Cooking deer steak is not for the faint of heart. Venison is much leaner than beef which means it can dry out faster, leaving you with a dry, chewy steak.
Not only is venison extremely lean, but some cuts of meat can also be tough due to the deer’s highly-active lifestyle.
However, it’s still possible to create tender deer steak by using a few simple tricks.
5 Methods to Tenderize Venison Steak
All of these methods are proven for tenderizing venison steak, and I use each method frequently.
However, some of these techniques are better suited to specific cuts of steak.
Marinating is a well-known technique for creating flavorful dishes. This technique is not only used for steak; you can use it on various vegetables and meat to impart flavor.
However, many people don’t know you can also use a marinade to tenderize meat.
Using acids or enzymes in your marinade will cause a reaction that will break down the muscle fibers, making the steak more tender.
Acids or enzymes are typically found in citrus fruits, wine, yogurt, or vinegar.
Marinating works for all venison cuts but can only go so far in tenderizing the meat.
If you are trying to tenderize a sirloin steak from an older deer, you would be much better off using an alternative method.
Pounding venison steak is the fastest way to tenderize most cuts.
Tenderizing mallets are designed with little points or ridges on the ends to break down the muscle fibers.
While I like using this method, often, you need to be careful to stay focused.
If you pound the steak too hard, you may flatten it too much and be back at the start with a tough steak because it’s so thin with no moisture.
I mostly use this method for butterflied venison backstraps.
Lay a piece of film on your cutting board, place the steak, then lay another piece of film over the top.
Gently pound the steak with the hammer ensuring you do so evenly. While tenderizing mallets are best for this, most kitchen tools can get the job done, like a rolling pin, cast iron pot, etc.
Velveting is one of my favorite techniques for tenderizing venison steak.
While I mostly use this method for Asian dishes like Mongolian venison, it works great on steak also.
This method works best on thin-cut steaks such as flank steak, flat iron steak, or other steaks if you slice them thinly.
Velveting keeps the moisture in the meat allowing it to stay tender. The alkaline in the baking soda also denatures the proteins making the meat tender.
You can velvet with baking soda or cornstarch, but for steak, baking soda is a better approach because of the reaction from the alkaline.
Allow 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda for 1lb of meat. Rub the baking soda into the steak and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
Rinse the meat to remove all baking soda, pat dry, and use the steak normally.
Slow cooking is a foolproof way to tenderize any cut of meat. I don’t often cook steaks in a slow cooker, but they are extremely tender when I do.
Slow-cooking steak breaks down the connective tissues and collagen, making the steak incredibly tender.
There are many approaches to slow-cooking venison steak; this could be in a slow cooker, braising, sous vide or even slow cooking on a grill.
All of these methods will work and make the steak tender.
This method is best reserved for extremely tough steaks, like sirloin, bottom round, etc.
Salting is an excellent technique for tenderizing venison when done correctly.
However, when done incorrectly, it can have the opposite effect.
Salting a beef steak is much more forgiving than a venison steak. This is because venison drys out much faster than beef when being cooked.
To salt venison steak, you must have enough time for osmosis. Osmosis is where the moisture returns to the steak.
Salting for less than an hour before cooking will not work, as it will leave the steak tougher and dry.
Ideally, you will need a minimum of one hour of salting before cooking.
The salt will begin to extract the moisture from the venison and pool on top of the steak.
You may be thinking uh-oh, but don’t worry. Leave the steak as is with the moisture on top.
What happens next is known as diffusion. The salt will move to a less salty environment which means it will return to the meat.
Some moisture will be lost to evaporation, but not enough to be concerned.
This method is best reserved for thicker cuts of steak. Thin cuts will dry out too much.
Keeping Venison Steak Tender When Cooking
Aside from the methods above for tenderizing venison steak, you can greatly improve your steak with your cooking technique.
Often people need to correct the cooking part when it comes to venison, which leaves them with a tough, chewy steak.
Venison isn’t like beef and lacks the fat to keep it moist while cooking. For this reason, venison steak is best when cooked over high heat for a short period of time.
This allows the meat to get a nice Maillard reaction without losing too much moisture through evaporation.
Which Venison Cuts need Tenderizing
The two main cuts of venison for steak are the backstrap and tenderloin, but we will not be talking about these because they are tender, to begin with.
If your backstrap or tenderloin steak is tough, it’s a cooking issue, not a tenderizing issue.
Other steaks that may need tenderizing:
Bottom Round – Most of the time, I turn this cut into a roast, stew meat, or ground meat.
On the rare occasion when I turn it into steak, it needs to be tenderized.
The bottom round is from the outside of the deer’s hind leg and is a reasonably active muscle, which means it is tougher than some other cuts.
This steak would benefit most from slow cooking or marinating.
Sirloin – The sirloin sits very close to the bottom round and is also a tough muscle.
You may be confused about this because a beef sirloin steak is typically not too tough.
However, deer work much harder than cattle, and their muscles are tougher.
This cut could benefit from any of the methods above.
If I am turning sirloin into steak, it would be thinly sliced steak. The best for this is marinating, velveting, or pounding.
Flat Iron – The flat iron steak comes from the deer’s shoulder but is often too small to warrant being a steak.
However, if you harvest a larger deer or elk, this is a cut you want to take advantage of.
Flat iron steak is mostly tender, to begin with, but can benefit greatly from marinading, velveting, or pounding.
This cut is too thin for salting.
How to make deer steak tender
- Venison steak any cut
- option 1 marinade
- option 3 soy sauce and either cornstarch or cornflour
- option 5 salt