With whitetail season coming to a close, hopefully you’ve had a bit of luck out there. Maybe you even got yourself a nice pair of trophy antlers to go along with the true take-home trophy – the meat! While venison turns into excellent sausage and jerky, opinions are a little more varied when it comes to just straight up cooking it. Unfortunately, that might be because, at one point or another, they had a venison meal from someone who cooked it wrong. Incredibly lean and easy to dry out, many cooks make the mistake of cooking venison like it is a piece of beef. In reality, more care needs to be taken so it doesn’t end up gamey and dry.
Mistake #1 – Cooking Venison Like Beef
It is the fine marbling of fat in beef that practically allows it to remain succulent and juicy no matter what you do with it. However, venison does not have the same marbling and it loses moisture in a different way. When beef is cooked, it leaks out melted fat and moisture into the pan or on the grill, but with venison that moisture rises up like invisible meat smoke.
Searing the venison steak in a cast iron pan with some olive oil is one way to trap in the moisture. Another way is to marinade, which not only adds moisture, but also tenderizes the meat. Typically, marinades are reserved for the tougher cuts of meat, while a backstrap or tenderloin needs nothing more than a little salt and pepper.
As far as marinades go, you can try some of our favorite wild game marinades or these household staples:
- Italian dressing
- Red wine
Allow for at least six hours of soaking and cook it as you will. Not only will you have some great moist meat, but it will have a great flavor too.
Mistake #2 – Keeping the Fat On
You think you have solved the problem of dry venison, right? You will just keep the fat on. Problem solved. Unfortunately, while beef fat is great-tasting, venison fat is not. It keeps the consistency of candles and coats the inside of your mouth. Worst of all, excessive venison fat is one of the main reasons people call it “gamey”. Just trim away the fat and silver skin so people can taste the meat and not the candle stuck to the side of it.
Mistake #3 – Adding Salt
Definitely don’t season your venison steak like a normal steak before placing it on the grill. As venison is already a lean meat and easily dries out, you don’t want too much salt on there, turning it into jerky before your eyes. If you are going to salt it, do it lightly or do it in the marinade beforehand. Otherwise, let your guests salt after the meat is cooked.
Mistake #4 – Slicing Too Thin Before Cooking
If you are making venison steaks, make them thick, otherwise it is best to cook this meat in a roast form. This is yet another time venison gets mistaken for another meat. Most people think it cooks as slow as beef, but it actually cooks quite quickly. That means that if you cut thin steaks and cook them like a beef or pork steaks, it will end up quite dry. Just remember to cut thick, cook short, and cut thin afterwards.
Mistake #5 – Cooking out the Pink
Does everyone at your table like their meat well done? Well, too bad! You want to cook your venison until it reaches an internal temperature of 130° to 140° F and then remove it off the grill. Providing it wasn’t cut too thin, it should just be slightly pink on the inside. If it is still pink on the inside that means it is still nice and moist in there too. If you cook out all the pink like you would with pork, expect some terribly dry meat.
Now, check out these venison recipes and eat up!