March 08, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
It’s been said that father knows best. But not every time, not when it comes to deer hunting, or better yet, when it comes to preparing hard-won venison for the family dinner table.
With my youngest son Will venturing home for a quick visit during his final semester at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas—where he’s wrapping up a wildlife management and forestry degree at the home of Dr. James C. Kroll, the legendary Dr. Deer for the North American Whitetail franchise—venison was on the menu.
Backstrap to be exact, a package of prime cuts from a buck I took last December in a pecan tree-filled creek bottom lacing its way through south-central Oklahoma’s semi-arid prairie country.
In a family full of hunters, anglers, and wild chef wannabes—Will and his older brother Zach constantly try and outcook each other in Steven Rinella’s Meat Eater fashion—I decided to let Will have the final say on how this venison meal would go down.
A quick reverse sear on the Traeger out on the back deck? A simple grilling over glowing mesquite wood coals in the firepit out back? Some kind of special sauce, a tasty concoction with wild and woodsy ingredients borne out of the latest fish and game cookbook?
None of the above said my 20-something son, who is getting ready to graduate in December and marry his sweetheart Ashley next spring. In fact, he had something far different than I did in mind.
“Pops, we’re going old school and simple on this one,” he said. “All we need is the iron skillet, some salt and pepper, and a little bit of cinnamon.”
“That’s it?” I said a bit incredulously. “Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary, no secret ingredient that we need to run to the store for?”
“Nope, that’s it,” said Will. “And trust me, you’re going to like this. I fixed this for a meal I cooked for Ashley and my roommate recently, and they both really did.”
A few minutes later, the iron skillet was so hot that it was almost smoking on the stovetop in our kitchen. After dusting the backstrap cuts—which had been aged in the refrigerator for a few days, soaked in milk overnight, rinsed off, patted dry, and brought up to room temperature—Will administered a hand-sprinkled coating of salt, pepper, and a smidgeon of cinnamon.
When he did, no TV chef could have done it any better and the table was set for a memorable meal in more ways than one.
When the wild meat hit the skillet, the steaming smells that wafted up into the kitchen were savory and delicious for a recipe that quite literally took only a few minutes to prepare.
With a glance at the clock, Will let the meat sear on each side for a minute. Once a good crust was built up on one side of the backstrap filets, he used a pair of tongs and flipped the venison cuts, and repeated the procedure on the other side. After that, it was a bit of searing on the outer edges of each cut and then pulling them off the hot iron to rest briefly on a warming plate with a paper towel there for draining.
Sometimes, as chefs do at the best steak houses, my son will let the meat rest by putting a pat of butter on top of the cut, allowing it to melt down and drizzle the meat with even more flavor. But since we were fresh out of butter pats at this time, we simply let the backstrap filets rest for a minute or two.
Then there was nothing left to do other than take a knife, a fork, and see what iron-clad simplicity and a few hand-sprinkled ingredients had provided us with.
Only one or two bites into the meal, I closed my eyes and thought of the cool evening last year when the collision of a hunter, a rifle, and a good buck cruising through a bottom looking for a final doe—on my daughter Katie’s birthday, no less—had brought our family’s way. Now months later, the memories were keen, the bounty of creation never more enjoyable, and the fatherly pride was real and palpable in a meal that I won’t soon forget.
Put simply, it was likely the best venison I’ve ever sampled, lean meat with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a flavor that would rival the best-aged beef that I’ve ever had at some expensive steak houses in Dallas, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and beyond. My wife, who isn’t always the biggest fan of wild dinners, agreed that it was deliciously good.
I may never fix venison backstrap any other way in the future thanks to a simple means of preparation, incredible flavor with a bit of spice and earthy goodness sprinkled on, and all thanks to a son that proved once and for all that occasionally, you can still teach an old dog new tricks.
So, father knows best, huh? Well, not always, not in our house at least, and certainly not in the kitchen.
Especially when there’s a deer hunting college kid at home, a plate of venison backstrap cuts waiting to be cooked up, and an iron skillet smoking hot somewhere nearby.
Add all of those simple ingredients up and it’s a meal fit for a king, and a wild one at that.
Best Ever Venison Recipe: Cinnamon, Spice, and Iron-Seared Backstrap
Ready to give this delicious and simple venison recipe a try?
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 to 8 minutes
- Backstrap filets (Aged in a refrigerator, soaked overnight in milk, rinsed and patted dry, brought to room temperature)
- Salt (hand sprinkled to desired amount)
- Pepper (hand sprinkled to desired amount)
- Cinnamon (sprinkled to a dusting)
- Heat an iron skillet up over medium-high heat.
- Take spice/cinnamon-coated backstrap filets and sear on one side for one minute.
- Flip venison with tongs and sear the other side, looking for a rare to medium-rare center.
- Sear the outer edges, take off the hot iron, and let the venison cuts rest on a plate with a paper towel.
- While the meat is still piping hot, cut with a steak knife, and enjoy!