How to Cook Venison – The Ultimate Guide is your one stop to learn everything there is to know about cooking venison! From processing, to sourcing and cooking various cuts of deer meat, you will find the information you need! Complete with over 50 recipes!
Have you always wanted to learn about cooking venison? Venison is a protein that has been eaten since paleo times. It is healthy and delicious, if you know the secrets to cooking it properly.
We will give you over 50 recipes from some of the worlds’ most renowned venison chefs. Plus a whole lot of useful information to make you an expert too.
What is Venison?
Venison comes the Latin verb venari, or ‘to hunt’, according to D’Artagnan. In that context, venison can be applied to boar, rabbit, hare, moose, antelope, elk, caribou and a few others. The term most often refers to deer meat.
It can also refer to any specific cut of the animal, as with beef and pork different cuts are referred to with different terms. For instance, loin or filet, bottom round, top round, flank, etc.
In different areas of the world, the regulations differ. In most American states, there are specific times of the year when deer can be taken.
These are usually in the fall after the fawns are mature enough to survive for themselves and before the winter, when food is less plentiful.
In many areas, it is essential to hunt deer to reduce the populations. Loss of habitat due to human encroachment on their territories has played a huge role in over population of deer herds in many areas.
If populations are not reduced the entire herd will suffer from starvation, during the winter.
Car accidents are a large danger to deer and motor vehicle users in many regions, especially when a herd is overpopulated.
There are also diseases and pests that will be more prevalent in an overpopulated herd. In the northeast, pests like deer ticks are quite dangerous to humans, they are carriers of lyme disease.
Is Venison Healthy?
This question is, as they say, is relative. Comparatively speaking venison has almost half the fat of beef and more protein. It also contains almost no saturated fat. It is high is iron, niacin, vitamin B6, and riboflavin, according to Outdoor Life.
Deer meat also has about half of the calories and less than 1/4 total fat, compared to pork, according to the USDA National Nutrition Database.
That being said, venison is still a “red meat” and does contain cholestrol (about 30% of the RDV per serving). It is suggested that we only eat red meat a few times per week.
With the grocery store shelves teeming with “grass feed” and “no antibiotic” beef and pork, venison is a clear choice for an alternative.
In my particular area, the deer feed heavily on apples and residual corn and soybeans left in farmers’ fields, after the harvest. In other areas, deer feed heavily on nuts and berries. They are about as organic as you can get.
Deer Meat Processing
Proper processing of the deer meat is terribly important. Not only for taste of the finished product but for food safety as well.
Field dressing should be done immediately. Make sure you are knowledgable in this art. Here is a good YouTube field dressing video to get you started.
If you need help with identifying individual cuts of venison, see our Venison cuts plus their uses article.
Aging Deer Meat – Dry Aged vs. Wet Aged
There is much debate whether aging helps tenderize the meat. We are convinced that it aids in tenderizing the meat.
Aging breaks down collagen and connective tissues in the meat, as this article from RealTree explains in more depth.
There are 2 methods for aging meat. Dry aging and wet aging. Both types of aging should be done for 2 to 7 days. Larger bucks could take up to 14 days. After aging, the meat should cut into different cuts, packaged, labelled and frozen, if not consumed within a short period of time.
When dry aging you need to have a clean area, protected from animals but cold enough. The temperature must be below 40°F and above 32°F to hang the deer.
If you do not have these conditions, you could dedicate a refrigerator to aging deer for the season. Quarter the deer leaving it loosely wrapped and store it in the refrigerator.
It is suggested that a fan to circulate the air will enhance and speed up the aging process. Battery operated fans are widely available.
When dry aging, the outer layer of meat will dry out and should be cut off and discarded.
Wet aging serves the same purpose, but is done in vacuum sealed bags to maintain the moisture levels. We prefer dry aging but in years when the weather is too warm, we have wet aged deer as well.
Vacuum pack or wrap the cuts immediately. Then label them and get them into the freezer!
When you are ready to cook a cut of meat. Remove it from the freezer a day or two ahead of time and thaw it in the refrigerator, to minimize any harmful bacteria that can grow at room temperature.
Why Does Some Venison Taste Gamey?
Deer meat quality depends on two different, but related factors. Topography and food sources.
The main source of food in the deer population around your local area will have a large effect on the flavor of your venison.
Deer that have to work harder for sustenance can have a tougher texture, due to more developed muscles and tendons, than deer populations that have plentiful food sources.
Deer taken in a flat topography will ultimately be more tender. These deer generally feed on corn, beans and fruits and will have less gamey taste.
Deer taken in areas, where there are lots of mountains and woods have a tougher texture, the gamey flavor comes mostly because they eat acorns and evergreens.
As a result, tougher deer may need special treatment sometimes, to remove the gamey taste and/ or tougher texture.
How to Remove Gamey Taste From Deer Meat
Because of the low fat content of deer meat, special care must be taken to ensure that the venison does not dry out and the flavor is not gamey.
Some things that we already discussed above will minimize the gaminess of certain game species.
- Proper cleaning and butchering
- Soaking meat to remove gaminess. This is a highly disputed topic among hunters. Many hunters swear by soaking the meat prior to packaging and freezing. Some of the most common soaking ingredients include;
- salt water
- lemon juice
- Proper freezing. Vacuum packaging works the best, but freezer paper can be used as well as commercial freezer bags. Make sure to eliminate as much air from them as possible.
- Proper cooking, more on that below.
- Marinating venison. More below.
General Rules for Cooking all Types of Venison
- Always use a good quality meat thermometer and test for doneness.
- Deer meat is best cooked to medium-rare. Do not cook over 135°F, except when slow cooking deer meat
- Practice safe raw food handling procedures! ie: process properly, freeze immediately, thaw under refrigeration.
- Let meat come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, especially when quick cooking, such as baking, pan frying or grilling..
- Tenderizing cuts from larger deer with a meat mallet can help. In particular, loin and tender roast cuts.
Quick Cooking Deer Meat
It is especially true that different techniques must be used when quick cooking the meat. When making kebabs, stir fries and sandwiches, the best way to ensure tender, great tasting meat is to soak or marinate the meat.
Milk, buttermilk, vinegars and vinegar/ oil based marinades all work well for this. Salt is also a good tenderizer, when applied hours or a days prior to cooking. This Venison Teriyaki is a good example. Marinate in refrigerator, if marinating longer than 30 minutes.
Dishes like burgers, meatloaf, meatballs and other fast cooking recipes require added fat. This is because of the low fat content in the meat.
Types of Fat to Choose
- pork fat
- beef fat, our favorite, we use steak trimmings from our local butcher
- butter or oil added to meat
How Much Fat to Use
Obviously, the more fat you use, the less healthy the meat becomes. For ground recipes, we use a mixture of 80% venison and 20% steak fat. That is the percentage that gives burgers and meatballs the perfect texture and flavor, while still being able to taste the venison and maintaining as much of the healthy aspect as we can.
Make sure both the fat and the deer meat are ice cold before grinding. It is also beneficial to freeze the grinder attachments and sausage stuffers. This way you avoid most of the bad pathogens that can infect the meat, when it warms up.
We usually freeze the meat for an hour or two, so that it is ice cold!
Work quickly when grinding meat and wear clean, food safe gloves. Once meat is ground, refrigerate or freeze immediately!
**Pro Tip** Only grind enough meat for a few servings. Ground meat tends to freezer burn faster than large chunks. When processing the deer, save any meat that is destined to be ground in separate bags labelled as such. Then grind as needed throughout the year. The meat will have a better flavor, ultimately.
How to Cook Venison, Ground Venison Recipes
When you grind your venison you open up so many possibilties! Meatballs, burgers, chilies, casseroles, venison sausages and more!
Mix deer meat with fat at your preferred ratio, using recommendations above. Add any flavorings that you prefer.
Handle the meat as little as possible to maintain the texture and not make the meat tough. The addition of raw eggs or milk/ buttermilk can help with burger that tends to be dry. Also adding cheese to the meat will increase the juiciness of the ground meat.
Spices to Use for Burgers, Meatballs, Sausages
- Italian Seasoning
- hot pepper
Here are some delicious recipes using ground deer meat.
How to Cook Venison, Burgers
See all of the notes in the above section for ground venison recipes. They all pertain to burgers, as well.
Do NOT overcook!! Cooking venison burgers to well done, or even medium well, is a recipe for disaster. If you prefer your meat not to be pink in the middle, cook until medium rare, or medium (125°F- 135°F) and let rest thoroughly, at least 5 minutes. All of the pink color will drain away and you will have perfect, juicy burgers!!
Here are some delicious burger recipes from some of the worlds’ preeminent authorities on the subject!
Grilled Venison Recipes
Grilling Venison is another quick cooking technique that may require marinating or the addition of added fats. You have to save some venison to cook on the grill in the summer! I know it’s difficult, but take my word for it, save some! It is so delicious. Yum.
How to Cook Venison, Loin, Tenderloin and Backstrap Recipes
The loin of the deer, similar to cow or pig, are one of the most tender cuts of venison. No matter where the deer has foraged, this cut is tender and has very little fat!
When cooking loins, such as venison backstrap, it is, again, imperative not to overcook the meat! Serve these cuts with chopped fresh herbs, sauces and marinades.
How to Cook Venison – Slow Cooking
Venison Stews are may be the ultimate in Fall comfort foods! Slow cooked and braised recipes lend themselves well to deer meat.
Less fat is required, because they cook for a longer period of time, and they become fork tender! Some of the tougher roasts from the back legs can be used for these dishes.
Venison Chilies are the other category that are the epitome of comfort food! Spicy, hearty, one-pot meals!
Venison Steaks and Roasts
I usually save most of our back legs roasts whole and freeze them. The meat has less of a tendency to freezer burn. Here is where there is huge opportunity to get creative. There is a ton of creativity in the recipes below.
Venison Recipes – Other Venison Recipes
Venison Jerky is one of the first recipes that many hunters learn. It is easy and can be done in the oven, in a smoker or in a commercial dehydrator. It is one of the first ways that I learned to cook venison (that I actually liked! My, how times change! 😂)
Other venison recipes that do not fit in any of the cuts above are here as well, such as bone broth.
Sourcing Venison for Non-hunters
More and more high end butcher shops and grocers are carrying venison these days. With the demand for grass fed and non GMO foods, venison is a good alternative to beef and other traditional meat proteins.
Many states will not allow the sale of wild deer meat to protect the populations. There are many farms raising venison now. So it is becoming slightly easier to source. If all else fails, there are some reputable online merchants, who ship it frozen to you.
Online Sources For Venison
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- Ground Venison
- Whole Tenderloin
- Osso Bucco Fore Shank
- Osso Bucco Hind Shank
- Stew Meat
- Venison Flank Steak
- Venison Medallions
List of ingredients commonly used for cooking deer meat
- onions, shallots, scallions, leeks
- green beans
- red wine
- Worcestershire sauce
- spices and herbs, including;
- juniper berries
- bay leaf
- chili powder
Venison is a low fat, all natural, organic alternative to purchasing beef, pork, lamb, or other land mammals. Venison has been eaten since paleo times and can be cooked in a variety of ways, with numerous methods!
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If you have any questions about cooking your venison, let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear from you and will help where I can!
Enjoy! And have fun cooking!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click the link and purchase something, at no additional cost to you. See FTC Disclosure, here.
Originally published 8/5/2019 Updated with new content 8/3/21.