One of the most frequent questions we get from people who aren't familiar with wild game is what are the best cuts of venison? We've got a few favorites of our own and so we decided to share the best cuts, where they come from on a deer, and how to pick a good cut for your feast.
Deer season is also just around the corner. If you've thought about getting into hunting, there are lots of resources available including hunting and safety classes and other training opportunities. We also have our own guide to bow season and an updated FAQ for Ohio deer season.
Our Guide to Each Cut of Venison
We have a great guide that shows you the proper way to butcher a deer that you can reference to make the primal cuts. One of the things that we like to say is that almost every part of the deer is usable in one way or another. When we trim our cuts, we always save the scraps and grind them. The best parts for grinding include the neck meat and the flank meat. Ground venison is great for burgers, tacos, and lots of other recipes. It makes fantastic sausage, also.
What Are The Best Cuts Of Venison
Our favorite cut of venison is the backstrap. The back strap sits on either side of the spine and includes the loin. This is the most flavorful and tender cut. It's excellent grilled or smoked. You can slice it into steaks by cutting across the grain. Cut the venison backstrap into one-inch steaks for the grill or a little thinner for pan-searing. A common misconception is that the back strap and the tenderloin are the same cut. They are not the same, but the confusion comes from the backstrap being a loin muscle.
The tenderloin is one of the most popular cuts, but unfortunately, it is a lot of work to remove from the deer. It often gets left by hunters in a hurry to field dress a deer. The tenderloin is located beneath the spine along the inside of the ribs. It is about 10 to 12 inches long and is packed with rich flavor. The tenderloin can be smoked or sliced into steaks. It's popular to marinade the tenderloin for about eight hours. There are several delicious marinade recipes around.
Lots of people don't keep deer ribs because they don't have a lot of meat on them. We think that is a shame and also wasteful. Smoked deer ribs are quite delicious, even if there isn't much meat to them. The trick to making delicious venison ribs is to marinate them. The extra moisture helps the meat to be tender and juicy. Eat them hot for the best results.
Ribs can also be broken down into smaller sections. You can roast them in the oven or put them in a pressure cooker for incredibly easy and tender rib meat.
Foreleg and Shoulder
The foreleg and front shoulder of a deer are some of the meatiest cuts and they are also very versatile. Since these are lean, often tough muscle groups, you'll want to make sure to cook the meat on high heat to break down the connective tissues and tenderize the meat.
The upper parts of the shoulder are excellent for soups and stews. Cooking these cuts in a broth will make them tender and delicious. You'll get all of the great flavor of venison and the meat will break down to be easy to chew. The top of the shoulder is a lean cut making it an excellent choice for making jerky. Jerky is easy to make, packs a tremendous amount of nutrition, and is portable. Venison jerky is among the most popular types of jerky.
The lower shoulder tends to be flavorful and less tough than the top shoulder. This cut makes excellent roasts and steaks. There are several different ways to cut the lower shoulder to give you the most meat with as little waste as possible. Save your trimmings for an amazing venison chili.
We've already mentioned that venison neck is great for grinding for sausage. That's because it is a lean cut with lots of connective tissue and silver skin. This is also a prime cut for slow roasting, braising, or smoking since the low and slow heat will render the tissue and tenderize the meat. Properly cooked, deer neck will have a texture like that of pork shoulder with tons of flavor.
The neck is also a great cut for chunking up to use in chili, soup, and stew. There is a lot of meat to work with, so take your time trimming and you'll have a bunch of options to craft delicious recipes.
Rear Leg and Rump
The rear haunches of a deer contain some of the most choice cuts for steaks, roast, and other delicious preparation methods. We will discuss the different parts of the rear leg and how to use them.
The rump is the top of the rear haunch. This is an excellent choice for roasting as it makes a nice hunk of meat with little connective tissue. This is a great choice for slow cooking or braising. The rump can also be chunked up for stew meat or ground for sausage, but we like to beer braise a rump roast for a tasty and tender meal.
Below the rump is the sirloin. These make excellent choices for roasts. The front of the leg is the sirloin tip, while the back of the leg is the top and bottom round roasts. The sirloin has lots of silver skin and connective tissue, making it a good choice for slow cooking. It can also be sliced for making sirloin jerky or braised for a tender and delicious meal. The sirloin is one of the most tender cuts of venison.
Top and Bottom Round
On the outside of the leg at the back you'll find the top round and bottom round roasts. As the name implies, these are thick cuts best cooked slowly to unlock tenderness. Most often, you'll cut the top round and bottom rounds into steaks. These are great on the grill, in the smoker, or braised in the oven.
The shank is the lowest part of the legs. You'll get four shanks for every deer. A popular way to cook these cuts is called osso buco. Osso buco literally means "hole of bone" and you'll notice the similarity between O-bone cuts you see in your butcher counter. The shank is cut cross-ways, leaving the bone in place. When slow cooked, the cross cut steaks develop an intense flavor from the bone marrow and become ridiculously tender in a slow cooker.
After you've finished cutting your roasts, steaks, and other parts and trimming away fat and connective tissue, you'll have a sizable pile of meat. Work carefully through this to remove tendons and anything that doesn't seem edible. The best thing to do with your trim is to mix in a little pork fat and grind it up. Venison burgers are incredibly popular around our house, while some of our all-time favorite sausage recipes also use venison trim.
Why We Think You Should Process Your Own Deer
Many hunters, in fact the majority of them, don't process their own deer. It's time consuming, messy, and a little intimidating until you've done it a few times. Now, we've all heard horror stories of people who take a deer to a processor and end up with a tiny amount of meat from a good-size deer. We've also heard stories that some people may not even get the deer they harvested back, instead they just get "venison." We hope that processors out there are more ethical than that, but there really isn't any way to know for sure unless you do it yourself.
When you trim out your own deer, you know exactly what you've got. You can make your own choices on how much or how little to trim, how you want the steaks or roasts cut, and you know that when you are done, that's your deer in the freezer.
The biggest thing for us is that when you process your deer at home, you won't waste as much as some processors do. This is big for us because we love to make sausage, and the best way to do that is to use the trim we make when we cut other parts. Processing yourself ensures that the deer is clean, properly handled, and you get exactly what you want. Plus, you'll save a bunch of money.
When you know that you can hunt, dress, and process your animal, you'll have a full skill set that ensures your family will always be able to eat, regardless of what happens.