If you are anything like me, you probably have some venison in the freezer. The real problem is deciding how to prepare it.
There are a few issues that arise when preparing venison. Many people are turned off by this wonderful meat because it is prepared in a way that leaves a gamey flavor. It is also common to find tough or dry deer meat. If it is prepared the wrong way, it turns out like shoe leather and nobody will eat it.
Actually, venison is a lean meat cut, making it very healthy to eat. Ideally you want to remove any fat found on your cut as it can add to that gamey flavor.
But, be careful because without any fat, it is very easy to dry out it. Typically the longer you smoke it, the drier it gets. So how do you smoke a lean piece of venison without drying it out?
In this article we will cover a method for smoking deer meat that leaves it moist and delicious. It will also have a mild flavor and be butter knife tender, so everyone will like it.
If you are planing to smoke this kind of meat, then you first should properly prepare it. A lot of people think that the preparing process is not very important and I am telling you that they are wrong.
If you want to properly smoke it and make it delicious and moist, then it all begins with the preparing.
Trimming and Butchering Deer Meat
When it comes to eliminating the gamey flavor and tough texture from venison, the process should start when it is first butchered.
If you take your meat to a processing plant, you can request that they package it in this particular way or they may already follow this process.
If you butcher it by your own, there may be a few minor changes needed in your process. Here is the process I use to prepare my deer meat before I cook or freeze it:
How to Prepare Deer Meat for Smoking
1) First, I suggest you to trim off as much fat as possible. Unlike most meats, fat is a bad thing on venison.
Use a sharp knife and try to avoid cutting into the meat itself. I like using a heavy filet knife for this step in the process.
2) Many of the muscle groups have a clear membrane and silver-skin on the outside. It sometimes has a slimy texture to it. This also adds to the gamey flavor.
Get your blade under them membrane and pull with one hand while you slice it loose with the other. It should peel off easily.
3) Remove the muscle groups from the bone in large pieces. Many people slice their venison thin and then tenderize it. This cut is ideal when you are chicken-frying it, but not when it comes to smoking. It is important that your piece of meat be several inches thick to maintain moisture during the smoking process.
Note: You can also cut your piece with the bone still into it. To do this you would make the cut with your knife perpendicular to the bone and then saw through the bone with a hacksaw. I prefer removing the meat from the bone simply because it is less work and holds together better.
Also, if you are having difficulties with this step, read this article for a more detailed guide to trim the fat off easily.
4) Once you have an ideal piece of venison, you are either ready for the brine or you can prepare to freeze it.
To freeze it I wrap it in plastic and then wrap in freezer paper, or I put it in a plastic bag and fill the bag with water.
If you will start smoking it directly, then set the meat aside and get ready to brine it.
Brining the Deer Meat
When it comes to smoking meat, brining is always a good idea because it helps your meat cut to retain moisture and to add more flavor.
Also remember, the best cuts of deer for smoking are the tenderloins, hams, or shoulder roasts. Choosing one of these cuts will make your experience easier and enjoyable at the end.
There are hundreds of different ways to make a brine, but there are three basic ingredients in any brine: water, salt, and sugar.
Here is a recipe for a basic brine you can use for your venison:
Quick and Easy Venison Brining Recipe
- 1 Gallon of Water
- 1/2 Cup of Soy Sauce – Make sure not to buy the reduced sodium kind
- 3/4 Cup of Kosher Salt
- 1/2 Cup of Brown Sugar
- 1/4 Cup of Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 Cup of Molasses
- 2 Tbs. Pepper
- 1 Tbs. Rosemary
After you make sure that you have all the required ingredients, it is time to prepare the brine.
Start by combining all these ingredients in a large pot or plastic container. Be sure to mix it thoroughly so the salt and sugar dissolve in the water.
After the mixture is ready, add your meat and let it sit in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours.
Leaving it for 12-24 hours to brine is beneficial because as the meat draws the ingredients in, a few changes take place.
The first one is that the salt starts to break down the meat which tenderizes it.
Another one is that it draws moisture into the meat so it will retain that moisture during the smoking process.
Finally, brining does add other flavors to the meat. This brine gives the meat a slightly sweet and salty taste without masking the flavor of the venison.
Deer meat requires more salt than just about any other type of meat, so when you are preparing to cook it, this brine compliments it well.
Prepare to Smoke Your Venison
When you are ready to start smoking, you need to allow 30 – 60 minutes for preparations before you actually start the smoking process. There are several steps to take before you can actually start applying heat to your meat.
Prepare Your Smoker
1) First, you should prepare your smoker. Remove your deer meat from the brine, rinse it, and set it on a plate on the counter to bring it to room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
2) Now, soak your wood chips or chunks in water. I typically use mesquite or oak wood for venison to give it a nutty, rich flavor instead of a sweet flavor. Be sure to soak enough wood that you can set some aside to add to your fire later.
3) After you soak your preferred wood in water, scrape your grate and light your charcoal.
I suggest that you never use match light charcoal and try to avoid using lighter fluid if possible. A charcoal chimney is an excellent tool I use to evenly light my coals without lighter fluid.
4) Set up your grill for indirect heat. This is vital as direct heat could cause the venison to seize up and become tough. Put additional charcoal on one side of your smoker so you can put your meat on the opposite side. Add a water pan either under your meat or above your coals depending on the design of your smoker.
Note: This process can work fine with a gas grill or electric smoker with a few modifications.
With an electric smoker it is easier and you can just follow the manufacturer’s instructions to set it to the desired mode.
With a gas grill you ideally want to leave one burner off and place the meat above that burner. You will need a smoker box to add your wood chips. You will place the box over the burners that are lit to create your smoke.
5) Add your hot coals to your unlit charcoal. Also remove your wood chips or chunks from the water, shake them off, and add them on top of your hot coals.
6) Put the grate back, close the lid, and let the smoker come to temperature.
After a while, you will notice thick white smoke coming from your vents. Adjust the vents to get your temperature to remain steady between 250°F and 300°F.
Season Your Meat
After you have prepared your smoker/grill and let it reach the initial temperature, it is time to season your meat.
There are a lot of methods and recipes to season this kind of meat. You can decide to apply a rub or paste, or just season with salt and pepper.
I enjoy using a simple spice rub. My rub has no sugar because a sweet bark goes best with pork or chicken, not venison. Here is my simple recipe for the deer meat rub:
Deer Meat Seasoning Recipe
- 4 Tbsp. Salt
- 2 Tbsp. Pepper
- 2 Tbsp. Garlic Powder
- 2 Tbsp. Onion Powder
- 2 Tbsp. Paprika
- 1 Tbsp. Cayenne Pepper
- 1 Tbsp. Cilantro
- 1 Tbsp. Cumin
After you collect all the required ingredients, apply them to your meat and make it ready for smoking.
Smoking Deer Meat
Now, it is finally the moment for you to start smoking the prepared meat cut.
The key to getting your venison to turn out moist, tender, and smoky is maintaining a steady temperature.
The steady temperature technique applies to almost any kind of meat when it comes to smoking it, so keep it in mind.
Plan for a few hours of periodically checking your smoker to make sure nothing is going wrong. It does not take long for a smoker to change in temperature by 50 to 100 degrees if the vents or coals are off.
How to Smoke Deer Meat
1) Add your meat to the grill in the section of your grate set up for indirect heat.
You have to be quick at this step because you should not leave your lid open for too long as it can throw off your temperature.
2) In order to properly smoke it, you have to maintain your grill temperature by checking it every 20-30 minutes.
If you are using an electric smoker, the process is a lot easier because you can monitor it with the built-in digital thermometer and increase or decrease it based on your needs.
If you are using a grill, the easiest method to do it is to control your temperature with the top and bottom vents.
To increase the temperature you can open the vents allowing more air to the coals.
To decrease the temperature, you can close the vents, but not all the way as it will put out your coals. If the smoker stops producing smoke, you will have to add more damp wood chips or chunks to the fire.
3) You will need to smoke the meat for roughly 1.5 hours per lb. of meat or until you reach 140°F internal temperature.
I suggest you have a digital thermometer to check the temperature easily. Just a few degrees off with venison can affect the moisture and tenderness of it.
4) After the meat is done, pull it out from the grill, wrap it in foil and throw a towel over the top.
Don't cut or serve it yet. You have to let it rest for 20 minutes, so the juices reincorporate into it.
We, at our family, use and cook venison very frequently, sometimes more than other type of meats, especially during the hunting season.
The only difficulty we face is that our friends and extended family are not as enthusiastic about venison as we are, even though it is one of the healthiest meats out there.
We have had to come up with ways to cook it that can appeal to everybody, and smoking method has been a big hit.
By cooking it this way, we have managed to leave it moist, very tender and to taste amazing.
We hope your family and friends will enjoy it as much as we do.