Marinades are a secret tool in the kitchen.
They can render tough cuts of venison succulent and tender, and bland cuts flavorful.
A good venison marinade should have both tenderizing and flavor-implementing ingredients.
This is one of my favorite marinades for prime cuts of venison.
By looking at the ingredients in this marinade you can tell that it is purely for flavor purposes, and it does that well.
The use of strong aromatics like garlic, wild garlic, and rosemary, coupled with oil as the only liquid makes for a very flavorful marinade.
While you could leave this marinade overnight, it’s designed as a very fast marinade.
I’ve used this marinade as short as two hours and the results were astounding.
I use this marinade often and generally aim for 4 hours, but truly, two hours is more than enough.
Everyone loves a good jerky marinade, and it’s hard to go wrong with a sweet and spicy recipe.
As I state in the recipe, I originally made this for wild boar, but it was so good I adapted it for venison jerky.
This marinade also does little in the way of tenderizing the meat although it does contain apple juice.
However, the apple juice does play a critical role in the sweetness of the jerky.
All other ingredients are very strong flavor enhancers with the soy sauce and chili leading the savoryness, the honey and brown sugar leading the sweetness.
This marinade is a bit of a special one. It not only acts as a marinade but will also make a venison sauce afterward.
It’s common to toss a marinade after it has served its purpose.
However, I wanted to elevate the sweetness of venison so I developed this recipe to double as a marinade and a sauce.
I should mention that it also marinades the carrots in the recipe.
This is one of my favorite venison marinades of all time. It plays with the sweetness, but the use of bourbon and black garlic also gives it some depth.
The balsamic vinegar is used more as a balancer than a tenderizer.
This marinade is simple yet effective. What I like about this marinade is the use of red wine to flavor prime cuts.
There is also the use of kiwi so the enzymes can help the flavors penetrate the venison faster.
For this reason, this marinade requires only 2 -6 hours to be effective.
What Makes a Good Venison Marinade
Marinades do two things 1. tenderize meat and 2. impart flavor.
While number one is not always necessary, number two is always important.
This is a wild game recipe site, so the flavor should be self-explanatory here.
However, I want to explain what to look for in a venison marinade for flavor.
Some cuts of venison, prime cuts in particular are often milder. These are the cuts that need a marinade to impart flavor.
For a marinade to impart flavor it needs two things, something to carry the flavor, such as milk or oil, and strong flavored ingredients.
Strongly flavored ingredients could be a number of things but are commonly aromatics, such as garlic, onion powder, etc.
Often wine is used as both a strong flavor and a carrier, but being an ingredient to promote texture it’s not necessary for prime cuts, but there is still no harm in using it.
Improving the texture of some cuts of venison is an important part of some marinades.
Tougher cuts usually from the hind leg or shoulder can become tender cuts with the right marinade.
There are numerous ways for a marinade to break down venison to be tender.
Process and ingredients:
|Acidic Breakdown||Vinegar, citrus juices (like lemon or lime), wine, and yogurt||Acids in the marinade denature the protein structure in meat. This partial denaturing can help in tenderizing the surface of the meat. However, if meat is exposed to acids for too long, it can become too soft and mushy, especially on the exterior.|
|Enzymatic Action:||Pineapple, papaya, kiwi, and ginger||These ingredients contain enzymes (like bromelain in pineapple and papain in papaya) that break down proteins and can significantly tenderize meat. However, similar to acids, excessive exposure can overly soften the meat or give it an undesirable texture|
|Osmosis||Salt, sugar, and soy sauce||These ingredients can draw water out of cells in meat (osmotic effect), concentrating the flavors inside. Additionally, salt can help proteins in meat to unwind (denature) and then link together, which can retain moisture during cooking, resulting in juicier meat.|
|Flavor Infusion:||Herbs, spices, garlic, onion, etc.||The longer meat sits in a marinade, the deeper these flavors can penetrate. However, most flavor compounds are too large to go very deep, so they mostly influence the surface layers of the meat.|
|Fat and Emulsification:||Oils and fats||Fats can carry fat-soluble flavors from ingredients like garlic, herbs, and spices into the meat. They also promote even cooking and can add juiciness and flavor. In some cases, an emulsification can be formed (like when oil and vinegar are mixed), ensuring a uniform mixture that coats the meat evenly.|
|Maillard Reaction and Caramelization Enhancement:||Sugars and amino acids||When meat is cooked, especially at high temperatures, sugars and amino acids can react to form complex flavor compounds in what is known as the Maillard reaction. Marinades with sugar can enhance this reaction, resulting in a tastier crust or surface on the meat.|
|Antioxidative Action:||Rosemary, thyme, and certain spices||Some herbs and spices can act as antioxidants, reducing the risk of harmful compounds forming during cooking, especially in grilled or charred meats.|
Which Cuts of Venison to Marinate
While all cuts of venison can be marinated, not all cuts need to be.
Much of marinating venison depends on the dish you are making and your personal preference.
For example, there is no sense in marinating venison for chile, but you may want to marinate venison chops.
When referring to prime cuts of venison, I usually mean the tenderloin and backstrap.
Sometimes I also consider the flat iron a prime cut, if the deer is large enough to harvest a flat iron steak.
These cuts are naturally tender and need little to no marinade to tenderize further.
That’s not to say that you can not use any ingredients that cause a tenderizing action.
In fact, it’s still a good idea to use these ingredients as they help the aromatics penetrate the surface.
Prime cuts also don’t need to be marinated for very long. The aim for these cuts is to make them more flavorful, so you may only need 4-6 hours.
Stewing cuts are often from the hind quarters, neck, or shoulder.
These cuts are tougher than prime cuts and can do with a longer marinating session and the use of acidic, or enzymatic ingredients to help break them down.
Depending on what you are making the marinade time will vary.
For example, Italian venison stew isn’t typically marinated but is slow cooked in red wine which is an acidic ingredient, so the meat breaks down to become tender.
For large cuts like venison roast, you could marinade overnight. For smaller cuts like venison stew, you may get away with a 6-hour marinade.
Finally, venison jerky should nearly always be marinated. The marinade here is mostly to just flavor the venison.
Venison jerky marinade times vary according to the thickness of the cut and the marinating method.
A general marinade time for jerky is 4-6 hours.
Best Venison Marinade (Fast)
- 1 sprig rosemary chopped
- 1 tsp thyme fresh or dried
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup high temp oil
- 1/2 tsp dried wild garlic
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp onion powder
- Add all the ingredients, minus the venison, to a mortar and work with the pestle until you get almost a paste-like consistency.
- Rub the mixture into the venison. Place the venison in a ziploc bag or wrap it in film and set in the refrigerator for 2-8 hours
- Remove from fridge and cook using your desired method.