Once you’ve taken care to be cautious in the field, properly managing and preserving the meat from your kill, you’re ready to have it processed and prepared. Again, there are steps you can take to reduce the gamey flavor and ensure your venison is safe to eat before it reaches your plate.
Meat: If you’re planning to take your deer to a processor make sure he or she knows what they are doing. After you’ve taken so many precautions to avoid contaminants and ensure you’ll have the best-tasting meat possible, you want someone who does quality work. Additionally, ensure the meat you get back is from your deer rather than an equal quantity of venison from someone else’s.
Fat: Venison is very lean to start with and trimming off the fat to optimize taste only enhances this quality. This will sometimes result in poor hamburgers. A simple way to fix the problem is to ask your processor to add either beef or pork when grinding your venison to put some fat back into the meat.
Cuts: Steaks and ribs retain more juice if the cuts are not thicker than 3/4 inch.
Packaging: Most processors will package meat to last. However, if you’re processing and packaging it on your own, make sure you have a good vacuum sealing unit or are sealing individual packages thoroughly with plastic wrap and heavy-duty freezer paper to prevent freezer burn.
Refrigerator: Meat stored in the refrigerator should be for immediate use only and should sit for no more than two or three days. Venison keeps the best when it’s sealed tightly in moisture-proof plastic wrap put in a clean plastic storage bag.
Freezer: In most states, hunting laws do not allow wild game to be stored for longer than the beginning of the next hunting season. A good rule of thumb is limiting fresh game to eight months of frozen storage and seasoned or cured game to four months. Clemson Cooperative Extension provides useful tips for freezer storage:
- Freeze meat while it is fresh.
- Separate meat into meal-size packages before freezing.
- Take steps to prevent freezer burn by using quality freezer paper — waxed freezer wrap, laminated freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer-weight polyethylene bags.
- Make sure all of the air is out of your packages before sealing.
- Label everything with the contents and date.
- Freeze and store at 0 F or lower.
- Only store the amount of meat that will become frozen within 24 hours. Don’t overload your freezer.
Thawing: Venison should be thawed in the microwave or refrigerator as thawing at room temperature can cause bacterial growth. If you choose to defrost your meat in the microwave, it needs to be cooked immediately. Meat that is defrosted in the refrigerator should be used within 24 to 48 hours.
Marinating and soaking
Soaking: The most common soaking liquids are buttermilk, saltwater, white milk, vinegar, lemon juice and lime juice. While some hunters swear by certain soaking methods to take the “gamey” flavor away or bleed the meat after processing, others don’t find it all that helpful. If you would like to try soaking your meat, instructions for a buttermilk soak can be found at The Backyard Pioneer.
Marinades and spices: A number of marinades and spices can be used to cover up “gamey” flavors, but they can also be used to tenderize and enhance the flavor of venison. The University of Minnesota Extension suggests using a high-acid liquid — lemon juice, tomato juice, vinegar or wine — to soften muscle fibers.
Raw: For those who wish to avoid marinades and soaks, but still want to tenderize their meat, using a tenderizing tool to pound your venison or making several small cuts in it can also be effective.
Additional trimming: No matter which preparation method you choose be sure to trim away any remaining fat your processor may have left behind before soaking or marinating. Wild game fat becomes rancid quickly, which contributes to a “gamey taste.”
Temperature: When cooking venison it’s important to remember it needs to be cooked to at least 160 F to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Once the internal temperature reaches 160 F, it is safe to eat. If you use a food thermometer to confirm the temperate, but the meat retains a pinkish color, it is still safe to eat.
Bacteria on whole cuts, like steaks or roasts, are generally limited to the surface, so these cuts can be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F. All ground venison needs to be cooked to 160 F. Any soups, stews casseroles or leftovers containing venison need to be heated to 165 F.
Preparation: While it’s very important to remove all fat from your venison to reduce undesirable flavors, adding other fats before cooking it can enhance its taste and keep it from drying out. Some things you can rub on your venison include salt pork, butter, margarine, beef suet, bacon fat, vegetable fat or sweet or sour cream. You can also insert slivers of uncooked salt pork or bacon with a skewer or roll beef or pork fat into the inside of a roast before it’s tied.
Heating up: The best way to avoid chewy, dry venison is to heat your cooking surface hot enough to instantly sear the meat and lock in its flavors and juices. Whether you’re frying, broiling or grilling, you should take care to cook steaks and chops quickly, flipping them no more than once. It is also important to avoid overcrowding your pan. Water seeps out of the meat if the heat is too low or the pan is crowded.
Slow Cooking: The best way to cook tougher cuts from the rump, round and shoulder is to use a slow moist cooking method. The venison needs to be thawed completely and cut into medium or small pieces before being placed in the slow cooker. You should start by heating it on high for one hour to maintain the proper temperature, while taking care not to lift the lid during the cooking process.
For additional cooking tips and marinade recipes visit the Clemson Cooperative Extension.
- Several tips for cooking venison
- Venison cuts and uses (infographic)
- How to avoid ‘gamey’ venison in the field
- University of Minnesota Extension
- Clemson Cooperative Extension
- Penn State Extension
- The Backyard Pioneer
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