The Best Ways to Cook Venison With Recipes
Venison when prepared properly has the potential to out-shine all other meat proteins. Venison is leaner and, in my opinion, has a much better flavor than beef. The key to venison is knowing how to prepare and cook it properly. Knowing when the meat was harvested and how it was prepared by a butcher, friend, or family member is equally as important as how you cook it.
Before the Recipes, Let's Talk About How to Prepare Venison
Before venison can even be cooked, it needs to be prepared correctly. The mishandling of raw venison will greatly decrease the texture and flavor of your meat. If you are not a hunter, I highly recommend finding a quality butcher who has experience and is very knowledgeable in processing venison specifically.
I had the luxury of being surrounded by men who love to hunt and taught me how to address this meat properly. They butcher and package their own meats, making my job easier. If you know a hunter who is willing to share or let you buy meat from them, I would highly recommend going this route. You will not find anyone more qualified to process your meat than the person who hunted and processed it themselves.
Preparing venison starts in the field. You want to ensure that the meat was harvested correctly which means the deer was cut, skinned, and the meat packaged in a timely manner.
Unlike beef fat, the fat surrounding your venison needs to be cut off. The fat makes the meat chewy, tough, and gives that "game-y" flavor. My meat comes with all the fat cut off, but if you are getting it from a butcher who leaves the fat on, I highly recommend using a sharp knife and removing all fatty tissue before you attempt to cook it.
If you are interested in learning how to prepare your own meat, this article does an awesome job explaining how to field dress, skin, and quarter your deer. You can learn everything about how to process your fresh kill and get the best quality of meat from this easy-to-read article: how to butcher a deer.
Three Ways to Prepare Venison
Here are three of my favorite ways to prepare this underrated meat:
Bonus: I've included a few of my favorite recipes for the above methods of cooking.You will also find other venison to protein substitutions for other common American protein dinner dishes!
Method 1: Marinating
As a general rule, I don't personally like to marinate venison as I love the true flavor of the meat, which is earthy and rich due to the natural diet of deer. However, depending on how you wish to cook your cut, marinating could greatly benefit the tenderness. Marinating can also enhance the beautiful flavors of venison, if you know how to merry the flavors correctly. Although, just as marinating can increase the flavors it can also mask the flavors of the meat entirely, so I recommend doing your research and choosing the best flavor profiles and marinades for your cut of meat. Personally, I like to use Worcestershire sauce or vinegar along with my chosen spices. If you are looking to mask the flavor soaking the meat in milk or buttermilk overnight, will draw out the blood and "game-y" flavor.
The best way to marinade venison is in the refrigerator overnight. I prefer to use a glass container so the flavors and colors of the marinade don't seep into the plastic Tupperware containers. Large Zip-lock bags work as well, but I don't like these as the bag has to lay perfectly flat or you run the risk of the whole cut not being marinaded evenly.
My personal favorite is marinating in a homemade barbecue sauce. I never marinate over night, as I have found the sweet spot for marinating to be right between 4 and 6 hours. I let the meat cook for 12 hours and then let it "rest" in the sauce for another 6 to 12 hours before serving. Below you will find my family's recipe for shredded bbq venison sandwiches.
Shredded BBQ Venison Sandwiches
This recipe is a family secret. It took me forever to get my dad to reveal his secrets to me. I never follow this recipe; however, I never follow any recipe I use. For me, it's a guide and that's all. What I love about this recipe is that it's simple, easy, and delicious. Thawing the meat is time-consuming but well worth the wait. Usually I let the meat sit in the fridge overnight to thaw, and sometimes will leave it for a day and a half before putting it in the slow cooker.
These sandwiches are moist, delicious, and have a slightly sweet and tangy flavor. They are a favorite in my house as they are perfect for any occasion with the capability to be paired with any number of side dishes. My personal favorite side is a fresh homemade potato salad.
- 3 lbs boneless chuck roast
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup vinegar (white or apple cider both work; I prefer the apple cider)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup catsup
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Combine ingredients in a separate bowl, making sure to dissolve sugar completely.
- Put meat in the slow cooker and cover with the sauce. I like to add a tiny layer of sauce to the bottom of the Crock-Pot before adding the meat to make sure the entire roast is covered in sauce.
- Cover and cook on low until the meat is cooked through, around 10 to 12 hours. I usually put it together and get it in the Crock-Pot by 7 a.m. and it will be ready anywhere from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. If I want to let the meat rest, I'll cook the meat overnight and let the Crock-Pot do its magic for 12 hours. Then I let it sit for another couple hours until we are ready to eat dinner.
Method 2: Grilling
Venison is much leaner than beef and it will grill in half the time. To ensure a properly grilled steak allow the meat to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Allowing the steak to warm slightly will help the meat to grill evenly. Always grill venison on a hot grill or skillet. I prefer a charcoal grill as the smokey flavor enhances the venison by drawing out the natural flavors. You should hear a nice sizzle sound letting you know the grill or pan is hot enough.
Right before grilling you can sprinkle both sides of the steak with salt and pepper. Be sure not to do this too early or the salt will dry out your meat. Sear your meat on both sides ensuring you only flip the steak once. Sear for approximately 3 minutes per side or until you get an internal temperature of 130 F. Your meat won't need much longer or it will become dry and tough.
Allow the steak to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing. Slicing your steak too early will let the juices seep out and could give you a tougher piece of meat. Always cut across the grain when cutting your steaks, slicing with the grain will result in a tougher piece of meat.
Thinner venison steaks grill up better because it allows the inside to cook before the outside gets too tough. Steaks over 2 inches think run the risk of becoming tough and chewy on the outside before the middle can become fully cooked. Thicker steaks should be grilled at a medium temperature to ensure a more even cooking.
Venison steaks are another favorite. The key to making these types of steaks is knowing how long to cook them to get the proper tenderness. Venison has a great flavor; however, it can be a bit game-y to some people. Many people will mask the game-y flavor by marinating the meat overnight in one of their favorite sauces or marinades. Citrus is the best type of marinade if you are trying to mask the flavor.
For our steaks, we simply season with Lawry's (a mix meat seasoning) and a dash of salt and pepper. I absolutely love the taste of venison steaks and feel you lose the great flavor when using marinades. We grill them to medium-rare, and they are the perfect steaks, tender and juicy. Roughly 4 minutes per side.
Trying to cook these steaks to a medium or well done will result in dry and tough steaks. Venison steaks are best cooked to medium-rare and left on a covered plate to keep warm. Leaving them on the grill too long or to keep them warm will also result in dry steaks.
Burgers are a must-have in my household, and we grill out at least once a week, year-round. Being a lean meat, venison needs fat before it can be ground into burgers. If you can grind your own meat I highly recommend that route so you can ensure the most accurate ratio of meat to fat. I prefer my meat to be right around 80/20 as anything under 15 percent fat will fall apart. If you use a butcher you can always ask how much fat they added when grinding the meat. My top two fat products are pork fat or simply using good ole bacon. Some grocery stores and butchers will sell bacon trimmings, which are perfect for grinding with venison. You could also follow a recipe that uses butter or egg and breadcrumbs, but I love the flavor you get from using pork fat products.
To make the actual patties, I recommend forming them just until they come together. Forming your patties too tightly can cause them to fall apart or dry out. I also like putting a small thumb indent into the centers to help keep the burgers from shrinking.
When grilling I always only flip the burgers once. Handling the patties too much can cause them to fall apart, and you never want to squish the patties with a spatula. Grill the burgers over medium-high heat, but not directly over the flame for about 3 to 4 minutes per side. When the burgers stop sizzling you know it's time to flip them.
- 1 1/2 pounds of venison
- 1/2 pound bacon trimmings or regular bacon chopped
- Lawry's (meat seasoning) OR salt/pepper
- Condiments, buns, and veggies
We prefer to keep our burgers simple, but you could certainly add grilled onions, tomatoes, lettuce, or even avocado slices. These burgers are the perfect vehicle for a variety of flavor profiles.
Before grinding your burgers, it's important to decide how you're going to cook them. The stovetop and the grill require slightly different preparations. For this recipe we're doing the grill and I will make a note for the stovetop. If you are not grinding your own meat you can skip to step three.
- Cut the venison into small enough chunks that it can fit into your meat grinder. You are going to want to mix them together or alternate between venison and bacon to get a good mix and ensure the ratio stays similar throughout the entire ground mixture.
- We like to use a mix of coarse and fine grind for our burgers with a ratio of 2/3 fine to 1/3 coarse. Fine ground burgers grill up better and tend to be more juicy. *Note, if you are going to use the stove top, switch the ratio.
- Once all the meat is ground lightly form them into 1/2 -1 inch thick patties. Inserting a thumb print into the middle when done.
- I like to use a hot charcoal grill that is evenly heated. Add seasonings right before adding the patties to the grill. I like to find a place that is hot enough to cook the burgers without having them directly over the flame. Venison is prone to overcooking if left over direct heat too long.
- Place seasoned patties on the grill for 3-4 minutes. Do not touch, squish, or disturb them in anyway. Messing with them will make them fall apart. Close the lid and leave the grill door open. After 3 minutes flip them and add more seasoning if desired.
- When there is about 30 seconds to a minute left add a slice of cheese if desired. Remove burgers from grill and let rest for 5 minutes before devouring.
Method 3: Slow-Cooking
My slow cooker is my go-to appliance all year round. I love the convenience and versatility it offers. Using it for deer meat is no different. I use mine for roasts, tenderloins, and even steaks. When prepared and seasoned correctly, almost any cut can be perfected in the Crock-Pot.
Being that deer meat is a lean red meat, it can be easily overcooked. This is one of the main reasons I use a slow cooker. I can pick a cut of meat, add whatever seasonings I like, and let my appliance do all the work. My end product is a juicy, flavorful, and perfectly cooked venison dish.
One of the easiest ways to slow cook venison is to pop it in the Crock-Pot with some brown gravy and seasonings. Whip up some mashed potatoes, add a vegetable (I love peas with venison), a dinner roll and you have heaven on a plate. This dish is my go-to fall/winter meal. The warm, hearty, earthy flavors paired with vegetables and bread make my mouth water just thinking about it.
I love using tenderloin as this cut will continue to get more tender as it cooks. If it cooks too long it will become shreddable, but it still maintains its juicy tenderness. I have a slow cooker tenderloin recipe that you might enjoy.
Additional Venison Dishes You Might Like
Venison can be substituted for beef or chicken in a variety of recipes. One of my all-time favorite venison for beef substitutes is tacos. I will not eat any other type of taco anymore. Venison adds an extra dimension of flavor that you just cannot get with beef. I also prefer the texture of ground venison to beef. In my opinion, store-bought ground beef does not even compare to the fresh ground venison I can get from my dad.
When making tacos I like to add about 2 to 3 tbs of butter to the frying pan before frying up the meat. The butter adds fat that the meat desperately needs and brings out the sweet earthy flavors. After browning, I like to use a mix of garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper, and chili powder instead of a store-bought packet. Mix with 1/4 cup of water and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Perfect tacos that are ready in less than 30 minutes.
Venison pairs nicely with root vegetables making it the perfect choice for nice hearty dinners like roasts and stews. Below are some great venison dishes that taste better than their other protein counterparts.
- Sausage (My family takes theirs to a place that makes it taste similar to summer sausage. You'll never go back once you've had venison sausage with your cheese and crackers.)
Cuts of Meat and Cooking Methods
It is important to remember that different types of meat require different cooking methods. You can prepare a cut of meat perfectly; however, if you cook it wrong you will end up with a sub-par product.
- Tenderloins and backstraps are my favorite parts of the deer. They are the tenderest cuts of meat and can be used in a variety of different recipes. Tenderloins can be cut into steaks, stew or kabob cubes, used for stir-fries, and even cooked in gravy in the oven.
- Sirloin is a bit tougher, but with the proper tenderizing makes for great steaks.
- Roasts should be braised or cooked at a low temperature for a long period of time to reintroduce some moisture back into the meat.
- Stew meat which generally comes from the belly, neck, and lower rib section can be ground to make sausage, burgers, and ground meat for tacos or casseroles.
Whether you are looking for a beef substitute or have a piece of venison you are wondering how to cook these tips are sure to help you get the best flavor and texture from your meat.
The main reason most people do not like venison is because they either don't know how to cook it properly, or they had it from someone who didn't know how to cook it properly. When made the right way, venison is a great lean meat with delicious flavor.
Questions & Answers
How do I make a stew with venison?
I do not personally make venison stew, however you can prepare a venison stew much in the same way you would beef. If you have a favorite recipe you can replace the beef with venison and follow it exactly. If you do not, there are a plethora of venison stew recipes online. Not all recipes specify what cut to use, so I will provide a list below.
There are several different cuts that work great in stews. If you are going to a butcher you can ask for stew meats/chunks. These pieces will already be pre-cut and ready to use. Other cuts that work well include:
-Shank (meat from the lower legs)
-Chuck (any meat from the lower neck/shoulder area)
Always sear your venison first whether you plan on making your stew in the slow cooker or on the stove top. Searing your meat will give it that extra depth of flavor. I recommend always searing your meat even if the recipe does not call for it.Helpful 2
For this recipe, do I have to sear the venison tenderloin before putting it in the crockpot?
It is not necessary to sear the meat. However, searing the meat causes the outside to get a nice dark brown color and intensifies the flavors.Helpful 1
Do you have any tips on using venison for making an Italian rolled stuffed braciole or a German Rouladen? Both need to be pounded thin, browned then cooked for 1-2hours submerged in either red or brown gravy.
I am not familiar with either of these dishes, but I would think you could substitute your beef cut for the same cut of venison. I'd be careful pounding venison too much or too thin though. I think that would end up making the meat tougher in the end. I would try a top round or backstrap. Backstrap can be cut thinner and might not need to be pounded as much, if at all.Helpful 1
Do I use chicken or beef broth when cooking venison?
I personally have not used broth in my recipes, but I would use beef or vegetable if I was going to. I'm not a fan of chicken broth in general, but I also think chicken would compete too much flavor-wise. Beef or vegetable would be a more cohesive flavor profile.
How would you cook backstraps?
I prefer it on a charcoal grill. You can use other grills, but I think charcoal gives you the best flavor. You can either marinate it or rub it with seasonings and olive oil to keep the meat from drying out. I would also recommend leaving it whole or only cutting it into thirds. Making the pieces thinner or smaller, by cutting it into butterfly fillets or medallions, you are making the meat too thin and it is more likely to dry out.
The trick with backstrap is cooking it over direct heat for about 2 to 3 minutes per side to trap in all the moisture. You will know when it is ready to flip when the meat does not stick to the grates. You want to get a good sear on the outside, but you do not want to overcook the meat. The meat should be medium-rare, or more on the rare side if you prefer. Once you have all the sides seared, keep it on indirect heat (this can be achieved by putting all the coals on one side of the grill when starting the cooking process), until the middle is a nice medium-rare.
You could also use a cast-iron skillet if you do not want to or cannot grill it. Cast iron is best because you are still able to get a nice sear on the outside.
© 2012 Cholee Clay