For author Vic Dunaway’s last Sportsman Kitchen column in the December, 2011 issue of Florida Sportsman, he grilled venison and wrote about it in his distinct style. Thank you, Vic.
Venison on the Grill
Prep tips to savor the flavors of hunting season.
By Vic Dunaway
Allow me to presume, optimistically, that you have already bagged a deer this season—or will have one in your sights very soon. If so, that calls for celebration, and what better way to celebrate than with a scrumptious venison steak grilled in your own backyard? It’s true that you can turn out an equally tasty steak on your stovetop by using a cast iron skillet or griddle, some of which even have ridges that impart “grill marks,” but the celebration factor dips considerably when you go inside. And, hey! Another thing well worth celebrating is the very fact that here inFloridawe can expect many comfortable days for backyard barbecuing even during hunting season.
If you’re a past master of grilling beef you’ll have to rethink your procedures a bit when doing venison. The chief difference lies in the amount of fat. A great beefsteak contains plenty of it; a great venison steak virtually none. So when you think venison, think marinade. You may already have a favorite but, if not, give a try to the simple recipe that follows. It’s a personal favorite, built of ingredients that can usually be found in most pantries, thanks to the fact that dried herbs can be substituted for fresh.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. fresh chopped (or 2 tsp. dry) basil
1 tbsp. fresh chopped (or 1 tsp. dry) rosemary
1 tsp. garlic, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Mix all ingredients together and pour over steaks in lidded, non-metallic container. A plastic bag works fine. Make sure the marinade coats all surfaces of the meat. Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least 10 hours or as long as 24 hours. This amount treats about two pounds of venison steak.
Marinating serves three vital purposes. Not only does it atone for that missing fat, but it also flavors the meat and helps tenderize it. Additional tenderization can be achieved by slicing the steak no more than one-half inch thick before marinating and then pounding it with a meat hammer until it’s about half its original thickness. If you own a vacuum-sealing device you can use it to make the marinade even more effective. When vacuum-sealed, the flavors penetrate throughout the meat faster and so you can reduce the marinating period.
At cooking time, prepare the grill by turning it on high and brushing the cooking surface with oil. Then turn the heat to medium before placing the steaks on it. Grill the steaks for no more than two minutes per side.
If you’re lucky enough to get home from deer camp with a backstrap (the choicest of all venison cuts, the tenderloin) your grilling job will be easier and tender meat assured—providing, of course, you don’t mess it up by overcooking.
Slice the backstrap across the grain into one inch thick slices. Pour two tablespoons of olive oil and about a quarter cup of Worcestershire sauce into a small bowl. Add a clove or two (to your taste) of chopped garlic. Dip each slice of backstrap into the mixture, coating well.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on each slice and grill at medium high, directly over the heat, for two to three minutes per side.
For my money, backstrap is best when medium rare, or 145 degrees if you use a thermometer. Medium is 160 and well-done is 170. More than that is cinders.
Another great grilling treat, of course, is venison burger. Grinding up deer meat into burgers sounds like a no-brainer, but venison has no fat, remember. Who ever heard of a good burger with no fat? The simple but vitally important solution is to add fat to the meat when grinding it up.
Bacon or pork fat isn’t bad but my idea of the best fat for ground deer is beef suet, which is seldom on display in a supermarket, but probably available if you ask for it. Just press the buzzer to summon the butcher from his haven behind the meat display and ask him for some. If he charges you anything it will be a pittance.
I think the right ratio of suet to venison is about one part fat to three parts lean, but the measurement need not be exact.
Once the fat is added, venison burgers can be treated exactly the same on the grill as beef burgers.