There’s nothing more satisfying than firing up the grill in the summer, except for maybe cooking deer meat on the grill.
I’ve grilled many types of meat, from your standard beef, chicken, and lamb, to wild-caught oysters, and wild boar.
However, I find the best meat from a grill is venison, and this article is going to show you how to cook deer meat on a grill, regardless of the cut.
Selecting the Best Cuts for Grilling
Before firing up the grill in anticipation of some tantalizing venison, the first step is to choose the right cut of venison.
Let me preface this by stating there is no wrong cut of venison for the grill, I’ve grilled just about every cut of deer meat and they all work well but differently.
Ground Meat is perhaps the more familiar cut to grill. Ground deer meat includes venison burgers, venison sausages, venison meatballs, etc.
Because venison is largely lean meat, ground venison is typically mixed with pork or beef fat to prevent it from drying out.
The next cut of deer meat for grilling is steaks. Venison steaks typically come from the backstrap, tenderloin, and flat iron.
Venison steaks can be cooked as individual steaks, or as a whole muscle group like a rack of venison, and later cut into steaks.
Other cuts of deer meat that can be grilled are typically tougher cuts of meat like venison ribs, shank, or hind quarter muscle groups.
These cuts need to be cooked long and slow on the grill to get them tender enough to eat.
Preparing Deer meat For grilling
Once you’ve chosen the cut of meat that you would like to grill, the next step is preparing it for the grill.
For all cuts, you will need to trim the fat and silverskin.
For steaks, you may want to make a rub, this can be a dry or wet rub.
For ribs and briskets, you will need to make a dry rub.
If cooking larger muscle groups on the grill you will need to make a brine. A brine helps turn a would-be tough cut of meat into a tender cut.
Trimming and Cleaning the Meat
Regardless of the cut of meat you choose to grill you will need to do some trimming beforehand.
All venison has silverskin, membrane, and fat, that is not palatable.
If you are using ground meat, this will need to be trimmed before grinding, but you can get away with leaving some on.
For steaks, you need to ensure that all of the silverskin and fat is removed.
To do so, use a sharp boning knife and insert it under the silver skin facing away from you.
It’s best to start at the edge of the meat. Make a small cut to create a flap from the silver skin.
Use a piece of paper towel to grab the flap and pull it taught. Using your knife make small cuts between the silver skin and meat while pulling back on the flap to remove the silver skin.
On ribs, there will be a membrane on the bony side that also needs to be removed. Again, use a boning knife to create a flap in the membrane.
Using a paper towel, grab the flap and pull. The membrane should come off in one piece.
If the membrane breaks, just make another flap and continue until all the membrane is removed.
Marinating, Brining, Dry Rub Your Venison
Once your meat is trimmed, it’s time to start thinking about adding flavor and/or tenderizing it.
For ground meat, it’s likely you already have it flavored if it’s sausages or burgers.
For steaks, you can use a dry rub, wet rub, or a marinade.
A rub is a mix of dry spices that you rub onto the venison about 20 minutes before grilling.
It’s intensely flavored and most of the flavor is on the outside of the meat.
A wet rub is similar to a dry rub but may include some wet ingredients. You should apply a wet rub to the venison for at least an hour before grilling for the best results.
A marinade is made up of herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Typically marinades will have some acidic ingredients to help denature proteins to make the meat more tender.
For most marinades, you will need to wait at least 6 hours before grilling the meat, in more cases 12 hours is better.
A brine is similar to a marinade but uses curing salt. The curing salt helps tenderize the meat, but more importantly, it prevents bacteria from forming.
Brines are typically used for larger tougher cuts of meat, or if you are looking to make sandwich meat.
For example, there is not much point in brining a steak.
Brines take anywhere from 3-10 days to be effective, depending on the size of the cut.
Also, after brining the meat you will be looking to smoke it on the grill and not cook it over high direct heat.
Grilling Methods for Venison
Now, there are two primary ways to grill venison: direct grilling and indirect grilling.
Each method has its own merits depending on the cut and size of your meat, as well as the end result you’re looking for.
Direct Grilling Venison
When it comes to quick, high-heat cooking of tender cuts of venison, nothing beats direct grilling.
Think backstraps, tenderloins, or small steaks. These cuts take wonderfully to this method.
The Direct Grilling Process
Before you start, crank up your grill to high heat – around 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the venison on the grill and sear each side for about 2-3 minutes.
Then lower the heat or shift your venison to a cooler part of the grill. Let it continue to cook until your preferred level of doneness.
Aim for an internal temperature of 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit for a perfect medium-rare finish.
Direct grilling is all about managing high heat. The aim is a beautiful, seared exterior and a juicy, perfectly cooked interior.
Use a meat thermometer for precision, and don’t be shy about adjusting the heat as needed.
Indirect Grilling Venison
Have a larger cut or a whole venison roast? That’s where indirect grilling comes in.
This method allows the meat to cook slowly and evenly without burning the exterior.
The Indirect Grilling Process
For indirect grilling, we’re doing a bit of grill setup.
You’ll want to create a two-zone fire: one side of the grill with high heat, and the other with no direct heat underneath.
Sear your venison first over the high heat to create a tasty crust. Then, move it over to the cooler zone, cover the grill, and let it roast peacefully.
You can also do this in reverse.
This is basically outdoor oven roasting, ideal for cuts that need more time to cook without turning into a charred mess.
I was unsure whether to include smoking or not, but it’s one of my favorite ways to use my grill.
I smoke venison every other week on a simple Weber kettle grill.
The results are astounding, so I highly recommend you try smoking venison.
What Cuts to Smoke?
Smoking works wonderfully for larger or tougher cuts of venison like the shoulder or neck.
These cuts benefit from the long, slow cooking process, breaking down the connective tissue and resulting in tender, flavorful meat.
The Smoking Process
To smoke your venison, you’ll first want to season it. A dry rub of your favorite spices can do wonders here.
Remember, venison can stand up to bold flavors, so don’t be shy.
Once seasoned, place your venison on the smoker preheated to around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Now comes the hard part – waiting.
Expect a smoking time of around 1 to 1.5 hours per pound of meat. Keep the lid closed and maintain a consistent temperature.
Remember to use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
An internal temperature of around 165 degrees Fahrenheit is what you’re aiming for with smoked venison.
A Note on Wood
The type of wood you use for smoking can greatly influence the flavor of your venison.
Hickory and oak are strong and complement the robust flavor of the venison.
For a milder, sweeter smoke flavor, consider fruit woods like apple or cherry.
Smoking venison takes time and patience, but the result is truly something special.
Pro Tips for Grilling Venison
Grilling venison is as much about the “feel” as it is about the process. Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up over the years to ensure grilling success.
Don’t Overcook That Meat
Venison is not the meat to cook well-done. Because it’s so lean, overcooking can make it tough and chewy.
Stick to medium-rare or medium at most. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you.
Use a Meat Thermometer
This isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a grilling essential.
A meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of grilling and ensures you cook your venison to the perfect temperature every time.
Let It Rest
One mistake people often make when it comes to grilling venison is to let it rest.
It doesn’t matter which grilling method you use, it’s essential to let the venison rest.
Resting allows the juices to be redistributed through the meat as the muscle fibers decontract.