Skip to main content

Identifying and Cooking Cuts of Venison

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

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.
Print Recipe

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.

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Science & History of Scent Thief

The Science & History of Scent Thief

Russel Epperson, inventor and partner of Scent Thief, explains how the company got its start, and why their products are so effective in blocking unwanted scent.

Crossbow Review: TenPoint Havoc RS440 XERO

Crossbow Review: TenPoint Havoc RS440 XERO

The all-new 2021 offering will certainly be one of the most accurate long-range crossbows ever built.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

Mathews V3 - Flagship Bow for 2021

Mathews V3 - Flagship Bow for 2021

Mathews has announced two versions of their 2021 flagship bow, the V3.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Don't give up on that seemingly untunable bow just yet.Untunable Bow? Nock Travel Could Be Your Problem Bows

Untunable Bow? Nock Travel Could Be Your Problem

Bill Winke

Don't give up on that seemingly untunable bow just yet.

Have a look at some of the very best compound bows being brought to the market this year.New Bows for 2021 ATA Show

New Bows for 2021

Christian Berg - January 11, 2021

Have a look at some of the very best compound bows being brought to the market this year.

Following Bill Winke's step-by-step process for setting up and tuning a bow.Step-by-Step Bow Setup How-To

Step-by-Step Bow Setup

Bill Winke

Following Bill Winke's step-by-step process for setting up and tuning a bow.

The all-new 2021 offering will certainly be one of the most accurate long-range crossbows ever built.First Look: TenPoint Havoc RS440 XERO Crossbows

First Look: TenPoint Havoc RS440 XERO

Christian Berg - January 14, 2021

Sponsored By
TenPoint Crossbows

See More Trending Articles

More Recipes

A delicious recipe for spicy green turkey chili made with charred tomatillos, poblano peppers, and buttery great northern beans.Wild Turkey and Tomatillo Chili Recipe Recipes

Wild Turkey and Tomatillo Chili Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A delicious recipe for spicy green turkey chili made with charred tomatillos, poblano peppers,...

This mushroom gravy recipe has a rich, buttery flavor that makes a great addition to elk venison steaks.Elk Venison Steaks with Morel Mushroom Gravy Recipe Recipes

Elk Venison Steaks with Morel Mushroom Gravy Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This mushroom gravy recipe has a rich, buttery flavor that makes a great addition to elk...

This venison jerky recipe gets its sweet and spicy flavors from pineapple juice and jalapeño powder.Pineapple and Jalapeño Venison Jerky Recipe Recipes

Pineapple and Jalapeño Venison Jerky Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison jerky recipe gets its sweet and spicy flavors from pineapple juice and jalapeño...

These Venison 'Scotch' Pies Recipe Recipes

Venison 'Scotch' Pies Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

These "Scotch" pies are filled with ground venison and gravy, making them the perfect handheld...

See More Recipes

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Bowhunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

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

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now