Identifying your venison cuts / deer cuts is essential to be able to know how to cook the specific cut and the best uses for each cut.
Every different cut on an animal is best cooked by a few different techniques. There are many cuts that require special preparation or cooking techniques or times.
Venison, in particular can be tricky, if you aren’t armed with the knowledge. Venison is so much leaner than pork or beef that many cuts will require some sort of added fat. With all of the right information, you too can create your own culinary masterpieces!
What is venison?
That is rather an interesting question. The definition has changed. The word venison comes from the Latin verb venari, or to hunt. Using this definition, the term historically referred to any cut of meat that was taken by hunting. In other words, any game animal.
The term has changed throughout the centuries and now generally refers to deer, elk or antelope.
The term venison can also be applied to any cut of the animal, including the internal organs. For this reason it’s critical to learn the different cuts and their uses in a culinary application.
General cooking and cutting tips
- Since it is so lean, deer meat should not be overcooked or it becomes dry and tough.
- Always slice meat against the grain for maximum tenderness.
- Use sharp knives when butchering or slicing finished cuts.
- Remove as much of the fat, sinew and cartilage as you can. The fat of the deer is not tasty like that of pork or beef.
- Always keep meat as cold as possible when butchering and packaging meat.
- Allow cooked meat to rest before slicing.
Main body cuts
Certainly the most utilized cuts of the deer, and some of the most tender cuts, come from the body of the deer.
Tenderloin / Inner loin
The inner loin is the most tender venison cut. Similar to filet mignon of a cow. The problem is they are quite small, so it would take quite a few to make a meal for four.
We usually cook the inner loins along with pieces of the backstrap, just don’t cook it quite as long.
Tenderloins lend themselves well to fast cooking. They can be cooked on the grill or in a hot cast iron pan. They can be marinated or rubbed with spices and herbs.
The inner loin is best cooked to medium rare, 130°F
Backstrap / Loin
The loin or backstrap is the second most tender cut of the deer. It is very versatile and lends itself well to quick cooking.
Cooking methods include grilling, pan frying, or breading.
Meat can be marinated and / or pounded out to increase tenderness. The backstrap can be cut into steaks or left in large chunks to cook as a roast.
The loin is best cooked to medium rare, 130°F
Recipes for venison backstrap
The brisket is cut from the chest of the animal. It is quite a thin piece of meat. It’s is not the most tender cut but it has a great chew. Brisket is perfect for smoking however it is also great cooked in the slow cooker.
Unlike the pork brisket, aka bacon, venison brisket is very lean. It is best marinated and then slow cooked or low smoked.
Brine overnight to increase tenderness.
The whole ribs of the deer can be roasted or smoked, similar to pork or beef ribs. They will not take as long to smoke as pork ribs. Generally about 2 hours at 225°F.
The neck is a cut that we never used to utilize. We just cut the meat off of them and used it for ground. That was a mistake.
Neck roasts are delicious and tender. Arguably one of the most tender cuts when slow braised or slow cooked. No need to remove the windpipe or all of the small tendons. They are easily removed after cooking.
Rear leg cuts
The largest quantity of meat on a deer comes on the back legs. These cuts are very versatile and can be used in a variety of ways.
Cut into chunks for soups or stews, or grind for burgers and meatloaf. Each muscle group can actually be made into roasts.
The shanks are delicious slow braised. We never used to save them and just removed the meat for ground. We won’t do that again. The meat comes out ultra tender and insanely delicious.
Large cuts are best marinated to tenderize. The rounds and sirloin make delicious corned venison. The meat becomes very tender during the corning process. These cuts are best slow cooked.
Cooking methods that best tenderize leg cuts are slow braising and slow cooking.
If sliced ultra thin, the top round can make delicious Philly cheese sandwiches or French dips. This cut is also great for jerky.
Pro tip; to slice the meat ultra thin, partially freeze so that the meat is very firm. Use a very sharp filet or boning knife.
Recipes for rear leg cuts
Front legs / Shoulder
The front leg actually contains quite a bit of meat but nothing compared to the rear legs.
Again, we save the shanks and slow braise them.
The remaining cuts are all shoulder and chuck. These cuts are best suited to ground or stew meat. They also lend themselves best to slow cooking, if they are left in chunks.
Ground meats can be quick cooked as for burgers or slow cooked as for stews and soups.
Recipes for front leg cuts
IMPORTANT!! Before consuming the organs check with your local wildlife management department to inquire about any known illnesses or parasites you should be aware of!
Many of the internal organs of the deer are edible as well. The heart, liver, kidneys, tongue and testicles are all edible cuts. The offal is usually some of the most nutrient dense cuts of the animal. This is the precise reason that predators eat these parts first.
Many hunters just leave these super healthy cuts in the gut pile in the woods. It is good practice to try to eliminate waste where we can (although I’m sure the coyotes and raptors are happy).
Clean up heart well. Remove the lining. Then remove the arteries and veins. Remove any connective tissue and any additional blood vessels. You will end up with 2 beautiful steaks.
The heart is best cooked quickly. You do not want to overcook them or they become tough. Grilling or pan frying is preferred. This is the most eaten organ of the animal.
The liver is a delicious piece of the deer. It is not as strong flavored as that of calves, has very little fat and has a nicer texture.
Like the heart, you do not want to overcook the liver. Cook to medium rare.
Tongues are after all just another muscle of the deer. Just like the sirloin or the loins. They have a texture similar as well.
Once cooked according to your recipe, the tongues should have the skins removed. They tend to be a bit chewy.
The kidneys must be soaked before cooking. Soak them in milk or salt water for 24 hours, then proceed with your recipe. After soaking they can be smoked or pan fried.
Intestines of the deer, once thoroughly cleaned and dried can be used as natural sausage casings, just like hog or lamb casings are used.
The last cut to discuss is the bones. These make absolutely delicious broth and stock. Bone marrow broth is a semi new rage that has been deemed a super food.
These broths are high in antioxidants, aid in digestion and gut health, support weight loss, joint health and immune function to name a few. Not only are they healthy they are incredibly easy to make and extremely delicious.
Use the broth in all of your soups and stews. This is a far better choice than using beef stock which can tend to overpower the mild flavor of deer.
Location of cuts on the animal
If you are processing your own deer you will need to know where each different cut is located.
If you would like to learn where each cut is located on the deer, this is a great infographic.
Useful tools for processing
Knowing what deer cuts you have in your hand will help you in learning how to cook the best venison from scratch. Knowing which techniques and cooking methods to apply for any specific cut will start you on the road to becoming a master of venison cooking.
Want to learn more about mastering venison cooking? Don’t miss our Ultimate Guide to Cooking Venison. Complete with over 70 recipes!
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