Cooking venison for flavor and safety

Roasted venison with bacon and vegetables.

What causes the wild or gamey taste in venison?

Venison refers to the meat of antlered animals such as deer, moose, elk and caribou. The 'wild' flavor of venison is directly related to what the animal eats. Corn fed deer will have a milder flavor than those that eat acorns or sage. The 'gamey' flavor is more noticeable in the fat. Removing the fat, connective tissue, silver skin, bone and hair during processing lessens the 'gamey' taste. However, undesirable strong flavors are due to inadequate bleeding, delay in field dressing or failure to cool the carcass promptly.

The "wild" flavor of venison is directly related to what the animal eats.

Preparation methods to improve taste

There are many different methods that help improve the “gamey” taste of venison.

Remove residual hair

  • Removing hair reduces undesirable, gamey flavors.

  • Use a vinegar-soaked cloth to remove hairs.

Trimming raw meat.

Tenderize

  • Pound meat with a tenderizing tool.

  • Make several small cuts in the meat with a knife.

  • Grind meat.

Add Spices

  • Spices may be used to cover up the 'gamey' flavors in venison.

  • Experiment with herbs like rosemary, marjoram, thyme and sage.

Rub with fat

  • Add other fats to keep game meat from becoming too dry.

  • Rub a roast with oil, butter, margarine, bacon fat, sweet cream or sour cream to add moisture, richness and flavor.

Use Marinades

  • Marinade may be used to cover up the 'gamey' flavors in venison.

  • Marinades tenderize (soften muscle fibers) and enhance the flavor of venison.

  • Marinades can add fat and calories to this lean cut of meat.

  • Always be marinate meats in the refrigerator.

  • Always include a high-acid liquid like lemon or tomato juice, vinegar or wine to soften the muscle fibers.

No time to marinate? Cover the meat with vinegar water (2 tablespoons vinegar to a quart of water) and place in the refrigerator for about an hour before cooking.

Marinade directions

Marinades can tenderize, enhance and disguise game flavors.

  • Cover meat with one of the following marinades.

    • 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water and ½ cup sugar.

    • French dressing.

    • Italian dressing.

    • Tomato sauce or undiluted tomato soup.

    • Tomato juice.

    • Fruit juice (such as lemon, pineapple or a mixture of many juices).

    • ¼ cup vinegar, ½ cup cooking oil, ½ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon garlic salt.

    • 2 cups water, 2 cups vinegar, 1-2 tablespoons sugar, 4 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt, 12 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice and 3 medium sized onions, sliced.

    • Garlic salt, salt and pepper to taste. Add equal parts of Worcestershire sauce and two of your favorite steak sauces. (This gives a blend of flavors and also is excellent for basting game roasts or thick steaks during cooking.)

    • 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger, 1 clove garlic, minced, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, ½ cup soy sauce and  ¾ cup vegetable oil.

    • Commercial marinade.

  • Place in the refrigerator overnight. (Marinating meats for more than 24 hours breaks down the meat fibers making it mushy.)

  • Drain and discard marinade.

  • Broil, roast, or braise the marinated meat.

Cooking methods to enhance taste

Big games animals tend to exercise more than domestic animals. Their muscles are relatively lean so venison tends to be drier and less tender than beef. Meat high on the upper hind legs and along the backbone is the tenderest. It's important to use cooking methods that add juiciness and flavor.

Frozen elk meat packages.

Choose your cooking method by cut

Rump, round and shoulder (tougher cuts)

  • Slow, moist heat methods.
  • Braising (simmering in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot).

Rib and loin (tender cuts): large cuts

  •  Roasting.

Rib and loin (tender cuts): chops and steaks

  • Can use dry cooking method. Pan frying, broiling or grilling.
  • Retain more juice if the cuts are no thicker than 3/4 inch.
  • Cook steaks and chops quickly. Do not crowd pan. Water seeps out if the heat is too low or pieces are crowded.

How cuts may be used

Cut of venison Use for
Neck Stew, sausage, ground
Shanks Stew, sausage, ground
Shoulder Pot roast
Rib Oven roast, chops broiled or fried
Loin Oven roast, steaks broiled or fried
Rump Pot roast, stew
Round Pot roast, swiss steak
Breast/flank Stew, sausage, ground

Cooking tips

General tips:

  • Don't overcook or cook at temperatures above 375 F. The short fibers in wild game meat will get tough.

  • Serve game meat very hot or very cold. Lukewarm game fat has a very greasy taste.

  • Baste very lean cuts with additional fat to improve flavor. Covering roast with bacon strips will provide self-basting.

Slow cooker tips:

  • Completely thaw and cut venison into medium to small uniform pieces before placing in the slow cooker. This helps venison cook evenly and prevents bacteria from growing.

  • Heat on high for 1 hour to maintain proper temperature.

  • Do not lift the cover of the slow cooker during the cooking process. It takes 20 minutes for the slow cooker to recover the heat.

Cooking to the proper temperature for safety

Cooking venison to the proper temperature is the last chance you have to destroy any harmful bacteria or parasites.

Cooking temperature by the cut of venison

Once the internal temperature of venison is confirmed with a food thermometer and has reached the minimum internal temperature, it is safe to eat, regardless of the color of the meat, which may still have a pinkish color. The pink color can be from the cooking method used like smoking or adding ingredients like celery or onions in meatloaf.

Whole cuts like steaks or roasts:

  • Cook to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F (medium rare).

Ground venison:

  • Cook to a minimum of 160 F.

  • When you grind meat, you spread any bacteria present throughout the entire batch.

Venison soups, stews, casseroles and leftovers:

  • Cook to an internal temperature of 165 F.

Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator and Kathy Brandt, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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