April 12, 2021
By John N. Felsher
Native Americans and European settlers largely survived by eating venison until beef replaced wild game. Even today, many modern sportsmen consume great quantities of wild game and rarely buy meat from the grocery store.
"Venison is completely different from beef or pork," said Chris Sherrill, a chef, former restaurateur and avid outdoorsman from Mobile, Ala. "Venison is much leaner than what is grown for restaurants or grocery stores, although it does have a beefy flavor and is often treated like beef.”
Preparing good venison starts in the field. Clean and cool the deer as quickly as possible to preserve the meat and its succulent flavor.
"Some people hang deer overnight," Sherrill said. "I like to get them cleaned and in a cooler as fast as I can. People can certainly age a carcass in a cooler at temperatures below 40 degrees. That will help break down some of the proteins within the deer and tenderize it naturally."
Before cooking venison, remove every bit of the "silverskin," a hard, inedible whitish membrane attached to the meat. It’s mostly found on the cuts closest to the skin. If you don’t remove the silverskin, the meat will become tough to eat. After removing the silverskin, you can prepare venison many ways. Practically anything a good cook can do with beef or pork, can substitute venison if they treat it like wild game.
"The biggest mistake people make with venison is overcooking it," the chef said. "People think that because it’s wild game, it must be cooked well done. That’s not true at all. Venison does so much better when cooked rare to medium. Many people overcomplicate dishes. Venison has such a unique flavor that people can cook it with very simple processes from pan-searing tenderloin to rump roasts."
Many people marinate venison before cooking it. Marination allows the juices and spices to penetrate the meat, making it more tender and juicy. You can buy marinade or make your own pungent concoction. Let the meat marinate at least 12 to 24 hours.
Perhaps the easiest way to prepare venison is to grill it. With a venison steak, people won’t see the "flare-up" as fat drippings hit the fire or hot metal with beef. Because venison contains so little fat, some people add fat.
"There’s a lot of flavor and tenderness in fat, so I inject venison with bacon fat and let it sit a while," Sherrill said. "Fat will also add flavor to the meat. I like to sear or grill venison on very high heat, but I cook a venison steak much less than I would a beef steak of similar size."
Use the front quarters for jerky or ground meat, but cook the hindquarters slowly in a crockpot. Slow cooking breaks down the meat. When done correctly, the meat falls apart naturally.
"I like to roll the hindquarters out and add a mixture of fresh herbs, garlic and bacon," Sherrill said. "Then, I roll it up tight and retie it in the shape that I want. I roast that in the oven or over charcoal on a lower heat or indirect heat for a long time. I want the internal temperature at about 140 to 145 degrees. That way, all those flavors melt into the roast. I want the meat to have a little red tint to it so it’s still juicy."
People can make cube steaks that go into a variety of dishes such as country fried steak. Cut off four- to six-ounce pieces of meat from the hindquarters and run them through a cuber. Blades slice into the meat, but don’t cut all the way through.
"I make a simple egg wash with seasoned flour and fry the meat in a skillet with a little brown gravy over mashed potatoes," Sherrill said. "Man, that’s good eating!"
Many sportsmen enjoy the camaraderie of a deer camp. If someone shoots a deer, they might not wait until they get home to sample some venison. Most people go for the backstraps first. Among the most tender and flavorful cuts on a deer, the backstrap runs along the top of the shoulders down the back. Some people think of it as the fillet mignon of deer.
"There’s also the inner loin or tenderloin of a deer that is super tender," Sherrill said. "I cut backstrap into fillet sizes. Tenderloins have no benefit of aging so those always go first. They’re easy to remove. People could still hang the carcass in a cooler if needed."
Many people simply fry backstrap. People can also cut it into medallions or fillet mignon-sized steaks about eight to 10 ounces each. Rub the fillet with salt, garlic, black pepper and other spices.
"I sear the steaks really hard," Sherrill said. "Then, I deglaze the skillet with red wine. I might add sauteed mushrooms to the mixture with a bit of heavy cream. That will make a red wine or sherry mushroom cream sauce. Then, I’ll put the seared steaks into a hot oven with the sauce on top. Sometimes, I’ll slice the backstrap so it lays over a starch or vegetable and put that sauce on top. That’s about as good as any steak anyone can buy and it’s a very simple recipe."
For appetizers, some people make what they call "deer camp poppers." Flatten tenderloins and spread cream cheese on them. Some people add a jalapeno slice or pepper jelly and wrap them in bacon. The fatty cream cheese keeps the meat moist.
Many people who bring their deer to processors turn extra meat into sausage. Add about 20 percent pork fat to lean venison. You can also buy sausage-making kits to make your own.
"We make summer sausage from ground meat," Sherrill said. "I buy summer sausage kits with pre-measured seasonings, but add jalapenos, cooked mustard seeds and cheddar cheese. It takes about 24 hours to make summer sausage because the sodium nitrate in the kit has to cure it. I use pork fat, but some people use Boston butt, bacon or beef fat."
People can also make venison jerky. Cut meat into strips and marinate them for eight to 12 hours. Then, drain the meat to remove all the liquid. Some people use a dehydrator to dry the meat. Others remove the small lightbulbs from their ovens and replace them with 110-watt bulbs for heat. Stick toothpicks through the meat so they don’t fall through the racks.
No manner whether someone wants to grill, fry, stew or cook in many other ways, venison sustained millions of people for centuries and still tastes delicious today. People can try these methods or experiment with unlimited other ways to prepare their venison.
Venison Recipes from Chef Chris Sherill
Asian Venison Meatballs
These Asian venison meatballs are sweet and a little spicy.
- 1 pound ground venison
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ cup wasabi-flavored almonds
Get the Full Recipe
Venison-Wrapped Boursin-Stuffed Peppers
Use a meat mallet/tenderizer to pound your venison cutlets paper-thin for this recipe.
- 1 pound thin-sliced venison cutlets
- 1 package garlic-herb Boursin cheese
- Multi-colored sweet peppers (one per cutlet)
- Half-slice of uncooked bacon per pepper
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Venison Backstrap Steaks with Mushroom Cream Sauce
This venison dish works really well with any kind of potato or starch.
- 3 (8-ounce) venison backstrap steaks, free of any silver skin
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped onion
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms
- 1 cup heavy cream
Get the Full Recipe
Chris Sherrill is a chef, former restaurateur and avid outdoorsman from Mobile, Ala.