Venison tenderloin is one of the best cuts of meat from a deer.
The succulent tenderness of this cut opens up a world of cooking opportunities.
You can stir fry it, pan fry it, or even sous vide it, along with a range of other cooking methods.
Preparing Venison Tenderloin
Before cooking your venison tenderloin the first thing you need to do is prepare it properly for cooking.
Depending on your cooking method, you may have one step or many steps.
If for example you only want to pan-fry the tenderloin, you may only need to trim it.
If you plan to marinade it, then you have a few more steps which you can read below.
Trimming the tenderloin is relatively simple because it doesn’t have much fat or silver skin.
Most deer tenderloins that I trim only have very little fat around the ends when removing them from the deer that easily pull off.
There is a very thin layer of silver skin that you can easily remove by running a boning knife underneath.
Marinading Venison Tenderloin
Marinading meat is used for two things, 1. To flavor the meat, 2. To tenderize meat.
Given that you are already working with an extremely tender cut of meat you can forget about 2, and focus on 1.
Most marinades contain some sort of acid to help tenderize meat. Typical acids include acidic foods like lemons or liquids like vinegar.
For marinading venison tenderloin, you can include these, but they’re not necessary to make the meat tender.
However, they may help with moisture retention in the meat.
The main ingredients we should focus on is for the flavor.
We can achieve this through different marinade bases.
Wine is a typical base for a marinade, again acidic, but it works well with venison, red wine in particular.
Milk is another fantastic option for carrying flavors. You can use regular milk or buttermilk.
Both types of milk are mild in flavor but are great carriers of flavor.
Buttermilk is more acidic than regular milk, but not as acidic as citrus fruits.
I use milk if I want to marinate venison fast. A 6-hour marinade for a small tender cut of meat like tenderloin is plenty of time.
Strong flavors like garlic and onion are carried really well by the milk.
One thing to keep in mind is that marinating venison in milk will give it a washed-out color, as it leaches the blood from the meat.
This is great if you’re not a fan of the gamey flavor but not so great for presentation.
For this reason, I mostly use a milk marinade for fried dishes that cover the venison with a batter or breading, like fried venison.
The final type of marinade is known as velveting. This is the shortest marinade and takes less than an hour.
Velveting is mostly used for Asian cuisines and was invented in China.
To make this marinade work you slice the meat thinly and cover it in baking soda or cornstarch, along with some soy sauce.
The baking soda and cornstarch act as a tenderizing agent, but I never use them for venison tenderloin.
I generally use only soy sauce, sometimes mixed with other ingredients like garlic.
Searing Venison Tenderloin
Many of my venison tenderloin recipes will require some form of searing.
The only cooking methods for tenderloin that won’t require searing is deep frying or cooking directly in liquid, the latter is rarely used for venison tenderloin.
Searing the venison is what gives it a nice brown color on the outside.
However, it’s more than just a color. The reaction that takes place by cooking the venison over high heat is known as a Mailliard reaction.
This reaction gives the venison a deep robust caramelized flavor.
There are two methods of searing venison. The first method is normal searing.
You cook the meat on a really hot pan or grill and then reduce the temperature and cook until it reaches your ideal internal temperature.
The second method is the opposite of the first and is called reverse searing.
For this method, you cook the venison in the oven or cooler side of the grill and sear after the meat has rested.
Both options are good choices for venison tenderloin, but perhaps reverse searing makes it easier to achieve an even cook.
Venison Tenderloin Temperature
One thing you should never do with venison tenderloin is overcook it.
People are often afraid of eating venison with a little pink inside, but tenderloin in particular should be eaten at the very most medium.
I prefer to eat most of my prime cuts of venison rare, or in some cases raw, especially for venison tenderloin.
If you cook venison tenderloin beyond medium it will start to develop a metallic or liverish taste.
People often mistake this taste as gamey, when in fact it’s just overcooked venison.
Venison Tenderloin Temperatures
- Rare – 125 – 130F
- Medium Rare – 130 -135F
- Medium – 135 – 140F
Never cook the venison tenderloin all the way to your desired temperature.
If cooking on the grill, pan, or in the oven the venison will need to rest.
During this resting period the tenderloin will continue to cook, so for this reason pull the meat 5-8F before your desired temperature.
If you are reverse searing you can pull 10-15F before your desired temperature.
Venison Tenderloin Cooking Methods:
Pan-frying venison tenderloin is perhaps one of the most popular methods.
On the face of it, this method is simple, but there are a few key points to keep in mind.
This method is best for searing and then reducing the temperature.
You will get better results by using a cast iron pan.
You need to decide do you want to cut the tenderloin into medallions before or after cooking.
Before cooking allows you to get a better mailliard reaction all over, and after cooking makes it easier to achieve your desired doneness.
- Pre-heat oil in a cast iron pan over high temperature
- Oil and season the tenderloin or medallions
- Sear the tenderloin all over and reduce the temperature
- You can use a butter and aromatic baste if you like
- Cook until 5F below your desired doneness
- Rest for 5 minutes
Grilling venison tenderloin is much the same as pan frying except you get a better sear.
You will need to set up your grill for dual-zone cooking to get the best results.
Again, you can cook the tenderloin whole or as medallions, except cooking medallions on the grill will be even harder than on the pan.
- Fire up your grill and get to about 450F
- Liberally oil the tenderloin
- Cook over the cooler side for a reverse sear, or the hot side for normal sear.
- If reverse searing rest for 5 minutes then sear
- If you are normal searing, swap to the cooler side then rest
Oven cooking is best for reverse searing venison tenderloin and also best if using a marinade.
- Preheat your oven to about 400F
- Oil the tenderloin and place on a baking tray
- Cook in oven until 10F below your desired temp
- Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes
- Sear on a hot cast iron pan
While you can sous vide venison tenderloin it’s not something I do very often.
In my experience venison tenderloin is already extremely tender so the sous vide doesn’t do much for tenderizing.
But it does add a lot of flavor. So if you find venison too strong the sous vide is a great option to add more flavors to “mask” the gaminess.
You can add flavors like garlic, or herbs and spices such as thyme, rosemary etc.
- Place the tenderloin in a vacuum bag along with other ingredients such as herbs or spices
- Seal the bag
- Set the sous vide to 140F and allow it to come to temperature
- Place the bag with tenderloin in the water and cook for 2 hours
- Remove from water and rest while you heat the pan
- Heat oil in a pan over high heat
- Sear the tenderloin (add drippings if you like)
Air frying venison has been an enjoyable experiment for me lately.
I’ve done everything from sausages to tenderloin.
What I like about air frying venison tenderloin is you get an incredible sear while the inside remains moist and pink.
- Rub the venison with oil and season or use a wet rub
- Set the air fryer to 400F
- Cook tenderloin in the air fryer for about 15 minutes
- Check the temperature using a meat thermometer
- Rest, slice, and serve
A great challenge for me was coming up with a venison recipe for deep frying.
Typically with venison, there are plenty of ways to roast, grill, or pan fry, but deep frying is unique.
I eventually cracked it with my fried venison recipe, and it was worth the battle.
- Marinade the venison in milk, as above
- Drain and shake off excess milk
- Coat with seasoned flour
- Heat a large pot of oil to 350F
- Cook the coated venison in small batches for 5-6 minutes
Stir-frying is one of my favorite things to do with venison tenderloin.
The meat is extremely tender and readily absorbs flavor from the surrounding ingredients, making it a perfect candidate for this cooking method.
- Slice the tenderloin thinly
- Heat a wok over high heat
- Sear the tenderloin
- Remove and rest while you cook other ingredients
- Return the venison to the pan