For many people, cooking venison isn’t the norm. Often people are new to hunting or may have been gifted venison.
This leaves a lot of people with the question of how to cook venison.
Venison is not like beef, it has a much lower fat percentage, many of the cuts are different, and it has a much stronger flavor.
This may be a longer post because I want to cover as much as I can, but if you are interested in a specific cut, I will link to individual articles that focus on each cut separately, or you could use the search function above.
To make this as digestible as possible I’ll break this article down into cut sizes.
Large cuts of venison are mostly grilled, roasted, baked, or smoked.
These are cuts like venison roast, venison ribs, or even whole backstraps.
Often these cuts will have the bone in, and sometimes they are cut into smaller pieces to make smaller cuts, which you will find below.
Smaller cuts of venison are mostly larger cuts that have been broken down for different cooking methods.
Things like cubed or diced venison, jerky, stirfry venison, etc are all considered smaller cuts.
Smaller cuts rarely have the bone in and generally cook faster than larger cuts.
Ground venison is smaller cuts that have been passed through a grinder. While there are different-sized holes for ground venison the end product is pretty much the same.
The most popular ground venison dishes are burgers, sausages, chili, etc.
Venison Cooking Methods
Venison can be cooked using numerous different methods, much the same as lamb or beef.
However, although the cooking methods are the same the execution is usually different.
Oven-roasting venison is a great way for cooking larger cuts of meat, especially for cuts that are bone-in.
Think of things like a venison kneck roast, or even a roast backstrap.
Typically these dishes are cooked on a baking tray with a mix of herbs, spices, and veg.
When oven roasting venison it’s important to prevent it from drying out.
As you will see mentioned several times in this article, venison does not have the same fat content as beef, thus it must be cooked differently.
Generally, when oven-roasting venison it’s wise to have some liquid like venison stock, or wind in the baking tray.
Another good protection to prevent the meat from drying is to cover it with foil.
Oven-roasting venison takes time and some dishes you will cook for 6 hours or more, but it takes less time to cook than beef.
If in doubt aim for undercooked. Many people try to cook venison like other meats and end up with overcooked meat.
This is what often gives people that gamey, liverish taste.
I was a late adaptor to the slow cooker. I’d happily opt for alternative dishes, or use my Dutch oven.
But once I got an actual crock pot in my hands, I made up for lost time.
I slow cook almost every week, I make venison chili, venison stew, venison roast, you name it I slow cook it.
I believe slow-cooking venison is one of the best ways to cook venison.
It’s a great introduction to cooking venison for beginners because it’s hard to get wrong.
Most slow-cooked venison dishes will take between 6-8 hours, but it’s a kind of set-it-and-forget way of cooking.
Because you’re cooking at such a low heat with a lot of liquid, there is no fear of the venison drying out or overcooking.
Generally, for slow-cooking venison, it’s best to brown the meat first. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using diced meat, roast, or even ground meat, brown it first.
Simply set a pan on high heat, add high temp oil toss the meat and brown it before adding to the slow cooker.
Doing so will not only add extra depth to the finished dish but it will also add a better visual appearance.
Meat that isn’t browned will be a little on the bland side, and look greyish.
So what venison can you slow cook you ask.
Well, almost everything. As I mentioned, you can slow-cook chili, one of my personal favorites.
You can slow cook roasts, stews, burgers, venison pasta dishes, you name it it’s likely you can slow cook it.
Some dishes like venison ribs are a little harder to slow cook, because of the membrane, but it’s possible and I’ve done it.
If you’re new to venison cooking I recommend starting out with slow cooking.
Grilling is one of the most popular hobbies across North America, and a fantastic method of cooking food, especially wild food.
Most hunters have some experience with grilling, whether it be cooking some tenderloin out in the backcountry, or having a full-blown setup at home.
My preference for grilling is using a charcoal grill, I find that it adds a great depth of flavor that works well with venison.
However, when grilling venison you need to remember that you are working with very lean meat that cooks fast.
For most cuts, I get the grill to about 450F, coat the cut well in oil, and put it on the grill.
Coating in oil is essential as venison does not have its own fat, or at least not any you would like to eat.
Keep in mind that venison will cook much faster than beef for lean cuts.
If you are cooking ground meat dishes on the grill then things are a little easier.
Things like venison burgers, sausages, or meatballs will have pork fat added, but they still cook a little faster than beef.
I’ve spent years doing many different styles of cooking in many parts of the world but smoking always eluded me, until two years ago.
While I may have been late to the smoking game I certainly made up for lost time and smoked huge amounts of venison, wild boar, and fish.
I love what smoking does for venison, the smokey flavor infused with the wild sweet flavor of venison is simply magic.
It doesn’t matter what wood you use they all work wonders with venison.
My personal favorites are apple, oak, and hickory.
Smoking venison does present some challenges, again because of how lean the meat is.
On the flip side cuts of venison are usually smaller than beef cuts meaning you will smoke for less time anyways.
I find a good temp for smoking venison is around 225F if you are looking for a bark.
You can go lower for things like ribs, 170-180 would be a good number here, but finish them no higher than 225F.
Pan frying is one of the most popular cooking methods and is relatively straightforward.
As always with venison you will need to add some form of fat.
Depending on what you are cooking will determine the fat percentage, but venison is pan-fried fast and at high temp usually.
This will limit you to high temp oils like avocado or grapeseed oil.
If I’m frying things like burgers, or meatballs I like to use pork lard or bear fat.
There are only three types of pans I recommend using for pan frying venison, cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel.
These three types of pans will allow you to sear the venison creating a maillard reaction.
Using other material pans will likely leave you with grey-looking venison.
If you butchered your own deer you will be well aware of how sinewy some cuts of venison are.
Cuts like the shank can only be cooked two ways, extremely low and slow or pressure cooked.
Some of my best dishes come from the pressure cooker. This tool should be in everyone’s arsenal if you eat a lot of venison.
What I love about pressure cooking venison is that you cook at extremely high temperatures without drying out the meat.
Considering that nearly every other cooking method for venison is more challenging because of the lack of fat, pressure cooking is nice to have.
Grilled Venison Steak
- 4 steaks see note 1
- 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tbsp onion powder
- 1/2 tbsp black pepper whole
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp high temp oil see note 2
- Get your grill to about 450-500 f
- Remove the steak from the refrigerator and pat dry
- Add all of the dry ingredients to a mortar and work into a powder
- Generously rub the oil all over the venison steaks
- sprinkle the dry rub over the steaks and pat them into the meat
- Lay the steaks on the grill and cook until it releases from the grate (approx 5 minutes per side) see note 2
- Remove the steaks once both side have been cooked to your desired temperature and rest on a wooden block.
- Cover the steaks loosely with foil while the rest. Rest for about 5 minutes
- This grilled venison steak recipe works for most types of venison steaks. I have used it on backstraps, tenderloins, and flat iron steaks. The rub works well on them all and all of these steaks are similar in thickness.
- Cooking steaks takes time to learn the degree of cook by eye. I suggest if you are new to cooking steaks, especially venison steaks, to use a meat thermometer for best success