For many would be whitetail cooks, a fine summertime meal is deer backstrap grilled over a fire, medium rare in the middle.
But while Major League Fishing pro Andy Morgan shares a love of such fine protein, he goes about preparing the main course of a backyard ready meal a bit differently than many people do.
Instead of backstrap medallions, or steaks as they are often referred to, he prefers to grill the backstrap whole.
“Backstrap is the very best,” said Morgan, a three time FLW Pro Circuit Angler of the Year who switched to the MLF Bass Pro Tour in 2019. “It’s always tender, always tasty.”
To get a whole backstrap to the moist red center that Morgan seeks, his precook preparation work is key. After pulling a package of venison from the freezer, Morgan will put it in the refrigerator to thaw out.
Once that has occurred, the next step is to marinate the meat in a refrigerator for up to 24 hours, using various Allegro, Italian dressing, and/or hot sauce products. Whichever marinade concoction he uses, he’ll mix it all together, put the whole backstrap in a plastic bowl, knead the meat until it is thoroughly covered, and then cover the bowl up and put it back into the refrigerator.
“After that, I like to get it out of the refrigerator on the morning that I’m going to cook and leave it out for a few hours to bring it up to room temp, even in the center,” said the winner of more than $2.4 million in career earnings, dollars that have come from derby performances like his Stage 4 MLF tournament win last year in Tennessee. “(When you let the meat come up to room temp), it really sucks in the flavor of that marinade.”
In the in-between time, Morgan—who is always busy—will tackle various chores like getting his fishing gear and boat ready out in the boat barn, working in the shop, or mowing the grass with his Exmark lawn tractor.
“A lot of times I spend the afternoon mowing, getting the yard looking all pretty and nice,” he said. “And then I coincide that with a wild game cookout.”
When it’s time to cook, Morgan will head out back to fire up his Pit Boss pellet grill, getting the grill up to temp to start the cooking process.
“I’m not picky about the pellets that I use since this recipe really doesn’t rely that much on smoke,” said Morgan. “I put the grill temp on 400 and let it roll. The concept in barbecuing meat is smoking it low and slow. But for grilling wild game and not drying it out, you want to reverse that to hot and fast. I put it on a hot grill and cook it quickly. That’s the way I do it, looking for that medium rare finish.”
Morgan stresses that it’s important to keep an eye on the backstrap during the whole process. Since this is a thicker piece of meat, it will take longer.
“I do my cooking by feel, flipping it as needed” he said. “I’d hate to give an exact time, but let’s say it’s maybe about 8 minutes or so. I’ll cut into one end and see where the center is at. If it’s not medium rare, I’ll let it cook some more. If it is, I’ll pull it off and let it rest briefly on a platter.”
Morgan cautions that while letting the meat rest is important, don’t allow too much time to go by in that process.
“When I pull the meat off, I do let it rest for a minute or two,” he said. “But I don’t want it to get cool. I also don’t wrap it and let it sit in aluminum foil for very long because it will continue to cook. I get it off the grill, let it rest briefly on a platter, and then serve it to my guests pretty quick so that it stays moist.”
In doing so, Morgan’s style of serving the dinner’s main course promotes good smiles, back and forth banter, and a sip of a cold beverage as the evening sun casts soft, warm summertime light on the friendly festivities.
“I like to prime rib it,” said Morgan, who loves hunting deer, ducks and turkeys as much as he loves bass fishing. “I’ll take the whole backstrap around and let guests slice off what they want, as thick or thin as that might be. I would caution that while you think a whole venison backstrap will go a long ways, it will not. Heck, I can eat a whole backstrap by myself!
“It’s pure gold,” he added with a chuckle. “You only serve backstrap to people that you really like.”
If the wild meat itself is worth a king’s ransom, the sauce Morgan and his wife Missy let their guests dip the backstrap slices into is as well.
“Anytime I serve wild game, particularly backstrap, I always have some Kentucky Sauce,” said Morgan. “We keep a fresh batch of that on hand all of the time.”
To make the Kentucky Sauce, which Morgan says he learned from his Land Between the Lakes pals Harold Knight and FLW pro angler Ramie Colson, you'll need 1/2 cup of butter (or 1 stick), 4 cups of ketchup, 4 cups of mustard, 4 cups of vinegar, 4 cups of sugar, 1 tbsp. of pepper, 1 tbsp. of garlic salt, and 1 tbsp. of cayenne pepper (adjust the amount to taste).
Start the sauce by melting the butter in a large pot sitting over medium-high heat on the stove. Then thoroughly mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl before adding them to the melted butter in the pot. Mix the concoction together, stirring continuously until it all begins to boil. At that point, turn the stove’s heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Any unused sauce can be refrigerated.
Is there anything to avoid, mistakes that can derail this great meal? Besides letting the cooler of cold beverages run out, the biggest hurdle is to avoid letting this tender cut of venison get too dry.
“The biggest mistake that people make, 100-percent, is overcooking the meat,” said Morgan. “Wild game is very lean and is easily overcooked so many times. You can ruin venison—any meat, in my opinion—if you cook it to death.”
The bottom line to Morgan is that sharing food, a fine beverage, and a good time with those he loves and cares about is a great way to utilize the hunter’s harvest of a buck or doe last fall.
“I always enjoy spending some good, quality time with family and friends,” said Morgan. “And cooking up wild game for them to enjoy falls right into that category.”
Andy Morgan’s Grilled Whole Venison Backstrap Recipe
Yield: 1 venison backstrap
Prep time: 15 minutes + marinating time
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
- 1 whole venison backstrap
- 1/2 cup butter (or 1 stick)
- 4 cups ketchup
- 4 cups mustard
- 4 cups vinegar
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- If your backstrap is frozen, pull it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator to thaw out.
- Once the backstrap is thawed, create the marinade. In a small bowl, combine Allegro, Italian dressing, and hot sauce (to taste and if desired). Put the whole (thawed) backstrap in a plastic bowl; pour marinade over backstrap. Knead the meat until it is thoroughly covered in the marinade and then cover the bowl up and put it back into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Pull the marinated backstrap from the refrigerator and leave it out for a few hours to bring it up to room temperature.
- Preheat your grill to 400 degrees.
- Place the backstrap on the heated grill. Grill it hot and fast, for about 8 minutes, flipping as needed. When you pull the meat off, let it rest for a minute or two before serving.
- To make the Kentucky Sauce, start by melting the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Thoroughly mix the remaining sauce ingredients together in a bowl; add the mixture to the melted butter in the pot. Mix the concoction together, stirring continuously until it all begins to boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve sauce with backstrap. Refrigerate any unused sauce.