September 07, 2021
Steak and kebab meat mostly come from the loins, tenderloins, and hindquarters of a deer. The loins and rounds – especially – are large, whole muscles that have no silver skin in them. The backstraps obviously make great steaks, but on a young deer or doe, you can get equally delicious meat from the hindquarters.
For the best-tasting steaks, shoot for medium-rare. But in other cases, internal temperatures will vary.
- Rare steaks fall in the 125- to 130-degree category. Steaks remain very tender in this temperature range, but with a cool center. With little heat to do its magic, steaks are more raw than juicy at this stage. I reserve this preparation for recipes such as tataki and carpaccio.
- Medium rare, or 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, is the magic range to cook venison steak – or any steak for that matter. I usually shoot for 130 degrees. This temperature is warm enough to get the juices in the muscles flowing, to bring out the meat’s full flavors and to get any fat to soften. The resulting steak is perfectly balanced in juiciness, tenderness and flavor.
- Medium temperature is passable: 135 to 145 degrees. However, venison steak will begin to take on a gray appearance, taste slightly livery and lose moisture at these temperatures.
- Medium well and beyond, above 145 degrees, is not recommended. However, recipes such as stir fry, chicken-fried steak and stroganoff are exceptions. Steaks are often sliced thinly or pounded with a meat mallet in these types of recipes. Breading, sauces and gravies also help the flavor.
Ground meat can come from the front shoulders, smaller muscles in the hindquarters, flanks, neck, brisket and rib areas on a deer. The best temperature to cook ground meat will depend on what you want to do with it. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Grinding meat increases the potential to introduce bacteria. For recipes such as meatballs, meatloaf and taco meat, it is okay to cook ground venison all the way through, which is 160 degrees. Most of these recipes will also have other ingredients in them—breadcrumbs, eggs, water, etc.-- to help keep the meat moist.
- Burgers – Unfortunately, venison patties will taste dry at 160 degrees. For the best burgers, follow the tips below.
- Well-done: If you don’t feel confident in the quality of your ground venison, take the patties off the heat at 155 degrees and allow carryover heat to finish them to a safe 160 degrees. To help with dryness, add 20 perfect pork or beef trimmings to your venison grind for juicer, more flavorful well-done burgers.
- Medium well: For a little pink in the middle of venison burgers, 145 degrees is the target temperature. The patty is mostly cooked through, but still juicy in the middle.
- Medium rare to medium: For the burger connoisseur, 130 to 145 degrees is the optimum temperature range for the most juicy, flavorful venison patties. This is the kind of burger that highlights the taste of the animal best.
- Use the best quality pork or beef trimmings as possible. For example, if you add Walmart pork to your venison, perhaps cook it to 155 degrees. But if you get your trimmings from a butcher you trust, cook your burgers to medium-rare.
Braise and Soup
Internal temperature is not nearly as important as time in braising and stewing venison. But if you want to know, the internal temp will fall around 190 degrees, which is the ideal temp for a good smoked brisket. At this temperature, tough connective tissue and collagen within your venison roast or stew meat would’ve had time to break down and turn into gelatin.
The best cuts for braising are the shanks, neck and front shoulders. These muscle groups have the most connective tissue on a deer, which means more gelatin in the end. The more gelatin, the better in a quality braise or soup. If there’s enough meat on the ribs, they would be suitable for braising too. Cuts that make good steak don’t make good stew meat—the texture becomes too stringy and quite boring.
Here are some tips for a successful braise.
- Invest in a good enamel-coated Dutch oven. You don’t have to spend a fortune. I’ve had as much success cooking with my Lodge Dutch oven as I’ve had in my French Le Creuset and Staub.
- Uncoated cast iron reacts to acidic ingredients, such as wine, tomato and vinegar, which can make your stew or braise taste metallic.
- Bring a braise or stew to a boil on the stovetop, but do most of the cooking in the oven for steady indirect heat. Stovetops apply direct heat onto the bottom of the pan, which leaves more room for scorching.
- I’ve found that the best temperature for braising is 350 degrees. It’s hot enough that you’re not waiting until midnight to serve dinner, but low enough to prevent braising liquid from evaporating too quickly. Most venison roasts will become tender in 2 to 3 hours at this temperature.
- Braise venison with a bit more liquid that you would normally with beef; venison has little intramuscular fat to keep it moist and it also takes longer to cook than beef.
- Check the pot halfway through, and flip large pieces of meat. Keep an eye on the liquid level to avoid burning. Add more liquid as necessary.
- If your braising liquid is evaporating too quickly or you’re looking for a soupy braise, cover the pot with aluminum foil and place the lid on top. The aluminum creates a tighter seal, forcing rising steam to fall back into the pot instead of escaping through cracks between the pot and lid.
Always dehydrate venison jerky to 160 degrees, which is the temperature needed to kill bacteria. For added protection, add Prague powder #1 pink curing salt into your marinades, which helps to prevent bacteria growth.
I don’t make jerky often, but when I do, my favorite cuts are the rounds. They are large muscles in the hindquarters that can withstand long marinade times. And in older deer, they may not be suitable for steak anyway.