Whitetail deer probably represent more protein hitting the table than any other game species in North America, and rightfully so. Lean, delicious and unique-tasting, venison is a standard in many households like mine.
Oftentimes, though, hunter/cooks either get stuck in a rut or don’t completely understand how to simply and effectively prepare this species optimally. Here’s how to cook venison…essentially five simple ideas to help you get the most out of your harvest.
- We’ve all observed deer for many, many hours. Deer behavior actually gives us a few clues as to how we should prepare different cuts, and it can also be a great way to pass time in the field.
Anyway, my point is, watch the way deer move and function in their natural environment. What muscle groups do they utilize the most? Necks and legs, for instance, are in almost perpetual motion. Since these groups get the best workout, they are generally toned and firm, which means they require the longest cooking time to tenderize. The copious connective tissue and silverskin on these cuts will eventually melt into delicious and rich gelatin, which imparts great flavor and texture into the finished dish.
Be patient and cook worked-out muscles like shanks, neck roasts and bone-in shoulders for a long, long time over very low heat—sometimes up to 6-8 hours. Other cuts that respond well to low, slow cooking are pieces of the ham and the ribs.
Muscles that don’t get used as much—like the loin, backstrap or the tenderloins that reside directly underneath—need only a quick, intense application of heat to be great. Give the longer cooked cuts time and they’ll pay dividends.
(Photos by Jody Horton)