WOOSTER, Ohio — Now that deer season is over — at least gun season — it’s time to enjoy the bounty. For the past four years deer has been my principle source of meat and I cook and eat it year-round. I was fortunate enough to kill two deer this year — a buck and a doe — and both are stored away in my freezer.
One of the first things I do after I have a deer cleaned and de-hided is take it to a credible, licensed meat packer so it can be custom-butchered the way I want. I know some of you hunters do your own butchering, but I don’t know the first thing about cutting up a deer (beyond field dressing) so I feel safer letting a full-time butcher do this.
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Getting it cut
I tell the butcher what kind of cuts I want, what size of cuts (usually by weight or by servings per package), and what I want “blended in.” It’s common to have pork blended into venison to help tame the flavor, and some folks like to have cheese or other types of meats added.
Personally, I am just fine with pure venison, but if it’s an older buck or if it’s going to be made into bologna, then I request that some pork be added. Some folks insist that the sex of the deer and its age doesn’t matter when it comes to flavor. They say things like “it all tastes the same … if you cook it right.”
I will agree with that to some extent. How it’s cooked is a big factor, but I’d prefer a doe almost any day if it’s to be used for meat cuts like roast, burger and steak.
As for cooking — there are so many recipes and dishes to choose from! Venison can be used in most of the same things that beef can. Sure, you’ll experience a little stronger flavor than beef, and less fat and tenderness, but you’ll also be enjoying one of the leanest meats there is, one of the healthiest and one that is affordable.
Burgers: Start with the easiest. The burgers can be made the same way you would make a beef burger. You can mix in onions and other seasoning, grill them, pan-fry them or whatever you choose. Try not to overcook, because deer often dries out faster than beef.
My personal favorite is to sprinkle some Kickin’ Chicken on both sides of the burger and grill them on a George Foreman indoor grill. Most sources recommend cooking venison to 160 degrees. I prefer mine well-done to be safe, with no red and nothing to risk.
Along with the conventional sandwich burger, you can use deer burger in Sloppy Joe mixes, spaghetti and other pasta dishes. Actually, sauces are a perfect place to use ground venison, because the sauce helps take out any “gamey” flavor you might otherwise notice.
Steaks: This is one area where I could learn a few things. I stick to something very basic. I marinate them in Italian dressing and let them soak for a full day and night. I cover both sides in the marinade and keep them refrigerated until I’m ready to cook.
I cook them inside a stove-top skillet, adding onions, peppers and your typical steak seasonings. I like the skillet because it keeps more of the marinade in the meat, but I’ve also put them on a grill (you just lose more of the marinade). There are many other ways to cook deer steaks, but this is how I do it.
Roasts: The way I do roasts is the way I found during a web search several years ago. The recipe is available at www.allrecipes.com and is simply called “Slow Cooker Venison Roast.” You put a thawed, three-pound roast inside of a large slow cooker and cover it with 1 large onion sliced, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tablespoon of soy cause, and 1 tablespoon of garlic salt (I prefer less). In addition, sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.
Then, mix together in a bowl, a single 1 ounce package of dry onion soup with one regular size can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (10.5 oz.). The soup mixture should then be poured over-top of the roast and occasionally lifted up onto the roast as it cooks. The recipe calls for six hours and that seems to work well for me.
If it’s a particularly large roast, you may want to cut it into smaller pieces while it’s cooking, or before, to help promote even cooking and to keep the gravy-like mix in the meat.
I prefer to cook roasts during winter, because I like the heat radiating throughout my house during the day. But beware, the other thing that “radiates” throughout the house is the aroma, and if you like a well-seasoned roast, this one smells pretty darn good. If I’m going to be home while the slow cooker is running, I often stick it in the basement so I’m not constantly thinking about food and eating. The smell will do that to you — long before the roast is ready to eat.
Keep it safe
Lastly, remember the importance of food safety. Every part of everything you do to your deer could influence how safe the meat is for yourself and others. This includes how soon you field dress the deer, how soon you hang it up and whether the place you hang it is cold enough for it to keep. I hear a lot of hunters talk about what “should be OK” and what “should be fine.” When I’m going to eat something or share it with others, I like to “know” it’s safe.
Don’t take chances on meat that is questionable, and get your meat in the freezer as quickly as possible. Remember, also, that when you handle raw venison, you need to exercise the same cautions as you would when you handle other uncooked meats.
Other resources: Here is a good list of wild game recipes by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. If you have one that is your favorite, and it’s not a secret, please share it with our readers!