Identifying and Cooking Cuts of Venison

Identifying and Cooking Cuts of Venison
A venison loin is cut into steaks. Cut across the meat grain to ensure tender, non-chewy loin steaks.

Follow these venison cooking tips to get the most out of your deer harvest!

Harvesting a deer secures a sizeable supply of delicious red meat. How that meat is handled and cooked, and by whom, depicts how well it will serve up as the main entrée next time you invite guests over for a wild-game dinner.

Of course, few hunters are experts at butchering and processing deer. So, most take the easy route -- they drop harvested deer off at a meat-processing plant. In the past, I've done this myself, but these questions invariably linger: How is the meat handled? How sanitary are the tools and surfaces the meat contacts? Is the meat handled along with another hunters' venison, or is each deer processed individually? For that matter, am I even getting my own deer meat back, or am I simply getting "venison?"

The thought of getting another hunter's venison, or even a portion of it, repulses me. I handle deer meat as pridefully and carefully as possible because, again, how meat is handled determines its table quality.

If the questions I referenced above haunt you each time you take a deer to the butcher, perhaps you should consider butchering and processing your own deer from now on.


If you'll be transporting your deer to a suitable skinning and butchering location, remove the entrails by field-dressing your deer immediately after the kill. Of course, field-dressing is unnecessary if you'll be packing out the meat.


Getting Started

If you've never done it, removing usable meat chunks from a deer carcass can seem confusing. However, you need not be an expert to do it. First, you must know what cuts are good for specific dishes in order to harvest them correctly and in the right portions. Then, you must know where each cut is located.


Let's review the cuts, where each is located, and my favorite recipe for each cut.

Loins (AKA Backstraps)

The loins are the most highly accoladed venison cut, and for good reason. These are the muscle bands that set along either side of the spine, extending from the bottommost vertebra up to the scapula. To harvest each one, cut along the spine starting by the scapula and working down to the last vertebra. Then, simply pull on the band of muscles with one hand and cut it free from the backbones with a sharp knife.

My favorite way to prepare venison loins is a recipe called chicken fried steak. Slice the loin into ¼-inch-thick medallions, then roll them in flour. Next, dunk them in an egg/milk mixture, then roll in Ritz cracker crumbs seasoned with a salty/peppery steak seasoning. Fry in butter on medium/high heat until done to your liking.


Tenderloins

The aptly named tenderloins are found inside the deer's chest cavity along either side of the spine. If you've field-dressed your deer, then you can easily nab these tasty gems from inside the chest cavity. If you're caping, quartering and packing out your deer, then you can cut in through the back behind the rearmost rib. Insert your fingers and feel for the bands of muscles. Work carefully with your knife and fingers to retrieve the tenderloins without the hassle of field-dressing duties.

Becca McDougal, the author's wife, cuts venison into chunks sized appropriately for the McDougal's meat grinder.

Tenderloins also make delicious chicken fried steak, but sometimes there's nothing like a tenderloin cooked on a charcoal grill with Weber Chicago Steak Seasoning. I sear the outside edges, then let the tenderloin cook until only slightly pink in the middle.


Roasts

The roast is the upper portion of the rump, although a roast can be cut into steaks or even ground, if you wish. Discreet tissue lines separate bands of muscles on the hind quarters, and any sizeable chunk of red meat you harvest from the hind quarters will make an excellent roast. Work your knife carefully along the tissue lines to remove roasts in large chunks.

My favorite way to prepare a roast is to place it in a slow cooker with carrots and potatoes. I cook on low heat until the meat is fall-apart tender. By then, the potatoes and carrots might be overcooked, so consider adding them to the slow cooker two hours after you add the roast. Incorporate savory seasonings, and you'll have a hearty and fulfilling dinner. I occasionally cut large roasts into 1-inch cubes to be slow cooked in gravy for a beef-tip equivalent served over mashed spuds.

Steaks

The band of muscles between the hock and the rump roasts on the rear portion of the back leg is considered the "steak." The front portion of the back leg is considered the sirloin steak. Once these chunks are harvested, slice across the muscle grain into steaks of desired thickness.

Steaks can be grilled or pan-fried, but in my opinion, nothing beats a charcoal-grilled steak seasoned with a Chicago Steak Seasoning or equivalent.

Shanks

The tendon-strung muscles on the forelegs can be used, but are good for little other than stew meat. Once deboned, cut into cubes, then cook via slow cooker until the tendons loosen completely and the meat falls apart when stabbed with a fork.

Scrap

Within reason, I harvest as much lean scrap meat as possible. This can be ground, or it can be turned into jerky or sausage. Most of it comes from the neck, brisket and front shoulders. Remember, any red scrap counts toward the final weight of meat harvested.

The author sends chunked venison through a Weston meat grinder and directly into a 1 ½-pound Cabela's burger bag.

I use a Weston electric meat grinder to grind all scrap meat at home. I don't end up with enough scrap meat for a year supply of ground venison, so I normally grind up most of the roast meat, too. My wife and I use ground venison more than any other type of meat, so I try to have as much on hand as possible.

We occasionally make jerky from ground venison using a jerky gun, but we also make lots of burgers, taco meat, chili and meatloaf with it.

Closing Thoughts

As a final caution, I trim fat, tendons and silver skin from all cuts (even the scrap meat). This avoids a "tallowy" flavor and ensures the meat is as tender as possible. Always keep the meat cooled, and be sure to wrap cuts in freezer paper, or store them in vacuum-sealed bags to deflect freezer-burn.

The McDougals use ground venison for burgers, taco meat and meatloaf. These 12 packages of ground venison were used up within a few months.

As you butcher, be sure to use a clean knife (not the one you field-dressed the animal with). Remove the hide quickly and keep the meat in a cool, dry environment. Always handle meat on sanitary surfaces, and get the meat frozen as soon as it's packaged properly.

Most states have a minimum legal requirement for meat that must be harvested from game animals. Be sure to abide by the laws.

I'm not an expert butcher, but I've saved hundreds of dollars by butchering dozens of my own deer, plus I get the peace of mind knowing how the meat was handled from field to table. You can have that same satisfaction by butchering and cooking your own venison.

For a detailed illustration of cuts, please visit here.

Recommended for You




Related Stories> Ted Nugent Talks About His New Book> Mule Deep In The Backcountry> Podcasts

Still Going Strong

October 28, 2010

Related Stories> Ted Nugent Talks About His New Book> Mule Deep In The Backcountry>

Take advantage of 360-degree shooting. Treestands & Blinds

How Do I Shoot from a Tree Saddle?

Greg Staggs

Take advantage of 360-degree shooting.

Sit, stand or lean - this is what you'll need! Treestands & Blinds

Where Do I Put My Feet When Tree Saddle Hunting?

Greg Staggs

Sit, stand or lean - this is what you'll need!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

"Petersen's Bowhunting" editor Christian Berg and Mathews design engineer Mark Hayes talk the smooth, quiet and fast shooting qualities of the new flagship Vertix bow from the Wisconsin bowmaker.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

We Rank 16 Top Models on Sharpness, Accuracy, Penetration & More


It's that time of year when Arrows & Broadheads

2017 Fixed-Blade Broadhead Test

Jon E. Silks - December 12, 2017

We Rank 16 Top Models on Sharpness, Accuracy, Penetration & More It's that time of year...

Mid-Summer Is Prime Time to Watch Large-Racked Bucks — and Stoke Fall Enthusiasm! How-To

Summer Scouting Spectacular

Bill Winke - July 17, 2019

Mid-Summer Is Prime Time to Watch Large-Racked Bucks — and Stoke Fall Enthusiasm!

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show! ATA Show

Best New Bow Sights for 2019

Tony J. Peterson - January 10, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new bow sights from the 2019 ATA Show!

See More Stories

More Recipes

The sweet heat flavors of this Spicy Mango Venison Chili Recipe are downright delicious. Recipes

Spicy Mango Venison Chili Recipe

Jessyca Sortillon

The sweet heat flavors of this Spicy Mango Venison Chili Recipe are downright delicious.

Try out this Venison Swedish Meatballs Recipe with toothpicks for a party appetizer that will Recipes

Venison Swedish Meatballs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Try out this Venison Swedish Meatballs Recipe with toothpicks for a party appetizer that will...

Serve this flavorful wild hog stew in bowls topped with shredded cheese and chopped onions, along with a side of warm flour tortillas Recipes

Wild Hog Chile Verde Recipe

Scott Leysath

Serve this flavorful wild hog stew in bowls topped with shredded cheese and chopped onions,...

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.