Since I was hunting and harvesting meat in my teens, I was trying to come up with ideas on how to honor and add extra value to the meat I worked for in the wild.
Now 20 or so years later, I still use a lot of wild venison meat cuts for many projects, and often for meat curing and salami making.
I wanted to provide some information about what I cook and use with the various cuts of venison meat. It’s a little different in New Zealand, where I do most of my hunting with an abundance of wild deer and many are semi-farmed also.
I’ve eaten/butchered farmed venison and been able to contrast the differences.
This article relates to both with some generic aspects due to the slight variation in the deer species (ie. fat vs lean meat). In New Zealand we have about 6 species of deer.
We aren’t required by hunting regulations to remove the whole carcass hunting public land, often we are semi-burying the meat or just leaving it for the scavengers.
The most common cuts to harvest and use are the loin along each side of the spine “back steaks” as well as back legs (hind leg). Since this is where the majority of the meat from the animal is.
If you think about most cuts and edible aspects of the deer, here is the framework.
Many cuts and areas of the deer can be used for slow cooking to tenderize. Whilst other cuts like the loin and tenderloin are best for fast cooking methods. The deer’s heart and liver are the best parts for cooking first after the animal is killed whilst the offal is fresh.
I assume you have a basic idea of butchering a deer, since this is about what you can do with the deer meat, including all the major muscle groups and subprime muscle groups.
Most hunters I know will look at mincing a good percentage of the meat they harvest. The other aspect is cubing or dicing the meat for dishes like stews and curries.
How To Use Different Cuts of Deer or Venison Meat
There are so many ways you can look at the muscles and edible parts, to make it simple, the basic categories for how you cook the venison are slow or fast. Then after this, I will look at it from the sections or different areas of the deer/venison animal with some added thoughts.
- Slow Cooking Venison= Often Cooked in a liquid
- Fast Cooking Venison = Often Cooked under Direct Heat until rare to medium done
Slow Cooking Venison
- Any Meat of the Deer
- Bones for Marrow
For slow cooking, I like braising methods, but I’ve always found the ribs hard work since many deer in New Zealand are so lean.
I hunt with just a knife often, I don’t have a bone saw to take bone on shanks or neck cuts. Unless the hunt is on friendly farmers land, where we can drive a 4wd or quad motorbike to retrieve the whole carcass.
Unless the deer is small, often isn’t the case where we hunt locally.
The main deer across wide aspects of New Zealand is the red deer, which is often a large-bodied animal.
If you simmer or slow cook any aspect of the meat, you can break down the muscle fibers with a stew or other liquid-based broth. I’ve found this just takes time and patience. Depending on the deer species and toughness of the meat, after 3-4 hours this can be achieved.
Since there is a lack of collagen or sinew in the loin or tenderloin. These cuts of meat aren’t very successful when slow cooked I have found.
Browning slow cook cuts of the meat will bring the natural sugars to the surface and helps the overall flavor a lot I’ve found.
Fast Cooking Venison
- Back Steak
- Aged Rump (Hind Leg)
- Aged Sirloin (Hind leg)
|Slow Cooking||Fast Cooking|
|Any Meat of the Deer||Tenderloin|
|Bones for Marrow||Aged Rump (Hind Leg)|
|Trotter/Hoof||Aged Sirloin (Hind leg)|
If you are harvesting a deer, heart and liver are the first and most logical things to eat, as long as they are fresh and not overcooked. They are rich in minerals and can be sliced and fried or cooked on an open fire very easily with a stick.
TIP – Overcooking is easily done with offal, so keep a close eye on it whilst frying!
The tenderloin would be the next option for me, then it would depend on the age and type of deer whether the loin could or would be used, normally aged.
Cooking or Frying a loin until rare done-ness is another way of making it pleasant to eat without aging.
Aging other cuts of the hind leg are often necessary to make it enjoyable and break down the toughness.
Edible Parts of a Deer in Detail
Now I will look at the deer areas and meat sections of the venison/deer.
- Loin (Backsteak)
- Hind Quarter (Back Leg)
- Forequarter (Front Leg)
- Neck Cuts
- Offal & Organs
For each of these above categories, I will go into detail based on what I know and what I have used to make food or wish to try in the near future.
If you dry age or wet age different subprime cuts of the front or back legs, you can ‘technically’ get more fast frying or cooking cuts.
Options for Venison Loin
- Steak Cuts
- Salt Cured and Hot Smoked
- Dry Cured (Lonza, Lonzino, braesola but with venison)
- Italian Style Biltong Dried (or Cold Smoked)
Lean meat from the area adjacent to the spine.
Depending on the species of the deer, this could be short or long. The diameter may vary somewhat as well. The cut goes from in front of the back leg muscles, right up until the upper neck.
In a fine dining restaurant I was associated with in Scotland, the head chef showed me the technique they used for aged cuts, submerge in extra virgin olive oil with fresh rosemary sprigs and juniper. It was left in the fridge and cooked when needed.
Because the oil protected the meat from oxidation, it was able to be kept for up to 2 weeks and cooked when needed.
Traditional most harvesters and hunters of meat will use this cut for steak. However, it can be used for many salted then possibly cold or hot smoked recipes.
Venison Loin Recipe Links
If you need some tips on wet aging steak cuts of venison in your fridge – here is an article I wrote on how.
Options for Tenderloin Venison
- Fast frying – oil, salt, pepper
- BBQing – direct heat and hot
Very soft meat from a deer, some love it. Some find it lacks flavor, it’s one of the cuts that could be used straight after harvesting to some extent I’ve found. I treat it very similar to the loin, in terms of cooking.
Personally, I like to add some spices and flavor, such as juniper berries, rosemary, pepper, or other hard green herbs.
This a fast fry cut, soft and cooked fast. The muscle isn’t used a lot by the animal, so it tends to have soft intramuscular aspect to it.
Really very similar to the loin or back steak in some ways, maybe some folks can taste the difference.
I do eat sugar and saturated fat, however, they are often used as shortcuts to flavor, in my opinion, I see many recipes where bacon is wrapped around or criss-crossed lean meats. Sure this works, however, cooking rare is my personal preference to taste quality meat instead.
Tenderloin Recipe Links:
Hind Quarter (Back Leg)
- Top Side
- Bottom Round
- Eye of Round
- Sirloin Tip
- Hind Leg Bone
Here is a very informative article on deboning a hind leg of venison I found online.
Rump, Top Side, Bottom Round, Eye of Round, Sirloin Tip, Tri-Tip
- Indirect Hot Smoked
- Aged and Sliced for Steak
- Wet Pickled/Brined and Pastrami Style (Acidic Brine)
- Cube or Mince Meat
- Dry Curing any of these Cuts
- Jerky or Biltong
Either slow or fast cooking can be done with many of these venison hind leg muscles.
Once you have removed the sinew binding between the different muscle groups, there are so many options!
Venison Pastrami has been amazing! I have used a simple portable smoker, as well as a pellet grill smoker for this.
Hot Smoking Indirect, otherwise known as Low and Slow Smoking coined the Modern term, developed from German and Czech-Slovakia early American immigrants. Basically, heat on one side and passing or surrounding meat at temperatures of approximately 200-250°F (with either charcoal/wood or pure offset wood chunks)
I love to make slow cooker stews or many different types of masala-based curry with venison also.
Any venison makes great mince/ground meat. I even did a blind tasting with a bolognese I made with beef mince and venison mince. Since my partner was reluctant to eat venison I harvested when I met her.
She could not taste the difference! Although, I know that based on the time of the year, diet, and species of deer there are a milder or more intense game meats.
The easiest ways to age the rump meat is, ideally hanging the entire hind leg in a chiller or fridge environment for 7-12 days.
Often I don’t have the use of a chiller fridge.
Here is an article I wrote on wet aging venison meat, or another simple technique is to vacpac the cuts, for 1-3 weeks in your fridge (although I don’t like the single-use plastic aspect of this, there are environmentally friendly vacpac bags available).
Summary of Aging Venison
We take the subprime cuts like sirloin, rump, and loin (back steak or backstrap), place them on a non-reactive grill to create distance, then onto a baking tray. It then is wrapped with cling film / cling wrap (which again I am not fond of). The goal here is to have it aging in the normal kitchen fridge.
However, not sitting in the blood or juices that comes off the meat is what ‘spoils’ meat quickly. From what I have learned, the temperature being barely above freezing will also mean the unwanted bacteria growth will be minimal.
Unwanted bacteria on meat is exponential as the temperature increases. This is why from harvesting venison through to any type of cooking or dry curing/salami making. Keeping the temperature as cold as possible is very important.
7-10 days with this method, which we have been using for many years.
Another method that uses too much plastic in my opinion, is vac packing this fast cooking cuts for 2-3 weeks in the back of the kitchen fridge. You can also marinate at the same time using this method as well.
I have also been reviewing a dry aging and dry curing cabinet fridge from the USA. Here is a link to the article I wrote on it, this could be use for dry aging venison.
Main Hind Leg Recipes
- Venison Roast
- Simple Slow Cooker Venison Recipe
- My Biltong and Jerky Article
- Whole Venison Leg Roast Recipe
One of the toughest parts of the deer, long slow cooking in liquid is the key here.
Definitely slow cooking in liquid is needed for this tough area which is lean and has a lot of connective tissue, the collagen-rich aspects will create a wonderful broth with a few herbs, spices, and vegetables.
It is also one of my favorite parts of the deer!
Hind Leg Bone
Ideal for stock, or a wonderful treat for a dog. On the farm, we would freeze bones, and give the dog a treat every now and then. A frozen bone will give a dog a longer level of enjoyment!
Forequarter (Front Leg)
Options for Forequarter Meat
- Minced Meat
- Cubed Meat
- Deboned, Wet Brined, and Smoked/Cooked
- Dry Cured
Most of the time when we are processing the front leg of the deer, it’s extra labor and takes time to remove a lot of the sinew. If you are hunting the venison, often you have to work around the hole from the bullet (or arrow/bolt).
There is a fair amount of meat, but it takes that extra time to get the tough sinew off from a wild animal.
Once trimmed of sinew, blood clotting, etc, the meat is often in the diced or minced pile. I will highlight below some of my favorite recipes around this.
I haven’t aged any front leg muscles, but I am sure with patience you could get a tender fast cooking chunk or muscle. Generally, I have always cubed or minced the meat from the front leg.
Shank of Forequarter
Same as Hind/Back Leg, slow cooking in liquid is best! The bone can be utilised in the same way, I’ve read that as humans we weren’t really hunter/gathers so much as scavengers who would brake bones for the marrow, tens of thousands of years ago!
Front Leg Recipe List & Links
Any red meat cubed or minced recipe could be used for this meat. It would literally be 10,000s of recipes, just use google.
Same as Hind Leg in some ways, expect more sinew, however.
Options for Neck Cuts
You need a bone saw to work through the bone/meat section of the neck, there is meat but of course a lot of bone and connective tissue. This is definitely long slow cooking, again ideally in liquid in my option.
Venison Neck Recipes
- Osso Bucco (shank or neck could be used)
- Neck Braised
- Pressure Cooker
Options for Venison Flank
- Tenderized and Crumbed (Schnitzel)
A thin cut of meat, often I am not focused on.
Has potential, if you are willing to take the time to extract and trim the flank properly.
Here is a guy on u tube way more interested in flank than me.
Organs and Offal
Options for Heart and Liver
- Fast frying, Sauteed
- Terrine or set in aspic (using collagen to gelatine to create a jelly structure)
- Crumbed and deep fried
- Liver Pate
Sliced and Fast frying is my favorite method since these are the best fresh and soon after harvesting.
It’s often forgotten about, the offal carries so many minerals and vitamins. The issue is, if it is a wild animal, often there is a penetrating, expanded bullet going through this region.
Now let’s move on to the ground or minced venison in more detail with some more ideas.
What To Do With Ground Venison
- Fresh Sausage
- Hot Smoked Salami
- Dry Cured Salami
- Minced Jerky
- Cottage Pie
- Burger Patties
- Tartar (raw option, Hungarian Style)
Minced meat is a beneficial thing, however when you have minced pork, beef, or other farmed animals of the red meat type. For any sausage or salami, you have to use a minimum of 20% pork fat (because it’s neutral in flavor), I focus on 28-30% pork fat for nearly all my fresh sausage links and salami.
It can be embedded with fat generally speaking, red meat like venison from the wild isn’t. The farmed venison I’ve come across has a minimal amount of fat, apart from the odd animal.
Fat from some certain deer in America, I’ve heard doesn’t taste too nice. I’ve never experienced that though in New Zealand where I hunt.
Pork fat is the neutral flavored fat that is used generally speaking, for sausage, salami, or even burger patties.
Venison meat is lean, but I’ve found cooking with it, basically it is the same as cooking with beef mince, unless you overcook it to the point of complete dryness or if you have cooked it would some kind of liquid to keep the cooking environment wet.
My favorite uses for minced venison is to use it for, sausages, salami, lasagne, cottage pie and many other dishes/recipes.
In some ways minced and cubed venison meat is the most versatile for cooking or making smallgoods like sausages or salami. I often cube the meat and freeze it if I am going to make dry cured salami.
Minced Venison Meat Recipes
- Venison Salami Recipes
- Venison Sausage Recipes
- Minced Jerky Recipe
- Basic Pemmican (Fat, Dried Fruit, Meat)
- Venison Patties Recipe
For venison, many different cuts can be used for this basic type of cured and dried product. Unlike jerky, this meat-based snack is preserved, whilst also having a lot of flavor!
I am a big fan of Biltong made from venison, I often used many of the subprime cuts in the hind leg.
I am using salt and often malt vinegar to ‘cure’ the meat, using the salt to inhibit the unwanted bacteria that spoils it. The other preserving ingredient is vinegar, I have used red wine or malt vinegar mainly. Vinegar creates a more acidic environment which the unwanted spoiling bacteria don’t like very much.
The vinegar also has the same effect as cooking, called ‘denaturing’ the proteins. I can’t explain the exact science. It definitely works though!
Here is something I wrote about biltong.
Pickling and Preserving Venison Meat
Canning or preserving venison cubes in a jar are other ways of preserving the meat without refrigeration.
I haven’t tried these methods yet, but have been reading and researching them. Here is some detailed information about it.
You have 2 options, either pressured sterilization with a pressure cooker.
The key to sous vide is all about cooking in a water bath at a precise temperature with little variation. Also, often it’s placed into a vac-packed sealed bag to seal in all the flavor.
I’ve eaten sous vide venison, and you can truly get the precise rare vs cooked aspect you desire. Although, it’s in a way a lot more work, and often using single-use plastic vac seal bags, which I try to avoid.
I have found reusable sous vide bags, they do last for multiple cooks.
Difference Between Wild Deer and Farmed Deer
Most wild deer I have come across are lean, I have heard of deer across USA and Europe that have fat. From my experience fat is more likely with farmed deer, it can also add flavor. I think it goes back to the saying, it is what it eats.
Some of the finest deer I have eaten have been wild animals, with access from the forest onto fertile grass farmland. Which creates more fat development for the red or fallow deer, and the fat was very mild.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for decades.
I Hunt, Fish, Forage, Buy, Butcher (Wannabe Norcini), Make, Savor (I’m not a Saviour), and love curing and smoking meat.
Learning and consuming in a circular fashion, I am always interested in what is happening around the curing and smoking world
Seeking the passionate behind the passion.