With the mid-November rut over in some spots – and with it winding down in others – many hunters are now turning their attention from procuring a big set of antlers for the wall to putting some wild meat into the yawningly empty freezer as winter lurks on the calendar.
Meaning that it's meat season, a time of year when hunters turn from dreams of a "Big Buck Down!" moment to the anticipation of several great eating sessions at the dinner table.
If that's you – and you've got a batch of venison to cook up – then keep in mind that one key to a delectable meal of wild meat is to ensure that it's tender before it hits the grill.
One way of doing that is to brine the meat in a cooler, something that will work well in a standard-size Yeti Cooler if you have the time, knowledge and inclination to soak your meat in a cold saltwater brine for a period of time.
Since I've got little in the way of experience here, we'll skip this method and move on to additional ways of tenderizing your venison.
Another way to tenderize your venison is to dry-age it in a walk-in cooler for a few days, much as finely-aged corn-fed steaks and prime cuts of beef are aged before being served at fine steak houses all across the land.
I'm no scientist, but as I understand the process, the tenderizing action that this dry-aging produces over a period of up to two or more weeks – dubbed enzymatic tenderization according to PBS chef and cooking columnist Marc Matsumoto – breaks down the muscle fibers and produces some great flavor and tender steaks ready to hit a hot grill.
But unless you have access to a walk-in cooler or have an empty refrigerator sitting in your garage, you might want to look elsewhere for how to tenderize your supply of venison this fall.
Still another way to tenderize wild meat is to use some sort of machine or instrument – a meat mallet comes to mind – that can be utilized to push, pull, prod, pound and otherwise manipulate a cut of meat to be tender.
While there are other ways to tenderize meat, a final way that we'll mention in this discussion is the use of a marinade, something that can infuse flavor into the meat along with breaking down and tenderizing the muscle fiber.
The latter is accomplished by the ingredients that the marinade possesses, either acidic or enzymatic ingredients that help to break down the muscle fibers, which in layman's terms simply means that it tenderizes the meat.
The flavoring and tenderization process using a marinade in a refrigerator varies, ranging from a period of an hour or two to even a few days.
Since this is a relatively easy way to tenderize meat in a cold refrigerator, we'll stop here and focus on this method for a few moments.
Especially if you're planning to use a marinade product like the Tastefully Done Marinade product produced by James and Amy Zehr.
With select ingredients that are designed to both tenderize a supply of venison and to enhance its flavor – two varieties are offered including original (warm brown sugar with a slight bit of peppery flavor) and spicy (less sweetness and more of a spicy kick) – this is an easy-to-use product requiring little fuss and producing tasty results.
(Jeff Phillips photo)
How simple is the marinade to use? Here are the steps that the folks at Tastefully Done Marinade recommend in the use of their product:
Tastefully Done Marinade Recipe
Total time: 4-5 days marinating time
- 3-4 pounds fresh or thawed wild game meat
- 1 jar of Tastefully Done Marinade
- Start out with approximately three to four pounds of fresh or thawed wild game meat.
- Slice the meat into even, ¼-inch thin strips.
- Shake a jar of Tastefully Done Marinade well. Then open it and remove the marinade with a rubber spatula, placing it into a medium-sized cooking pot over a stove-top.
- Next, stir the marinade over medium heat until it becomes smooth and well-blended, followed by reducing the heat to low.
- Stir the marinade continually to ensure that the herbs and spices in the product stay blended.
- After the marinade is smooth and well blended, then take one slice of meat at a time and dip it into the marinade.
- After dipping a slice of meat, put each piece of marinated venison into a container, layering the meat evenly.
- According to the folks at Tastefully Done Marinade, then pour the remaining marinade over the meat and store it all in the refrigerator for up to four or five days.
- When it comes time to cook your venison, remember that wild game is best seared on a hot grill at medium to medium-rare temperatures.
- In laymen's terms, DON'T OVERCOOK YOUR VENISON!
So how does all of this work with the Tastefully Done Marinade?
If you like to eat venison like I do and don't mind any hint of wild flavoring in the meat, then it should work great.
But if you like a little less in the way of wild flavoring – or if you have family members who prefer their venison dinners with virtually no wild flavoring at all – then it works out even better.
All in all, it's a great culinary tool designed to help turn one of the autumn hunt's greatest treasures – a supply of healthy, lean, wild and organic meat – into a meal fit for a king, one that will be remembered for a long time to come.
But don't just accept my word on all of this. Instead, also take a look at the many satisfied comments from Tastefully Done Marinade users all over the country like Jeff Phillips of northeastern Oklahoma.
"I really enjoy this marinade," said Phillips, digital editor for Outdoor Sportsman Group and the one who turned yours truly onto this product.
"It's got a different flavor from other marinades I've used, a unique flavor that is all its own with a hint of sweetness and a slight spicy edge," he added. "All in all, I'd have to say that it's very good, it's not overpowering and it works."
With a big buck – a Southern Great Plains whitetail taken by Phillip's young daughter, Railey, during the recent Oklahoma muzzleloader season – filling the family freezer this fall, the Outdoor Sportsman Group editor has used the Tastefully Done Marinade in recent days on several cuts of meat coming from that mature deer.
"It's very good and it's delicious," said Phillips. "Do I like it? I'd guess the answer is ‘yes’ since I've got a roast marinating in it right now."
While no marinade product or tenderizing method can save a piece of venison that was not properly cared for in the harvesting, the field dressing, the butchering and the storage process, the Tastefully Done product is a tool that can help turn a good piece of wild meat into an epic dinnertime experience.
Editor's Note: Always follow proper meat care, food storage and health safety guidelines when handling wild game.
All you have to do is get out in the field, put some time in a deer stand and punch your tag on the primary ingredient to all of this.
And that's a hefty supply of some of the best wild meat that the Good Lord has ever graced this planet with.
After that, all that's left to say is fire up the grill and bon appetite!