Smoking venison is different than smoking store-bought meats.
Venison carries a rich, complex flavor profile that works well with smoking
On the other side, venison is considerably more difficult to smoke due to the low-fat percentage.
Choosing the Right Cut For Smoking
Venison is a lean, gamey meat due to the deer’s free-roaming lifestyle and diverse diet.
This lifestyle imparts a distinct, robust flavor profile that is sometimes considered gamey and can be quite different from domesticated meats.
But it’s this richness that makes venison an excellent protein for smoking.
Not all cuts of venison lend themselves to smoking, however.
The best cuts for this process are the backstrap and the roasts, known for their rich flavors and tenderness, making them particularly receptive to the low, slow heat of the smoker.
These cuts respond beautifully to the smoke, their flavors enhanced rather than overwhelmed.
The backstrap is one of the mildest cuts of venison, yet extremely tender making it readily absorb surrounding flavors including smoke.
Roasts work well with smoking due to being larger cuts of meat that can cook slowly over long periods of time.
Venison roasts are stronger flavored than the backstrap and work well with more intensely flavored woods like hickory, oak, and mesquite.
Another cut of venison that is worth smoking, albeit difficult to smoke is the brisket.
Venison brisket is considerably smaller than that of beef, but with patients and the right execution, you can have one of the finer cuts of smoked venison.
Venison ribs are another good candidate for smoking.
Again, they are more challenging to smoke than beef ribs, and there is very little meat, but the meat you do get is so flavorful it makes up for the lack of quantity.
Preparing Venison for Smoking
Some cuts of venison will need to be brined before smoking, I usually brine meats that will be used as sliced meats, like pastrami.
Brining does a couple of things for venison. It extracts some of the gamey flavors, preserves the meat, and enhances the color if you use curing salt.
But most importantly it enhances the flavor and texture of the venison.
Brining venison can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
A simple brine could consist of water, salt, and a bit of sugar.
But, more often than not I add other herbs and spices.
My pastrami brine consists of multiple herbs and spices to impart more flavor to the finished product
Whether you brine or not you will almost always want to use a rub.
A rub is the main source of flavor when smoking venison, it’s also what creates the bark to give a nice textured outside.
A rub might include ingredients like brown sugar, paprika, ground mustard, dried herbs, garlic powder, etc.
Once brined and rubbed, let the venison come to room temperature. This allows for even cooking, ensuring that the meat cooks evenly.
The Smoking Process
I like smoking over charcoal as I find it gives a better flavor.
But, regardless of what type of smoker you use maintaining the correct temperature is essential.
As I mentioned above venison is a lean meat and the cuts are often smaller than that of beef or pork.
This means if the temperature of the smoker climbs too high the venison will quickly dry out.
The maximum temperature for smoking any cut of venison is 225F, but I often smoke much lower than this, sometimes as low as 180F.
The temperature choice often comes down to what you are smoking.
If you are trying to develop a bark you may want to smoke in the higher range until the bark develops, whereas if you are smoking a brined cut of meat for pastrami you can smoke on the lower end of the range.
Choosing Wood For Venison
The choice of wood also plays a significant role in the final flavor. Hickory and mesquite offer stronger smoky flavors, while fruit woods like apple and cherry impart a milder, sweeter smoke.
It’s up to personal preference, but the chosen wood should complement, not overpower the venison’s flavor.
I find hickory is a good choice of wood for stronger flavored cuts of venison, like ribs.
Milder woods are better for more delicate cuts, like pastrami for example where I prefer using cherry wood.
I often like to mix woods to create a more balanced flavor. Oak and apple or hickory and apple offer a middle-range intensity for ribs, roasts, or briskets.
Another crucial step when smoking venison is spritzing the meat.
Spritzing does two things, it prevents the meat from drying out and it enhances the flavor.
I usually use some form of apple-based spritz due to its flavor, this could be apple juice, apple cider, or apple cider vinegar mixed with water.
I find spritzing every 30-45 minutes is enough to keep the venison moist.
For most cuts of venison, you want to pull the meat at 130F internal temperature.
This will give you a nice medium rare cook. If you are cooking ribs or BBQ roast then you can cook until the meat is tender.
Serving Smoked Venison
Once the venison has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the smoker and let it rest.
I find a 10-15 minute rest is enough.
The resting period allows the fibers to decontract and release moisture, creating a tender juicy cut of smoked venison.
After resting, slice your venison against the grain to ensure maximum tenderness, and then it’s time to serve.