, is the most serious but extremely rare venison-related illness. Solution Eaten raw or rare, it's best to freeze first. In order to eliminate toxoplasmosis, freezing is recommended by the CDC.  

Freezing deer meat allows you to use it in dishes like venison tartare or any backstrap recipe calling for rare meat.  

Is Venison Good for You?  

Abridged version: yes  

Naturally lean, deer and venison products also boast an abundance of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. To avoid repeating myself, I will not go into great detail about deer fat here; instead, you can read the extensive article I wrote about it here.  

Because of differences in species, body size, and diet, determining the exact nutritional value of wild foods is a difficult task. If you find a graph or chart on a different website, just remember to take it with a grain of salt.  

Low in fat and generally denser than farmed analogs like beef or lamb (because deer, elk, and such are athletes living by their wits, unlike most farm animals), venison will have more vitamins, protein, and minerals per gram than an equal weight of beef or lamb. say, beef  

An elk bugling.

In addition to knowing how to properly feed cervids (such as deer, elk, moose, and caribou), you should be aware of Chronic Wasting Disease. Wild pronghorn are not impacted. My review of current CWD-related human research from 2019 still stands as an accurate reflection of the field.  

In a nutshell: human beings are immune to chronic wasting disease. However, there is no one who wishes to be "Patient Zero" when it comes to a prion disease that has previously spread between species.  

Getting Started With Venison As an Ingredient

The time has come to examine venison cooking methods.  

It's always possible to get venison more tender by cooking it longer; this is rule number one, the prime directive. Something that has been cooked cannot be undone. All things considered, this is true. Because of its low fat content and lack of marbling, venison heats up and cools down much more quickly than beef. Even a lean cut of beef

Fat is a safety net against cooking mistakes. Eating venison removes that cushion, if you will. If you're going to make a mistake in the kitchen, make it by undercooking the food. This is why starting with room temperature meat is recommended.  

Venison steak with caramelized onions on a plate Image by Holly A. Heyser

Second rule/observation: green chefs choose the most tender cuts of venison (tenderloin, backstrap, flat iron steak, etc.) too little emphasis on the challenging parts, and too much on the easy ones  

One more general rule with caveats: an animal's front end is more robust than its rear end. Now, let me explain what I mean by that.  

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Shoulders, front legs, neck, head, and tongue make up the front of a deer or similar animal. Everything here needs to be cooked slowly and low, with the exception of the flat iron steak and the "whistlers" on a large animal like an elk, moose, or bison (these are the long, skinny muscles that cover the animal's trachea).  

You can't even get the best of the backstrap from the front. However, the meat will remain fairly tender. The hindquarters include the back legs, the backstrap, the tenderloins, and the hocks.  

The only gnarly and tough meat is on the hind shanks. The backside makes for great smoking in the style of a roast beef or tri-tip when cut into individual muscle roasts and served medium-rare.  

Credit: A photo by Holly A. Heyser

Cuts of Venison

As idiosyncratic as it gets, the act of butchering a deer can be a bit strange. The final step in preparing game for consumption is butchering. Do not listen to naysayers  

You'll have to buy my book if you want to learn the specifics of how to butcher a deer. ) (Hey, I gotta make a living somehow. )

The most common venison cuts purchased from a processor or butcher are described below. Distinctions can be made between the cuts' utility and their ugliness.  

When it comes to venison, the vast majority of butchers just don't do a good job. That is possible. In the Midwest, where deer seasons are brief and a plethora of people are out hunting simultaneously, processors are typically swamped with a large number of animals all at once. Specifically, I'm pointing at the state of Pennsylvania and the state of Michigan The $100 fee to have your deer processed is also not excessive.  

So, they achieve their goal Not a fan Just look at these reasons  

Backstrap medallions Although not inherently bad, they are much more challenging to cook successfully than backstrap, which can be cooked in longer lengths and then sliced into medallions. That way, you can admire the soft pink interior more closely.  

Venison pot roast made in a crock pot, served on a platter. In this photo, taken by Holly A. Heyser

Shoulder "roasts" Unless you're making venison pot roast, which is delicious, it's not roasts. Don't take this out of the package and think you can cook it rare.  

The Dread "Steak" of the Leg ” OMFG With the fire of a thousand suns, I despise this slash. In other words, it needs to be illegal. What you have here is what happens when someone uses a band saw to cut crosswise through your deer's hind leg, bone and all.  

The end result may look like a steak at first glance, but it is actually six separate muscle groups cut against the grain and centered around a bone. The connective tissue that holds those muscle groups together is often very weak. Therefore, when you cook this war crime of a cut, two things happen: the weak connective tissue separates, causing your "steak" to fall apart, and the strong connective silverskin contracts, horribly warping each piece of the so-called steak.  

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It's getting too hot for my eyelids to continue.  

At long last, you'll receive metric tonnages of ground venison, ideally trimmed with the pork fat or beef fat you requested but sometimes not. Yes, most butcher shops will pulverize the hocks, drumsticks, ribs, neck, and a good portion of the shoulder. That's just the way they operate.  

A chorizo burger on a plate, ready to eat. Photographed by Holly A. Heyser

I'm Getting a Few Thrills From My Venison

You can see that I am the type who would rather do things on her own. The typical cuts of venison that I prepare are as follows: To reiterate, my book is packed with illustrations and photographs.  

Quick summary: I specialize in a technique known as seam butchery. Muscles are joined together by connective tissues, which can be seen as seams. Just take the animal apart piece by piece, just like God did. Here's a pocket knife I use: One heck of a sharp pocket knife, but a knife all the same  

Many people will try to sell you extremely rare or expensive knives, so I feel it's important to warn you. They are unnecessary. However, whatever knife you use, it must be sharp. If you want more information, I wrote an entire article about the equipment used to process deer.  

First, the quarters are removed, and this is usually done out in the field. Unless I'm in a CWD zone, I like to eat my roast of small deer or pronghorn with the neck bone still in. When I butcher a large animal, the neck is the first thing I debone.  

On young animals, I save the liver, kidneys, and tongue. On older animals, I usually keep the heart (unless I blasted it). Although I'm sure older animals haven't abused their livers like I have, the flavor is still too strong for me to keep them.  

Sawing off ribs is one of my favorite things to do when I'm near a ranch; I particularly enjoy doing it with bovids like nilgai, bison, and oryx because their fat is flavorful and not waxy, making "beef" short ribs with these animals incredibly delicious.  

Italian braised venison ribs on a plate Shot by Holly A. Heyser

In most cases, I will not cut chops but rather remove the backstrap and tenderloin. That's on me Simply my own peculiarities In any case, chops should be cut thick, like two ribs on a deer, or a nice rack of ribs. Large animals are the only ones that should be used for single-bone chops. A minor slash is hated by all. Yes, this is the United States of America  

Whole shanks are taken off all animals. The big ones get cut up for ossobuco. While not essential, a Sawzall adds a touch of Goodfellas-style party fun.  

Separation of the hamstrings occurs muscle by muscle. After you have removed the femur, which you can cross cut for marrow bones, you can do most of the remaining work with your fingers. It's best to repeat this with bovids fer sher.

In preparation for dishes like braised shoulder, I prefer to keep the shoulder on smaller deer intact, while on larger animals I prefer to cut a flat iron steak and then use the rest for dishes like venison barbacoa.

Recipes for Preparing Venison

I can't seem to come up with a way to cook venison that I don't enjoy...

OK, I think I can come up with an example: poaching. It's revolting to think of a venison steak, or any red meat, poached in wine or water. But then, I'm not a fool; I know the difference between poaching and braising.

This is because, as we've already established, venison cuts can be prepared in a wide variety of ways, from roasting to frying to grilling to smoking to braising to stewing to eating raw.  

A variety of venison marinades on a tabletop This image was sourced from Shutterstock.

Additional suggestions:

  • If you want the pink inside of a thin cut of meat, start cooking it at a low temperature. Chicken-fried venison is a specialty of mine, and I often coat it in bread crumbs, let it rest in the fridge, and even freeze it for 20 minutes before frying. That way, you can get that golden brown on the outside while keeping the inside pink. Trippy, eh However, it serves its purpose.
  • Like a ring of smoke Surely you do. Prepare cold smoke for venison. The longer the meat takes to reach 140°F, the better the smoke ring will be.  
  • Unless you're going to be reverse searing it, thick cuts and long pieces of backstrap need to be started at room temperature. This encourages uniform cooking and gets rid of the strange black-and-blue color scheme that some people, for some reason, find appealing.  
  • It Has to Give In Your moose, no matter its age, will eventually become tender. Eventually Bull elk pot roasts have taken 5 hours to cook for me before they were tender. With time on your side, When in doubt, the day before you need to impress someone, make a pot roast or braise.
  • Seasonings, with the exception of salt, are easily destroyed by cooking at a high temperature. When he (and it's always a he) puts it on the grill over a roaring fire, the "special spice rub" turns into ash and tastes like ashtray. Burnt paprika has an exceptionally bitter flavor. Please use only salt and fire to prepare your backstrap. Then, once it's finished cooking, rub it down with your rub and let it rest. Thank you very much  
  • Wobbly Bits of venison are best when smoked over an open fire, chopped, and stuffed into a tortilla with some salsa. Period One of the best ways to get people to try offal is through this method. Keep in mind that braising the tongue until it's tender is an absolute must if you plan on using it for tacos.  
Arrachera tacos on a plate ready to eat Image by Holly A. Heyser

Some notes on marinating deer I do use them, but only on very small cuts, as they won't go all the way through. But I do employ them in this fashion, and I stock a wide selection of marinades for venison. In my all-time favorite dish, they are used Tacos made with arrachera-cut venison — you guessed it, skirt steak  

The Closing Statement

The best way to prepare venison, in a few words There is a trip involved. After more than two decades of serious venison cooking, I still pick up new tricks every hunting season. Avoid punishing yourself excessively when you make a mistake.  

So, I'll end with some suggestions for how to correct errors or make the most of failed attempts. In the first place, let me say again that there's always more food to cook. Therefore, most of my repairs involve fixing foods that have been overcooked.  

A venison sausage you made didn't bind properly, so when you eat it, the meat falls apart. Keep it in the links for the time being, but remove the meat from the casings to make venison chili, venison lasagna, or venison ragu. All of these are great options for cooking with lean ground venison.  

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That backstrap was overdone. Just dice it up, heat it up with some salsa, and throw it in some tacos! The aforementioned chili, or the aforementioned, etc.  

Too much toughness was left in the roast. Just keep cooking it until it disintegrates. It's just too dry, though. Aha Tear apart this pounded roast right now. Shredded roast meat is seared on one side in a frying pan coated with pork lard or another fat of your choice. It tastes fantastic wrapped in a tortilla, stuffed inside a rice bowl, or piled high on a sandwich.  

I could continue, but hopefully you understand. I really do wish this was of some use to you. If you have any further inquiries, please feel free to leave a comment.  

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