Venison

October 2007
Jeff Smith


I get a lot of questions about preparing and cooking venison.  This article covers the methods by which I prepare venison for the freezer and table. 

I’m always leery of people who try to give me food products. I’m very particular about the handling and processing of animals.  I don’t want “free” meat from someone who didn’t properly take care of the meat.  Be careful who you accept food products from – food poisoning is no fun!

Information concerning Wild vs. Raised

You know the old saying, “You are what you eat” – well it’s true.  Store bought meat from cattle, swine or chicken comes from critters raised on grains and hay.  Deer are wild animals and typically eat acorns, browse and grass.  Most of a deer’s diet is comprised of eating bitter and bland food.  As a living creature, if you want to gain weight; take in more than you burn.  To loose weight, burn more than you take in – it’s simple math.  You can pay hundreds of dollars for dieting guidance and it will come back to the same simple equation.  Deer eat various types of forage and store the fat just like cattle, swine, chicken and humans.  The stored fat on deer contains most of the “wild” taste received when eating venison.  The fat stored on cattle, swine and chicken is more grain based and less gamey tasting.  So, when preparing venison; cut as much of the fat, tendons and ligaments out as possible.  Try to leave only red meat. 

Trimming and Storing the Meat

I trim as much of the fat, ligaments and tendons from the meat as possible before freezing.  Try to trim off anything that’s white – leaving only red meat.  I use a Puma Fillet Knife and large cutting board for trimming the meat.  A sharp fillet knife is hard to beat.  Once the meat has been trimmed and washed, I use a vacuum sealer to store the backstrap, inside loins and any meat chunks.  I wrap the whole hams and shoulders in several trash bags and freeze.  Don’t use the “scented” trash bags for storing meat.  Be sure to wash the meat well before freezing. 

Types of Venison

Backstrap – The meat cut from along the spine.  On an average sized deer, you’ll get two strips of meat approximately 24” long and as big around as a tennis ball.  This is commonly called the “tenderloin”.  On cattle, this is where the T-Bone, Ribeye and New York Strip steaks are cut.  The “T” in the T-Bone is a half section of the spine of a cow.  The spine forms a “T” with the backstrap sitting on both sides.  This is my favorite part to eat.  If I give you some backstrap meat, you’ve got to be a very good friend or I owe you big time J 

Inside Lions – The inside loins are very small.  Most are roughly 8” long and smaller than a golf ball.  This is the tenderness meat on the deer.  It equates to a Filet Mignon at a restaurant and is the same cut of meat as in cattle.  It’s so tender; it will fall apart when cooking.

Hams – I rarely cook a whole ham.  I like to debone the ham and use the meat in a stew.  Ham meat is good for jerky, stews and ground.

Shoulders – There’s not a lot of meat on a shoulder compared to a ham.  Shoulders are good for smoking, stews and making sausage.

There are all kinds of other meat on a deer but these are the big four that I will address.  Some people like the ribs and neck meat – I tend to stay away from those cuts.

Soaking

There are two reasons and ways to soak the meat - both deals with taste.

Soaking with Water – I like to soak the meat for a couple of days in the refrigerator just prior to cooking.  I’ll put the meat in a large bowl and completely cover with water.  I’ll pour in quite a bit of salt in the water and stir up by hand - probably 3 or 4 tablespoons of salt for a large portion of meat.  I’ll pour the water off a couple of times a day and start over with fresh water and salt.  The salt helps to pull the blood out of the meat removing a lot of the gamey taste.  It’s important to completely cover the meat with water. Any meat above the water line will get freezer burn from the refrigerator.  Make sure you keep the bowl in the refrigerator during soaking so as not to ruin the meat.  Soaking is most important on the large chunks of ham and shoulder meat.  If I plan to cook a whole ham or shoulder, I don’t soak it in water.

Lemon Juice – The Secret.  After soaking in water, coat the meat with lemon juice and put in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or even over night.  Don’t submerse the meat just a liberal coating.  Lemon juice is acidic and will break down the muscles in the meat making it tender.  I’ve used Dr. Pepper or Coke on beef and it works well.  This works well on all red meats – venison and beef.

Soaking in Marinade – I like to soak the meat in Dale’s Steak Sauce or Italian Dressing.  I’ll normally soak for a couple of hours.  Depends on taste and plans for meat.

Seasoning

I like the Tony Chachere's Creole seasonings:

Original Creole Seasoning                             Injection - Creole Style Butter

 

                                                                                                                             

 

Venison – Lean Meat

Venison is a naturally lean meat.  Lean meat has a tendency to dry out when cooking.  One of the grading characteristics of Beef Steak is the marbling of fat within the beef loin.  Marbling of fat is good to keep the meat tender and juicy when cooking.  Most venison I cook is wrapped in tin-a-foil to keep the juice surrounding the meat.  If you cook in tin-a-foil, be careful when opening.  The tin-a-foil will contain steam and hot liquid. 

Recipes

Fried Backstrap – My favorite

            Soak the meat in water as described above.

            Don’t marinate.

            Can use lemon juice if desired – I don’t.

            Cut the backstrap into ¼” pieces cutting across the grain.

                        Note: I normally cut the meat into pieces prior to soaking.

            Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper.

Optional: I like a little spice.  Liberally coat the meat in Texas Pete hot sauce.

Pour flour in a large bowl.

I add some Cajun seasoning to the flour before rolling.

            Roll strips in flour.

            In a large frying pan, put in ½” of cooking oil.

            Heat oil - make sure oil is hot – ole timers call it roping.

            The oil should not soak into the meat – it should immediately start to cook.

Place meat in frying pan – not touching in one layer.

            Flip the meat after a minute or so and repeat for the other side.

            Just like frying pork chops.

            A lot of people like the backstrap Medium Rare but I preferred it well done.

            I eat steak Medium Rare but don’t like the taste of deer that rare.

            This is really good any time of the day – it’s really good for breakfast.

             

Deer Jerky

             Ham meat works well.

If it’s not sliced, slightly freeze the meat so it’s easier to slice thin.

IMO, the thinner the better – around 1/8th of an inch thick.

Note: If you carry a deer to a processor, many will cut the hams into jerky meat for a small fee.

            Soak the sliced meat in water as described above.

            Can use lemon juice if desired – I don’t for jerky.

Marinate in Dale’s Steak sauce, Soy sauce, Teriyaki sauce, Worcester sauce and Liquid Smoke (can be purchased at Wal-Mart).

            It depends on the amount of meat, but this is a typical mixture:

                        16 ounces of Dale’s Steak Sauce

                        8 ounces of Soy Sauce

                        4 ounces of Teriyaki Sauce

                        4 ounces of Worcester Sauce

                        2-3 dashes of Liquid Smoke

Mix the combination of sauce together in a bowl.

Be careful with the liquid smoke – a little goes a long way.

Put meat in the marinate and place in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

I use a dehydrator - can be purchased at most Wal-Mart stores for cheap.

You can also use the oven.

My dehydrator has several trays.

Place the meat on a tray and coat liberally with your choice of seasonings.

 An example might be:

            One tray with Garlic Salt

            One tray with Black Pepper

            One tray with Cajun Seasons

 You can also purchase Jerky Seasons to use.  They have all kinds for Hickory to Teriyaki.

I like the jerky to “break” not “bend”.  I overcook the jerky with some batches being on the dehydrator for 14 hours.  It depends on taste – I don’t like the chewy stuff.           Follow the directions with dehydrator for cooking time.  If your worried about it “not being done” – you can always bake for a short period of time on 350 degrees in the oven.

Jerky will last for weeks in the refrigerator and months in the freezer.  I don’t leave it out of the refrigerator for over a week.  It’s normally not a problem; the kids eat all I can fix in a couple of days.

 

Lemon Pepper Venison

           Any meat chunks work well.  I like to use a 6” chunk of the backstrap.

Soak the meat in water as described above.

            Use lemon juice soaking.

Marinate in Italian Dressing or red wine for several hours or overnight.

 Tear off a piece of tin-a-foil large enough to cover the meat.

 Place the meat chunk on the tin-a-foil.

Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper

Season with Lemon Pepper

Cut an onion in slices and cover the top of the meat with sliced onion.

Note: If you don’t like onions – can use bell pepper, carrots, mushrooms or any other vegetable.

Coat the top of the onion slices with butter.

Wrap the chunk of meat with bacon strips

            I buy the cheapest bacon for wrapping – it has the most fat

If you marinated in Italian Dressing – pour some fresh Italian Dressing on top of the bacon.

If you marinated in red wine – pour some fresh red wine on top of the bacon.

Completely wrap the meat in tin-a-foil.

Place the meat on the smoker, grill or oven - cook using low heat.

            Note: Use 250 degrees for the oven

I prefer to use a smoker or grill.

Optional: After an hour or so (depends on thickness of meat), remove complete package from tin-a-foil and brown on the grill.  If you use backstrap, be careful or it will fall apart when you remove it from the tin-a-foil.

You can cook several pieces of meat in different pieces of tin-a-foil.  When ready to eat, remove the bacon and tear the meat and vegetables into pieces.  If you brown the meat and the bacon is crispy, tear it up with the venison. It will look like pulled pork.

 

Cajun Venison

 Any meat chunks work well.  I like to use a 6” chunk of the backstrap.

Soak the meat in water as described above.

            Use lemon juice soaking.

Marinate in Dale’s Steak Sauce for several hours or overnight.

 Tear off a piece of tin-a-foil large enough to cover the meat.

 Place the meat chunk on the tin-a-foil.

Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper

Season with your choice of Cajun Seasonings

Note: I like the Tony Chachere's Creole seasonings.  They carry them at Wal-Mart – in a green shake can.

Cut an onion in slices and cover the top of the meat with sliced onion.

Note: If you don’t like onions – can use bell pepper, carrots, mushrooms or any other vegetable.

Coat the top of the onion slices with butter.

Wrap the chunk of meat with bacon strips

            I buy the cheapest bacon for wrapping – it has the most fat

Sprinkle some Cajun seasonings on top of the bacon.

 Completely wrap the meat in tin-a-foil.

 Place the meat on the smoker, grill or oven - cook using low heat.

            Note: Use 250 degrees for the oven

 I prefer to use a smoker or grill.

 Optional: After an hour or so (depends on thickness of meat), remove complete package from tin-a-foil and brown on the grill.  If you use backstrap, be careful or it will fall apart when you remove it from the tin-a-foil.

 You can cook several pieces of meat in different pieces of tin-a-foil.  When ready to eat, remove the bacon and tear the meat and vegetables into pieces.  If you brown the meat and the bacon is crispy, tear it up with the venison. It will look like pulled pork.

  

Venison Hobo’s

 Use ground venison – good with beef also.

Tear off a sheet of tin-a-foil approximately 18” long.

You’ll need one sheet for each serving.

            I normally tear all of them off and work in an assembly line method.

  If I plan to cook four patties, I’ll tear off four pieces of tin-a-foil and layout on the counter.        

 Pat ground venison into hamburger steak size patties.

            Put the patty on a sheet of tin-a-foil.

            Pour a little Dale’s Steak sauce on each patty.

            Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper.

            Peel several potatoes and slice thin.

Place the potatoes on top of the venison patty.

  Cut up your favorite vegetables and place on top of the potatoes.

I like to use some combination of mushrooms, onions, carrots, squash, cucumbers and green onions.

Pour a little Dale’s Steak sauce on top of the vegetables.

            Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper.

Put a couple of tablespoons of butter on top.

            Wrap up the meat and vegetables in the tin-a-foil.

            Bake on 350 degrees for approximately 60-90 minutes.

            The meat should be cooked well done and the potatoes soft.

Great served with only bread - One of my favorites!

  

Injected Backstrap

 Use a 6” chunk of the backstrap.

Soak the meat in water as described above.

            Use lemon juice soaking.

Marinate in Italian Dressing or red wine for several hours or overnight.

Tear off a piece of tin-a-foil large enough to cover the meat.

Place the meat chunk on the tin-a-foil.

Sprinkle with Salt and Pepper.

Using an injector – inject the meat with your favorite marinate.

Note: I use the Tony Chachere's Creole Style Butter marinate.  They carry it at Wal-Mart – in a green plastic bottle – comes with the injector for around $4.00.  The Roasted Garlic and Herb is good also.  Inject the meat several times with marinate.   Using enough meat for a family of four will take around a half bottle of marinate.  I start by shaking the marinate bottle well – then pour half a bottle in a cup or small bowl.  I don’t put the needle back in the bottle after injecting the meat – it could contaminate the marinate for later use.

Season the meat with Lemon Pepper or Cajun Seasonings.

Wrap the chunk of meat with bacon strips.

            I buy the cheapest bacon at the store for wrapping – it has the most fat.

Completely wrap the meat using the tin-a-foil.

Place the meat on the smoker, grill or oven - cook using low heat.

            Note: Use 250 degrees for the oven.

I prefer to use a smoker or grill.

Optional: After an hour or so (depends on thickness of meat), remove complete package from tin-a-foil and brown on the grill.  Be careful or it will fall apart when you remove it from the tin-a-foil.

           


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