Cooking Venison 101
Sharing your harvest with family and friends is always rewarding. If you’re excited to cook up your hard-earned venison, be sure to learn a few basics before diving in. Venison requires a few different cooking considerations than other meats.
Venison vs. Beef
If you place a venison steak next to a prime New York strip, you’ll notice some differences. Venison is dark red and has little fat. Beef is marbled with fat and is a much lighter red. Venison is a lean meat, with about one-third the fat of beef. Venison also has more protein, iron and vitamin B6.
If you love steak marbled with fat, but you want the health benefits of venison, you can cook up a juicy venison steak by adding fat to the process. Duck fat or butter made of milk from grass-fed dairy cows are excellent additions to venison.
Another difference between venison and beef is that you find one at the grocery store, and the other in the wild and on the hoof. Deer, elk, bears pronghorns and all other animals we hunt live in the wild. That’s why their meat is lean and nutrient-rich. Venison is also free from steroids, antibiotics and other drugs commonly used in large-scale livestock production.
Living in the wild also contributes to venison’s flavor. Its taste can vary depending on how the meat is handled and cared-for after the kill. In fact, your shot can affect the flavor, too.
Ideally, you’ll make a great shot that causes the animal to expire in seconds. Then you’ll find it quickly and field dress it to start the cooling process. If it’s above freezing but below 50 degrees, you can hang it in the shade to cool. If it’s warmer than 50 degrees outside, take your animal to a processor right away or butcher it yourself. By making a good shot and quickly cooling the meat, you’ll ensure great taste, with none of the “gamey” flavor some people report.
Depending on how it’s prepared, venison tastes similar to lamb or lean beef. In this writer’s biased opinion, wild game is delicious. Part of that satisfaction doesn’t come from your taste buds, however. You forge a connection with that meat because you worked hard for it, and converted it from an animal on the hoof to a steak or roast in the pan.
Those connections make eating wild game far different from meat you pick up at the store. When you eat meat from game animals you’ve hunted, you know a lot about that animal’s life. You know where it lived, what it ate, how it died and how the meat was handled.
If you’re seeking that type of connection with your food, bowhunting might be for you. It’s not easy, but we’re here to help. Our 101 section walks you through the steps to start bowhunting.
Venison steaks come in many forms, but hunters rave about backstraps, which are long strips of meat from both sides of the spine. A simple way to prepare backstraps is to season them with salt and pepper, and grill them. While they grill, baste them with a mixture of thyme, garlic and melted butter. You can cook them the same way in a cast-iron skillet by tilting the skillet to one side to pool the butter, and then spoon it over the meat.
Most people prefer to eat venison steaks cooked medium to medium-rare. Well-done venison steaks dry out and lose their palatability. If you prefer well-done meat, slow cooking is a better option.
The neck, ribs, shanks and shoulders are all tougher cuts. If cooked like a backstrap, they can become chewy. The sinew and tendons in these cuts make them great candidates for braising and slow-cooking. Those cooking methods melt away tough tendons, leaving you a tender, satisfying meal.
Learn more about cooking tough cuts in this article.
Another way to prepare tougher cuts is to grind them. Ground venison can be used in burgers, meatloaf, sausages, meatballs, meat sauce and any other favorite ground-beef recipe. Adding a little ground pork to ground venison is a good way to add fat to your burgers and sausages without losing venison’s unique flavors.
Rear legs have several large muscle groups that, when separated, make great roasts. Heat a cast-iron skillet and add a generous portion of butter. Place the roast in the pan, and sear it on both sides. Then place the roast in an oven at 450 degrees until it reaches the proper internal temperature. Let the roast rest on a plate or cutting board. Meanwhile, add goat cheese, rosemary, thyme and garlic to the pan. Add another tablespoon of butter if necessary. Let the cheese sauce come together in the pan. Slice the roast thin and spoon the sauce over the slices.
Cooking wild game offers endless possibilities for meals. When cooking everything from squirrels to moose, you’ll find a plethora of delicious dishes you can prepare. Get creative and share your favorite recipes with us at Bowhunting 360 on Facebook and Instagram.