Hunting is a way of life in the United States, and we are here to help you be as successful on the hunt as possible.
The secret to venison is in its preparation. This is because even farm-raised venison tends to be considerably drier and gamier than beef or lamb. Some people describe the taste of venison as mutton with a hint of beefiness.
Venison is the meat of any type of deer. It does not just come from the white tail deer that are seen so often strapped to the tops of pick-up trucks or SUVs in the fall. Venison can also come from mule deer, red deer, reindeer, caribou, elk and even moose. Even antelope meat is considered venison. It matters not if the deer was wild, semi-tame like those deer found in those deer parks that belong to Great British country homes or raised as livestock like sheep. Venison used to be a bit challenging to obtain unless one had shot one’s own deer or bought meat from a hunter. However, nowadays venison can be found in specialty meat stores or can be ordered online.
Though venison ordered online can be pricey, if a person goes hunting and bags their own deer, the cost can be much less, pound for pound, than beef.
After bringing down a deer, many people rush the processing, or outsource it by bringing the animal to a butcher. This is often a mistake, and results in a lower quality of venison. Meat is very easily tainted if an animal is not processed quickly, and most butchers combine animals when making meats like burger and sausage, so you can easily end up with tainted meat even if you do gut the animal properly.
According to some connoisseurs, buck meat is actually better tasting than that of a doe, and the meat of an older deer tastes better than that of a young one. This is because the meat of a too-young deer hasn’t developed the characteristic texture and taste that people prize in venison. On the other hand, some people believe that the meat of an old buck who has been harvested during the rut has a strange taste and is a bit too tough. Deer that are killed quickly and cleanly also seem to have meat that is sweeter and more tender.
A deer that’s been brought down is best field dressed right away, but this can be postponed for a couple of hours. The cooler the weather, the longer the field dressing can be postponed. It is best to remove the animal’s innards as soon as practicable. This prevents the meat from being unacceptably gamy and allows the carcass to cool down rapidly.
The animal’s throat really does not need to be cut to bleed it if it’s been field dressed, but some professionals suggest hanging the carcass upside down from a tree or letting it drain out on a slant if there are no trees in the area or the trees aren’t strong enough to support the carcass. Eviscerating a deer requires fairly large, sturdy and very sharp knives and steel chain mail gloves. A small knife can twist in the hand when it hits a bone.
Most people start butchering the deer around the shoulders, with the knife parallel to the animal’s ribs. Then, the back straps are prepared, followed by the neck. The ribcage meat is then butchered, and a saw is used to remove the backbone. The sirloin is removed, then the hindquarters are removed and boned. The shoulders are also boned, and the rest of the cuts are trimmed.
The deer also does not need to be skinned right away, but can be skinned after the carcass has been cooled down. This should be done ideally after the deer is field-dressed because the cut to the animal’s belly that allowed it to be eviscerated can be joined to the skinning cuts and the hide can be pulled off in one piece. Most people find it is easiest to hang a deer upside down and make the first cuts around the bends of the legs. It is absolutely essential to have a sharp knife. A bone saw is used to remove the deer’s head. If it’s a buck, the hunter tends to want to keep this.
Though venison can be eaten fresh, many people appreciate a bit of gaminess. People who have collected their own deer from the wild can encourage this gaminess by dressing the animal and allowing it to hang head down in an airy place with a temperature a few degrees above freezing for about 12 to 21 days. Ideally, aging should be done during the cooler weather. In many places, fall and early winter make up the deer hunting season, and this is the best time for aging the deer in this manner. Make sure that no flies or other vermin have access to the carcass, and make sure the meat does not freeze, for freezing will inhibit aging and subject the meat to faster spoilage when it thaws out.
The air that circulates around the meat will dry it out, and this dry layer should be trimmed along with cartilage, fat and everything that is not muscle after the meat is aged. A good, sharp boning knife can do this. The carcass should be placed on a sturdy, flat surface, and the muscle should be cut against the grain into slices or chunks.
After the meat is cut it should be put in the freezer right away unless it is going to be cooked. It should first be placed into plastic bags, and the air should be squeezed out of them before they’re sealed. If the meat is to be in the freezer for more than a few days, it should be further placed in freezer paper, taped shut and dated. Done this way, the venison should be good for up to a year in the freezer.
Other people wrap the meat in plastic wrap, then wrap it in butcher paper, seal it with tape, and then date it.
Venison cuts are much like the cuts of sheep or lamb. The carcass is divided into the neck, which provides trimmings; the shoulder, which provides stew meat and chuck roast; the rack end saddle, which provides boneless loin and chops, and the leg, which provides meat for stir frying, trim and boneless fillets. There’s the shank, or lower leg, which provides osso buco. The foreleg also provides osso buco. The loin end saddle gives boneless loin, tenderloin, sirloin and noisettes while the ribs provide trim and spareribs. A noisette is simply a round, smallish piece of lean meat.
As with sheep and cattle, different cuts of meat need different cooking times depending on how hard the muscles needed to work while the animal was alive. Generally, the meat found in the front part of the animal needs to be cooked slowly, while the meat from the middle and back can be cooked quickly. The exception is the meat from the shank, whose muscles had to do some work since it was part of the hind leg.
Though most people do not eat parts of the head, smoked tongue is eaten as a delicacy in Scandinavia. Venison is also used to make patés and sausages. Venison can also be ground to make patties and meatloaf. People also eat venison heart, liver and kidneys.
Venison is also served as jerky. This means it is sliced into strips, salted and dried. When jerky is ready it can be eaten right away and does not need to be refrigerated.
When buying venison, the flesh should be dark red and close grained. The fat should be bright and clear, but it should be trimmed off before cooking because it isn’t very appetizing. Instead, replace the fat with bacon, pancetta, prosciutto or other pork before cooking. Another thing to do before cooking is to put the venison in a marinade to make it more tender. This marinade can be made of oil, vinegar, spices and red wine. Traditionally, juniper berries are also added. Some cooks just soak the venison in a very good olive oil.
When it’s time to cook the venison, remove it from the marinade and wipe dry. Wrap it in pork fat or lard it with thick strips of bacon or fatback. Larding is the process of inserting pieces of fat into venison or other lean meat. Some people use fatback or a very fatty bacon to lard. There are still people who soak the bacon in vermouth or cognac first. Then, they cut it into inch long triangles and freeze it, then cut slits in the venison and insert the frozen triangles. It’s important that the triangles be inserted all the way into the meat, which is why the bacon or fatback needs to be frozen hard. They should be inserted every inch or two inches in the piece of venison.
On the other hand, some people simply lay strips of fatback or bacon all over the cut of venison, and then wrap it in a piece of parchment paper that’s been oiled. Then, they secure it with string. Folks who don’t want to bother with this wrap the venison in aluminum foil. Spices that work well with venison include juniper berries, rosemary and warm, tropical spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and allspice.
Offal is also eaten. These are just the internal organs of the deer. The heart has a taste that reminds some people of the sirloin. It needs to be cleaned of its connective tissue and fat first. Cut off the top of the heart, then trim off the outer membrane without slicing deeply into the muscle. Then, butterfly the heart and trim the connective tissue out of the chambers. This is best done with a small, very sharp knife like a paring knife.
The kidney also needs to be cleaned fairly thoroughly before it is eaten. All fat, connective tissue and membrane need to be removed from the outside of the kidney with a sharp knife. Then, the kidney needs to be cut in two and the white vein removed completely. The cook can use kitchen scissors to do this. Kidney can also be soaked overnight in milk to remove any hint of urine. Venison liver can also be soaked in milk overnight after it’s prepared.
Deer offal, by the way, is not strictly called venison, but umbles, as in ‘umble pie.
Some experts recommend that the meat of a buck be cooked for 25 minutes per pound while the meat of a doe should be cooked for 20 minutes per pound. Tender cuts should be cooked in a hot oven, while tougher cuts can be cooked in a slow oven of about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The meat is done when the juices run clear when it’s pierced with a knife. There should be no sign of blood. Rare to medium rare venison should have an internal temperature of 130 to 140 degrees F when tested by an instant read thermometer.
The cook should be careful to not undercook venison, especially if it is from a wild animal. Undercooked meat brings a risk of disease. Of course, overcooked venison is tough and chewy.
Venison cuts are also versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways. According to some experts, boneless loin can be broiled, sautéed or barbecued over direct heat. It can also be roasted.
Tenderloin can also be broiled, sautéed, direct barbecued and roasted, as can sirloin and boneless leg fillets. Noisettes are best broiled, sautéed, direct barbecued but not roasted. Kabobs can be direct barbecued or broiled, as can hamburger patties. Trim can be sautéed or stir fried, while cutlets can be broiled or sautéed and fried.
Chop ready rack of venison is best sautéed or roasted, while stew chunks should be braised. The best way to do this is to brown the meat in a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, then remove the meat and cook the onions, garlic and other aromatics till golden, then add the herbs. When herbs have wilted, return the meat to the pot and add enough liquid to cover. Bring to a simmer, and then place the pot in a cool oven of about 200 degrees. Simmer from four to 12 hours or until the meat falls off the bone. When this is done, take the meat from the pot and reduce the sauce.
Chuck or shoulder roast are best roasted, braised or placed over indirect heat on the barbecue. This is also true of ribs. Osso buco or shanks should also be braised, while ground venison that is to go into pasta sauces should be broiled or sautéed. Sausages can be broiled, sautéed, placed over direct heat on a barbecue or steamed.
Here are some of our favorite venison recipes:
Venison is best served with a strong condiments such as cranberry sauce, currant jelly or spiced cherries. Cumberland sauce goes especially well with venison. This is a fruit sauce that is often used with game. It’s made up of the juice and zest of orange and lemon, ruby port, red current jelly and a pinch of cayenne and cinnamon. As the ingredients suggest, this sauce is sweet, hot and spicy all at once.
Other side dishes that go well with venison are wild rice, dumplings, noodles and mashed potatoes. These last three are especially popular with venison in the northern European countries of Germany and Scandinavia. Red cabbage is also traditionally served with venison in these parts of Europe.
Pound for pound, venison has less fat and cholesterol than beef. A 93 gram patty of ground venison has 174 calories. Sixty-nine of those calories are from fat, and the total fat content is 8 grams. Four of those grams are saturated fat, and there is no trans fat. There are 1.8 g of monounsaturated fat and .04 g of polyunsaturated fat. A venison patty has 91 milligrams of cholesterol and 73 mg of sodium. It has no carbohydrates, dietary fiber or sugar, but has 25 g of protein.
A venison hamburger has no vitamin A or C but provides 1 percent of the daily value of calcium and 17 percent daily value of iron. It has 0.6 mg of vitamin E as alpha tocopherol and 1.3 micrograms of vitamin K. Venison is exceptionally rich in the B vitamins, which do much to support the health of the nervous system and other systems in the body. A patty has 0.5 mg of thiamin, 0.3 mg of riboflavin, 8.6 mg of niacin, 0.4 mg of vitamin B6, 7.4 mcg of folate, 2.2 mcg of vitamin B12, 0.7 mg of pantothenic acid, an impressive 94.8 mg of choline and 12.5 mg of betaine.
Venison is also surprisingly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower the “bad” cholesterol and contribute to good cardiovascular health. A venison patty has 87.4 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 247 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.
Venison also contains necessary minerals for good health. A 93 g patty has 13.0 mg of calcium, 3.1 mg or iron, 22.3 mg of magnesium, 212 mg of phosphorus, 339 mg of potassium, 72.5 mg of sodium, 4.8 mg of zinc. It also has 01. mg of copper, and 9.6 mcg of selenium. The meat has no alcohol, caffeine or theobromine, but has 59.7 g of water and 1.0 g of ash.
Wild-caught or bought pre-packaged, venison is not only delicious when prepared and cooked properly, but is full of nutrition and surprisingly low in calories.