Soaking Venison in Salt Water (Explained)

Many people can find the taste of venison very strong or off-putting. One solution to this is to soak the venison in salt water.

Saltwater neutralizes the flavor of strong venison leaving you with a milder more palatable flavor in its place.

Why Soak Venison in Salt Water

Soaking Venison in Salt Water

It’s not often, but sometimes venison can be very strongly flavored. 

Usually, bucks tend to be stronger flavored with a pungent scent and typically during rutting season.

While people familiar with venison are used to this, others may find it unpalatable.

Over the years hunters, chefs, and home cooks have experimented with different ways of dealing with the strong “gamey flavor”.

Some methods include soaking venison in milk or buttermilk, brining venison, marinating, or soaking in salt water.

I’ve tried all of the methods above and some are in my daily arsenal, but soaking in salt water is reserved for special cases.

Most of the other methods add some flavor to the venison, but soaking in salt water is the only method to extract flavor.

Soaking Venison in Salt Water

On top of this soaking venison in salt water has other benefits:

  1. Removal of Blood and Impurities: Blood significantly contributes to the strong flavor of venison. Salt water soaking (or brining) can help to draw out some of the blood from the meat, reducing that gamey taste.
  2. Flavor Infusion: Salt water can penetrate the meat, infusing it with a more familiar and palatable flavor. This infusion of salt can help to counteract or mask some of the gamey flavors in the meat.
  3. Chemical Reactions: Salt is made up of sodium and chloride ions. These ions can react with the molecules in the meat that contribute to the gamey flavor, altering them or breaking them down, thus reducing the intensity of the gamey taste.
  4. Enhancing Other Flavors: A not so well-known fact about salt is that it actually enhances other flavors. This will bring out the other flavors in the dish and help overshadow the gamey taste.

The Science Behind Brining Venison

Brining meat is not new technology and has been done for hundreds of years before anyone really understood the science behind it.

I recall working in a butcher shop as a kid where there were constantly big barrels of pork being soaked in salt water.

The salt water interacts with the venison in many ways, but perhaps the most important is the chemical reactions that take place.

Soaking the venison in salt water exposes it to sodium and chloride ions. These ions can penetrate the meat and interact with the proteins.

Once inside the muscle tissues, these ions interact with the proteins. Proteins are large molecules composed of chains of amino acids. 

These chains are usually coiled and folded into specific structures, which are maintained by various types of bonds, including hydrogen bonds and disulfide bridges.

Soaking Venison in Salt Water

Sodium and chloride ions can disrupt these bonds, causing the protein chains to unwind in a process called denaturation. 

This results in the proteins taking on a more relaxed, uncoiled structure. This relaxed structure can trap more water, leading to a juicier end product when cooked.

The denaturation of proteins can also affect the flavor compounds present in the meat. 

Many of the compounds that give venison its distinctive “gamey” flavor are volatile, meaning they readily evaporate or break down when exposed to heat, air, or certain chemical reactions.

When the proteins denature, they can expose or release these flavor compounds, allowing them to react with the sodium and chloride ions or simply diffuse out of the meat into the surrounding water. 

This can help to reduce the overall intensity of the gamey flavor.

It’s important to note that while this process can help to mitigate the gamey flavor, it won’t completely eliminate it. 

The effectiveness can vary depending on several factors, including the concentration of the salt in the brine, the temperature of the brine, the length of time the meat is soaked, and the inherent characteristics of the meat itself.

How to Soak Venison In Salt Water

Soaking Venison in Salt Water

The process for brining venison is very simple.

Depending on your preference you can use more or less salt, but the general rule is 1/4-1/2 cup of salt to 1 quart water.

Once you have your brine made, submerge the venison in the mixture. 

The venison is likely to float so you may need to weigh it down with a plate or something non-reactive.

The minimum amount of time for soaking the venison is four hours, any less and you may not notice a difference.

Ideally, you should soak the venison overnight or for 24 hours.

When ready to use remove the venison from the brine and rinse well to remove any excess salt. 

Do not skip this step or your dish will be overly salty.

Pat the meat dry and use it as normal.

What to do With Venison that has Been Soaked

Soaking Venison in Salt Water

I rarely soak my venison in salt water because I’ve become used to the gamey taste.

Also, I find a great deal of what people consider gamey is usually down to improper handling or cooking.

With that said, I do soak other cuts such as the kidneys.

If you are soaking venison in salt water it’s worth considering the cut of venison and what you will use it for.

For example, there is no use in soaking some top round that you will later velvet for Mongolian venison.

The only cuts worth soaking are the ones that will not be marinated or heavily seasoned later on.

These cuts are usually steaks or burgers.

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