As deer season approaches, I am getting the itch to get some venison!
One of the ways I take the edge off is to save some of the venison from last year, in the bottom of our chest freezer (to hopefully survive my snack attacks), and cook it up leading to deer season. It get’s me in the deer hunting mood…
I’m often told that venison is “too gamey” tasting for some people. First off, let me say that venison is game…big game. It should, and does have some gamey flavor to it. I like a bit of a game flavor, but agree that there can be too much of it.
The problem with this assumption is that too many people think all deer is the same. It’s not. Just as not all beef is the same quality, venison is not all the same.
There are 3 chief determining factors that factor into the quality of the venison from your deer:
You are what you eat… So are deer. Diet is probably the biggest factor in the quality of your venison. “Up North” in Minnesota, the primary diet for deer is acorns, small plants, and pretty much anything they can find. Acorns have a lot of tannic acid in them that finds it way into the meat. Tannic acid is bitter, and can lead to gamey flavor.
In the southern part of the state, deer have a virtual grocery store available. Loads of protein, carbs, fats, and sugars. The area I hunt is a wooded tree farm surrounded by corn fields, soy beans, alfalfa, and a nice stream. Everything a deer needs to be fat, beefy, and happy.
“Cropland Deer” usually eat better than cows do, and the venison does show it. In comparison to “woodland deer” the deer are bigger, venison is beefier, and has better marbling.
Some land owners put feed out to help encourage deer growth and nutrition. This can lead to excellent venison, but you need to mind MN baiting laws, which gives the deer you fed all year 10 days (minimum time to hunt land once bait is removed) to move on and be taken by your neighbor.
The biggest controllable factor in gaminess is up to the hunter. Taking a clean shot, and properly dressing the deer makes a huge difference in your venison flavor.
First off.. FIELD DRESS YOUR DEER! More often then should happen, people drop off their deer to the processor whole. I do not want to be within 100 yards of that venison. Organs start to deteriorate rapidly without oxygen. This will rapidly taint your meat, not to mention increasing the risk of infection and bacteria. Get the guts out quick. Some people like to remove the scent glands from the legs. I have not done this, but given the pungent odor they emit, there could be merit to it.
Be sure to keep the deer clean. Dirt, heat, and moisture are 3 things that will ruin your venison. If it’s warmer out, you may want to throw a bag or two of ice in the cavity to keep temp down. Field bags are available that make dragging the deer our cleaner, and easier. How NOT to transport your deer home:
A road shot on my way home last season. Road spray marinade and all. Yuck
If a hunter takes a shot that causes the deer to run for a while, pyruvic and lactic acid build up in the muscles, which can taint the flavor of the meat. Take a shot that will drop the deer.
Gut shots simply suck. They stink like nothing you’d believe, and manage to get fecal matter, urine, and other undesirable parts into the meat. If you happen to be unlucky enough to get a gut shot, you will want to do the best you can to wash off the meat, and get it to a freezer/processor asap. Besides gamey flavor, there are E.Coli risks with gut shots. It’s wise to practice with your rifle/shotgun, and take good shots to avoid this scenario. While I have not had a gutshot, my hunting mentor told me… “When you get a deer, call me over, I’ll help you clean it. If you get a gut shot, your on your f***ing own.” Aim for the spine, heart, lungs, and be accurate.
Most people (myself included) have processors butcher their deer. Processors don’t always wrap the meat the best. An investment in a FoodSaver, or other vacuum sealer with prevent freezer-burn on the meat.
I would love one day to learn how to butcher my own deer, but don’t currently have the time, facilities, or means.
I like to have the butcher label every cut (I’m not just saying steak, chop, ground… I want to know what part of the deer it came from.
Knowing the cuts you have, means you can maximize cut of meat to prep method. I’ll be coming out with some of my recipes soon. (Sneak peek: Smoked Venison Roast, Bacon Wrapped Tenderloin Medallions, Venison Meatloaf)
There are ways that you can cover-up and remove gamey flavor from overly gamey venison.
One method is to soak your cut in buttermilk overnight. This one is simple, take a zip-lock bag, add meat, and add plenty of buttermilk, about twice as much as it takes to submerge the meat. The fats in the buttermilk bond to some of the bitter acids, and remove them from meat. I recommend soaking for 6 hours, and then changing the milk, and soaking for another 3-6 hour. This method will work on steaks and chops well, but may not be very effective on thicker roast cuts.
Another other alternative is to cover the gamey flavor. Marinades are great. I’ll get into a few of my favorite marinades in the future, but your favorite marinade for beef will work wonderfully on venison.
Slow and low is the best way to cook most cuts of venison. It will break up any connective tissue, and reduce game taste.
I prefer smoking the meat. It adds such great richness to the venison. I will usually sear the meat on a cast iron skillet, or VERY hot charcoal grill, and then pop it in the smoker for a few hours. This works on roasts, steaks, and chops.
If smoke isn’t your thing, slow cookers are great for infusing flavor. A few of my favorite herbs for venison slow roasts are rosemary and thyme. For steaks and chops, you can grill them over med-low heat, or start them off on a skillet to sear the meat, and finish in an oven at 325º.
One important thing to remember is venison is a VERY lean meat. It will dry out on you in no time and taste like dog food, which means you need to add fat. I usually use bacon as an anti-drying agent for my venison. Not only do you get an absolutely wonderful bacon-venison combo flavor, you get moist, juicy end products.
Doneness Internal Temperature
Well done 155-160
I personally would not recommend you cook venison over medium, the higher the temperature, the drier and grainer the meat becomes. I find med rare (135-140) is the best. It has a very slight pink, and stays juicy.
Remember everyone, deer is game, some gameness is to be expected, but most human-added gaminess can be minimized. Don’t let gamey flavor scare you away from this delicious meat.
If any of you have any other comments or suggestion about gamey venison, please comment below.