Deer Fat: To Cook or Not to Cook?
Most bowhunters believe deer fat tastes bad. They’ve heard that claim from friends and family alike, and trash every scrap of deer fat they slice from each harvest.
But have you tried eating deer fat? Maybe it’s time to try it and reconsider your opinions.
Demystifying Deer Fat
Hank Shaw, a widely respected author and wild-game chef, likes cooking with deer fat.
“I didn’t grow up as a hunter,” Shaw said. “I was a chef before I was a hunter, so I didn’t come to this pursuit with any preconceived notions. If you grow up hunting, everyone is going to tell you deer fat is no good. I didn’t have that background, so I questioned it and experimented with an obese whitetail doe I shot.”
Shaw made sausage using only venison and deer fat. He said it was “super delicious” while hot, but the fat began coating his mouth as it cooled. That “mouthfeel” makes many people dislike deer fat.
“Mouthfeel is a legitimate thing not to like,” Shaw said. “I don’t like it. Although, most people confuse flavor with mouthfeel, and there’s a difference.”
Shaw said venison fat, however, has good flavor. You just have to cook it properly to improve its mouthfeel. He recommends two ways to cook venison fat:
Option 1: Grind it into Burger
“People can put some into their grind for starters,” Shaw said. “That’s a pretty innocuous way to do it.”
Grinding deer fat into venison burger or sausage complements the meat’s natural flavor. Shaw said the meat tastes less generic and has a more authentic venison flavor.
He likes an 85-15 meat-to-fat ratio, but only uses 5 percent deer fat. He adds about 10 percent pork or beef fat for the rest. “That ratio gives you enough venison fat to make the burger taste like venison, but not enough to coat your mouth,” Shaw said.
Option 2: Cook it with a Backstrap
If you like how the burger or sausage turns out, try making a fat-capped venison backstrap.
Shaw suggests leaving some fat on a piece of backstrap while butchering deer, and then cooking the meat rare in a pan over high heat to make the fat crisp. Shaw leaves the backstrap whole because it’s easier to flip and more difficult to overcook.
“If you crisp the fat and eat it piping hot, I guarantee you’ll like it,” Shaw said.
You can read more about deer fat, cooking techniques and what causes mouthfeel in this article on Shaw’s website Honest-Food.net. His final tip? “Moderation is key,” he said. “A little is great. A lot, not so much.”
Testimonial: ‘I tried it. I liked it.’
Stacy Lyn Harris, a blogger, hunter and wild-game cookbook author, never cooked with venison fat because she heard it was terrible. However, after experimenting with it after reading an early draft of this article, she changed her mind.
“We always cut off venison fat,” Harris said. “I tried it rendered down with onions and veggies, as well as fried with the meat, and I was surprised how it tasted. It was really good when fried with the meat. I could eat that every day. I also used the fat in a spaghetti recipe, and it tasted just fine, so I changed my mind about fat. I think it’s pretty good. I wouldn’t have said that a week ago.”
Harris didn’t freeze the fat. She used it fresh, which she recommends. However, according to Shaw’s article, deer fat can be frozen if it’s thawed and consumed within three to six months. The fat starts to go rancid after that.
If you don’t want to eat deer fat, you can still put it to good use. Shaw recommends cutting scraps as suet, and feeding it to birds all winter. He also recommends rendering the fat, storing it in a glass jar, and using it as a waterproof grease to coat your hunting boots. You can also use it for a soap or candle base. But don’t stop there. Harris uses the fat, or tallow, for grafting trees.
And remember: Don’t knock it until you try it!