October 04, 2021
Venison is incredibly versatile, and as hunters, we enjoy it because it’s lean, healthy and flavorful. Recipes where I enjoy venison more than beef include meatloaf, tacos, casseroles, sloppy joes and chili. There’s no pool of grease to worry about – no skimming and no draining required.
But in some recipes, this leanness can be a disadvantage. A good burger, meatball, sausage or kebab needs fat, not only for taste but also for texture. If there isn’t a bit of grease on your lips after you bite into a burger, it’s just not as satisfying.
With most ground venison recipes, my magic number is 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat. Adjust the ratio according to your personal taste. For sausage and other cured meats, the fat content can be much higher.
Slightly freeze the fat before running it through your grinder or chopping it into small pieces. Warm, squishy fat is difficult for a knife or grinder blade to cut effectively.
Pork Fat Trimmings
Pork fat trimmings is one of the cheapest and purest ways to add fat to venison, if you can find it. Most pork at the grocery store is usually well-trimmed, but if you find an extra fatty shoulder, trim off that fat, freeze it and save it for your venison.
If you have access to a good butcher, ask him or her to save the fat for you.
Pork Belly and Bacon
Pork belly is easy to find at the grocery store and is the next best thing to pork trimmings. However, remember to first slice off the skin, which is too firm and tough for grinding. If you are using a less powerful grinder, such as a KitchenAid attachment, the skin could damage your grinder. Save that skin to make cracklings.
Bacon is the simplest way to add fat to venison, but its applications are limited. Everything you add bacon to will taste like bacon, which is why I prefer pork belly. Though, I’ve never met anyone who would turn down a venison and bacon burger.
Pork Shoulder (Butt)
While pork shoulder is a fatty cut, it’s more meat than fat. I use it more for the springy texture that it can provide to venison, which can be crumbly. And I use it in higher quantities, about 30-40 percent pork butt to 60-70 percent venison. A mixture of pork butt and venison is tasty in meatball, kebab, breakfast sausage and meat pie recipes.
Beef trimmings are an alternative to pork fat. When buying a fatty brisket or steaks, I trim off the fat and save it to add to ground venison. You can also ask your butcher to set it aside for you. Beef fat is delicious, but I find that it tastes less neutral than pork fat.
Another way to use beef trimmings is to cut it into small, thin pieces, and sandwich it between two pieces of skewered venison roast. When grilled, the fat chars and bastes the venison. The result will make your mouth water.
Venison Caul Fat
Caul fat is a thin membrane that covers the internal organs of deer. This membrane is beautifully laced with fat and is traditionally used as a casing for sausages and pâtés. Only harvest this fat if you have made a clean shot on your deer. Do not harvest the caul fat if there are any signs of feces on the membrane. Clean it thoroughly in water before use.
In addition to sausage and pâtés, try caul fat wrapped around burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, roast, steak, and roulade.
As far as venison fat, caul fat is the only fat that I would save on a deer. Depending on a deer’s diet, venison fat can be too gamey for most palates, and if it’s not gamy, it has a waxy texture that can be unpleasant.
One last way to add fat and flavor to venison is to add cheese. Try mixing shredded cheddar cheese into your venison burger mixture or stuff a burger patty with blue cheese. The Italians have been adding cheese into their meat pastas and ravioli since cheese was invented.