Seasoned and Smoked Venison
I started deer hunting when I was around 16 years old. I was not a serious hunter as my father never hunted and only my brother and a couple of friends did. I bow- and gun-hunted for a few years, but by the time I was 30 I was married, had our first child and didn't have a lot of time and money to spend on hunting. I had rarely cooked venison, let alone prepared smoked venison.
Another aspect of giving up deer hunting was, well, my less than enthusiastic appreciation for venison. If you are one of those people who have had less-than-wonderfully prepared venison, you have a right to protest. And you also have the right to never believe another soul who asks you to "just try it...one more time." But, I hope you don't exercise that right...and here is why.
Why Does Venison Taste Bad?
The 'wild' flavor of venison is directly related to the individual deer's diet. Corn fed deer have a milder flavor than those that eat acorns or sage. This means deer harvested in corn growing areas are definitely better tasting than those who purely forage woods and fields. Also, the 'gamey' flavor is more noticeable in the fat, thus removing fat, connective tissue, silver skin, bone and hair during processing removes or lessens the 'gamey' taste. Venison is still venison, but it can often taste much, much better than we've experienced.
Venison is also extremely lean. This make proper preparation very important. Read a bit from this article from OutdoorLife.com, "Deer are leaner and wilder animals than cattle. Venison—even taken from a slob, cornfed buck in the Midwest—has less fat than beef does. Three ounces of lean beef contain, 247 calories and 15 grams of total fat. Three ounces of venison contain 134 calories and only 3 grams of total fat. Most importantly, venison contains about one sixth the amount of saturated fat that beef does. Venison has more protein: 26 grams to 23 grams in beef. The only category in which venison loses is cholesterol: 95 mg to 76 mg in beef."
So How Do We Make Venison Taste Good?
Without digging too deep into the subject, know that just as with beef, venison has many different cuts - roasts, steak, filets, etc. - and each may benefit from preparation appropriate to that particular cut.
In general, because of the leanness of venison, going heavier on salt in particular, and seasoning in general is a good thing. Salt will break down the meat enzymes, tenderizing and adding moistness to the meat. As you'll see in my recipe and process below, the preparation process is important to the end result
Do not overcook venison. Because of it being so lean, too long on the grill will render a dry and tough end result. There is not enough fat or moisture in the meat to handle being cooked much over medium-rare/medium.
Free Venison = Free Smoked Venison!
My neighbor had 3 venison roasts that had been in his freezer for a while. He asked me when I smoked something else, would I smoke the venison also and could keep half of what I smoked. I had never smoked venison and actually haven't grilled any since prior to the tech revolution and the ability to Google, so I definitely had an advantage over anything I had prepared before.
In my research I found suggestions that made sense, some of which I already wrote about above: venison is lean, don't overcook; venison fat tastes gamey. But the salting process is something I had not done before and it really made a difference! Following is what I did:
- Kosher salt
- Jack's Blend SPG
Step 1: Prepare the venison. Rinse the venison and pat dry. Coat it with a liberal coating of kosher salt over all sides of the meat. Use approximately 1 tsp. per pound or double of what I recommend in my post on dry brining ribs
Step 2: Rest the venison. Let it set on a tray in the fridge for 2-3 hours allowing time for the salt to penetrate the meat, begin to break down the enzymes of the meat and bring moisture back into the meat.
Step 3: Season the venison. Rinse the salt from the venison and pat it dry again. Now coat it top, bottom and sides with a liberal coat of Jack's Blend SPG (or your best salt, pepper, garlic rub). Let the venison set with the rub on it for approximately an hour. During that time prepare your smoker for smoking.
NOTE: you can see a color difference in the left picture above. That's because I sliced each roast in half so I would have 1" thick pieces rather than 2"-2.5" thick pieces. The meat in the middle was redder than the outside, but this could have been exaggerated by an extended time in the freezer as well.
Step 4: Smoking the venison. This is very important...even though we are smoking the venison, it is not the same process as smoking ribs or brisket. Ribs and brisket are tough, fatty pieces of meat that benefit from the low and slow smoking process. Since we do not want to overcook the venison, the goal is enhancing the meat with smoke AND bringing it to the proper temperature.
Step 4a: Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees.
Step 4b: Place the venison in the smoker with temperature probe in the center of the thickest part of the meat. If using an insta-read thermometer, you will need to open your smoker after about 20 minutes to check the meat temp and then every 5-10 depending on how quickly the meat temperature is rising.
Step 4c: Pull the venison when the internal meat temp is 140 degrees.
Now, place on a cutting board, slice and eat! (look closely at the picture at the top of this post...can you see the moisture in the meat?)
Proof in the Puddin'
To prove my point I did two things after smoking the venison. First, I had my wife try it, who remember, is not a venison fan. Let's just say after the first bite, she reminded me of a baby robin in it's nest waiting for mom to come back with a worm! Second, I had my good friend and neighbor Nathan come over to try some...except I kinda lied to him. It went like this:
Me: "Hey neighbor, have a seat. I have something for you to try."
Nathan: "Oh yeah, what's that?"
Me: "Have you ever had smoked filet mignon before?"
Nathan: "No, I haven't"
Me: "I'll be right back."
(I go in the house, slice a few pieces of the smoked venison, bring it out to Nate and let him start eating...)
Nathan: "Wow, this is fabulous!"
Me: "So, you've never had smoke filet mignon before?"
Me: "Well, you still haven't! What you are eating is venison."
Nathan: "Serious! Wow, that is amazing."
I am not kidding...me, my wife and my neighbor were chowing this venison roast (not even the back strap or filet) and it was as tender, as delicious and as moist as a perfectly prepared filet mignon.
Give it a try and leave a comment below on your experience and share this post with any hunter you know!!