I WISH I was an expert at cooking venison. I’m getting there. I’m getting better. But…well…I don’t hunt. And I think to be a true expert at venison, you must be a hunter. Agree?
Well Kendrick Kotter at Furious Grill IS a hunter and an expert with venison, so I’m happy to share his thoughts and advice on how to best prepare this delicious and healthy meat. Enjoy!
Venison Smoking Tips
Have you ever wondered if you might be able to successfully smoke venison? I am an avid hunter and a lover of smoked meats, so a few years back I set out to answer this question.
Venison is an unforgiving meat if it is treated improperly. It can become tough, dry, and flavorless. However, if treated the right way it can become the most flavorful and tender piece of meat you have ever eaten.
In this article I will cover some venison smoking tips that will keep your meat from ending up like shoe leather. In fact, your finished product should be something of which to be proud.
Select the Proper Cuts
With many animals you can get away with smoking just about any cut of meat. Hogs, for example, have plenty of fat throughout their bodies. You can smoke just about any piece of pork and get a good finished product if you do it the right way.
Venison is not so easy. You need to have a cut with minimal tendons and sinew so it does not end up dry and chewy. The best cuts for smoking are hams, tenderloins, and back-straps. Shoulders can work if you have a bone-in shoulder roast.
As a general rule for venison: if you would not grill it, you should not smoke it.
Trim the Fat
Before you do anything with your meat, you need to cut off every bit of fat that you can. This may seem counterintuitive. For most meats like pork and beef, fat adds flavor and moisture. However, your venison probably did not come from a farm.
When deer live in the woods, the foods they eat give the fat a gamey flavor that most people do not enjoy. In fact, many people decide that they do not like venison at all because they try it the first time with the fat left on the meat while cooking.
There is also silver-skin along with a slimy membrane between muscle groups. You will want to remove that like you were removing the skin from a fish. Use a filet knife, slice just between the silver-skin and meat, and then slide the knife down the cutting board while applying pressure downward. It should come right off without sacrificing much meat.
Brine your Meat
Whenever you smoke meat, much of the moisture is evaporated during the process. This can leave the meat dry and tough. Since we removed the fat from the meat, it is not there to render and reincorporate moisture into the meat.
By brining the meat overnight, you add both flavor and moisture to the meat. You also give the brine time to break down the meat so it becomes tender during the process.
The three basic ingredients to any brine are salt, sugar, and water. Keep the water cold or lukewarm and mix the ingredients until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Then add whatever juices, herbs, or spices you would like. Add your meat and let it set for 12 to 24 hours before removing the meat and rinsing it off.
Get Meat to Room Temperature
This is a simple step, but very important. You never want to throw cold meat onto a smoker. The outside will cook while the inside stays cold. The variance in temperature can make it very difficult to keep the meat moist and tender.
Smoke over Indirect Heat
Indirect heat means that your coals are not directly below your meat. This is very important with venison to keep the meat from scorching or drying out. Some people smoke all meat over indirect heat, but there are smoking rigs that are made for direct heat as well.
If you have a kettle, egg style smoker or a similar grill-smoker combo, you will have to push the coals to one side and the meat to the other side. This may mean using a smaller piece of meat.
Low and Slow
When smoking venison, you want to be gentle with the meat and keep the heat at a lower temperature. This means that you may spend all day tending to your smoker, but it is worth it in the end.
Set your temperature at 225F to 250F and keep it as steady as possible. Any fluctuation in temperature will add toughness to your finished product. Use both the top and bottom vents to control the temperature. Remember that adding oxygen will increase the heat, and cutting oxygen will decrease the heat.
If your coals start to burn out before your meat is done, you may have to execute an emergency maneuver. Having a partner is helpful for this. You will have to open the lid, remove the food and grate, add more coals, replace the grate and food, and then drop the lid as quickly as possible. You do not want your meat sitting out in the cold for more than a few seconds.
Use a Water Pan
You want to keep the humidity inside your smoker as high as possible. This will help keep the meat moist through the smoking process. By putting a pan with water directly over the coals, the water will evaporate and circulate inside the smoker.
Your meat will come out of the smoker juicy and delicious, but be sure to keep an eye on your water pan. You may have to refill it a few times during the smoking process. If the pan runs dry, it can actually make the temperature spike inside your smoker.
Let Your Meat Rest
This is one of the most overlooked steps in the smoking process. As you cook the meat, the juices are moving around within that cut of meat. If you slice into it as soon as you remove it from the smoker, all the juices will run out onto your plate. You will be left with a dry, tough cut of meat to saw through.
When you pull the meat from the smoker, wrap it in foil and then throw a few towels on top. This will ensure it does not get cold while resting. You can also put it in an empty cooler to further insulate the meat. The juices will reincorporate into the cut of meat and stay there after you cut into it. After about 20 minutes you can remove the towels and foil. Slice your meat against the grain to make every bite tender.
Smoking venison is not easy. It has taken me several attempts to work out the kinks and come up with a tasty finished product. You also will likely have to do some experimenting with ingredients for your brine or perhaps a dry rub. However, these tips should help you lock down the technical aspects. Hopefully these venison smoking tips will give you the foundation you need to get it right the first time.