People often ask me what venison tastes like, and honestly, I’m not so sure how to answer this.
As with most things, it depends.
If I had to blanket it, I would say venison tastes slightly sweet, rich, and earthy, like a scented forest earthy.
What Does Venison Taste Like?
The answer above is really just a blanket term I give people for the taste of venison.
As most hunters know, venison taste varies greatly, depending on so many variables.
Perhaps the biggest variables are the season, the age of the animal, and the habitat.
Season: Venison taste changes according to season because the deer’s lifestyle changes.
Eating a different diet will lead to different flavors as well as altering the fat percentage.
Being more active during the rut can cause the meat to be a little tougher and a little leaner.
There is also the pungent smell to contend with during the rut.
Age: Deer, like most animals, change flavor and texture with age. Often the older the animal, the more pronounced the flavor is.
Older deer have muscles that have worked much harder and much longer than those from younger bucks, and this leads to much tougher meat.
Habitat: Habitat can alter both the flavor and texture of venison. Deer that live in steep hilly areas, like blacktail, usually work a little harder and have tougher meat.
Deer that hang around farms are usually much fatter but with a milder gamey taste due to feeding more on crops and less on wild grass and shrubs.
Different Venison Different Taste
While most deer taste the same, there are some differences worth noting.
The biggest difference goes back to habitat. A Sitka blacktail deer is going to taste different than a New Mexico Coues deer simply because they live in different conditions and feed on different matter.
There are also different tastes due to being a different animal, similar to cattle, such as angus vs. limousine.
Most people may not notice the difference without it being pointed out to them, but some species are more noticeable; for example, red deer in Europe tastes different from whitetail.
Is Venison Gamey?
It’s very difficult to describe gamey, as many people label any unfamiliar taste as gamey.
Often ill-prepared or poorly cooked venison is called gamey.
While I won’t deny there is a certain amount of gaminess to venison, it’s not what most people think gamey is.
In my opinion, gamey is the earthy flavor I was describing above. This is due to wild game habitat.
Deer, in particular, browse on many different types of wild grass and shrubs, which creates the “gamey” flavor.
It’s no different than a corn-fed chicken being seen as superior. Most meat will take on the flavor of what that animal eats.
If you have ever eaten a trash bear, or worse, one that feeds on rotten fish, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
Fortunately, deer feed on only prime wild ingredients.
Another inaccurate reason venison is labeled as gamey is due to the rut. During this time, deer are secreting oils from their glands and urinating all over their legs.
This leaves a very pungent smell and flavor if not properly handled. People often confuse this with being gamey, but then how does a pheasant taste gamey or rabbit when they don’t rut?
What Does Venison Taste Similar to?
I like to think venison is unique and does not taste much like other meats.
However, it does share some similar traits with other meats.
Wild Hog – While venison and hog are very different, there are very subtle similarities if you pay close attention.
This is because they share similar habitats; this is especially true in Europe, where red deer and roe deer share the same habitat as wild hogs.
One common thing between venison and wild hog is the gamey flavor I was explaining earlier. This is because they have a very similar diet.
Both animals eat shoots, forbs, grasses, acorns, etc. Hogs are the less fussy of the two and can sometimes have a more pronounced gamey flavor.
They both have that sweet flavor that is only found in wild game.
Beef – Some people say venison is very like beef, but I disagree. I could make it very like beef by overseasoning it and drowning it in sauce, but that defeats the purpose of eating venison.
Yet some people do this to remove the “gamey” flavor.
However, there is one similarity between venison and beef, a very mild similarity is the texture.
I should stress that not all cuts are so similar and beef is much fattier and more marbled.
But some cuts, especially leg cuts, can be similar. Often beef is tenderer due to a more relaxed lifestyle.
How Cooking Alters the Taste of Venison
One of the biggest influences on the taste of venison is how it is prepared.
Assuming the meat was handled properly from the start, cooking will dictate the final taste.
For example, a medium-rare backstrap steak will taste much different from one that has been cooked to well.
The former will taste sweet, fragrant, and melt in your mouth, while the latter will taste livery, metallic, and extremely chewy.
Seasoning also plays a big part. Learning how to season venison properly can change your outlook on venison.
Often people will overseason and overcook venison. Gently seasoning and cooking will lead to a much better outcome.
Venison cannot be really blanketed like beef. Most venison will have a very rich, sweet flavor with a fragrance of wild grasses and forest.
Cooking and handling play a huge part in the final product.