How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

A thick venison steak, grilled to a turn and flavored only with fire and salt, is quite possibly the finest way there is to eat this kingly meat.

But here's the rub - perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all venison steaks are created equal. Here are a few tips and guidelines for grilling the perfect venison steak.

Pick Your Cut

Obviously, the best deer steaks are the backstrap and tenderloin. These are the equivalent of ribeye and filet mignon in beef. Like most venison meat, these cuts are lean. Unlike a lot of other venison cuts, however, they are tender and mostly free of sinew. Your best bet is to cook these whole, then slice into medallions afterwards. The exception is the backstrap on large animals like elk and moose, which are excellent when cut into individual steaks.

Almost all other steaks will come from the hind legs of the animal. In my opinion, these are lesser cuts because they're made from several muscle groups, which means there will be some serious sinew and connective tissue in the steak. This is manageable if you separate the muscles into smaller steaks, or if the steak has been cut nice and thick. Ask your butcher to cut your steaks at least 1 inch thick, though 1 1/2 inches is better. If your steaks are sliced too thin, you'll have to do some special things to it to make it tender. More on that in a bit.


One more tip on leg steaks: The connective tissue that surrounds each part of the steak tends to contract faster than the meat when you grill it, which will make the steak curl or bow. To prevent this, slip a thin, sharp blade beneath the outer layer of connective tissue to cut it in a few places. This will keep your steak flat.


Pick Your Grill

Each grill has its champions. Most sane people would agree that a hardwood fire will give you the most unforgettably wonderful steak because it's essentially grilled and smoked at the same time. But wood fires are hard to set and maintain, and cleanup is an issue. For most of us, wood fires are for special occasions, not just any day of the week.


Next in quality comes charcoal, which is easier to light, burns clean and hot, and still gives you a little of that special something you can only get from burning wood. I prefer a little tabletop charcoal grill for weeknight grilling because it's easy to get going without a lot of charcoal. If you are feeding a crowd, however, a simple Weber or something like it is all you really need.

Finally, there is the sometimes controversial propane or gas grill. I've used one for years, and the main benefit is ease of use—especially when you are rushed for time. You get pinpoint heat control and very little cleanup. The downside is there's no woodsy aroma to flavor your meat. However, you can give yourself a little smoke by buying wood chips, soaking them in water and nesting them in a double layer of foil set right on one of the burners. The chips will smolder and you'll get a flavor closer to that of a "real" grill.

To Marinade or Not to Marinade

There really are pros and cons to using brines or marinades with your steaks. A truly great piece of venison needs no brine or marinade. Backstrap or tenderloin from an elk or moose—or a deer that ate a lot of alfalfa or corn—should be a showstopper without adding any extraneous flavors. If the meat had been properly handled from the moment the animal hit the ground, this is by far the best of venison steak.


I reserve marinades and brines—a marinade is based on an acid like vinegar, while a brine is based on salt—for leg steaks, older animals, bucks killed in the rut and those animals you were not able to cool down and process as fast as you'd like. On most days of the week I'd also put antelope into this category.

Whether you marinate or not, it makes little difference in how you actually grill the steak.

Temperature Before Grilling

The rule of thumb is to start with a thick steak—1 inch or more thick—that needs to come to room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before grilling. If you skip this step, you'll get the dreaded "black and blue" steak, in which the outside of the steak looks great but remains cold in the center. This isn't dangerous to eat, but it isn't enjoyable for most people.


Thin steaks should come straight from the fridge to the grill, because in this case you actually want the cold center. For a thin steak, having a cold center prevents the steak from overcooking and drying out too fast.

Temperature While Grilling

Grilling is by nature high, direct heat. You want a really hot fire to get those great grill marks and crust on your steak. With most steaks this is all you need. With steaks 2 inches or thicker, you will also need a cooler part of the grill to put the steaks where they can finish cooking to your liking. To create a cooler spot on your grill, just leave one burner off or clear a space where there are no coals or burning wood underneath.

Patience, Daniel-San

Do you like having those grill marks on your steak? So do I. To get them, the trick is not to mess with your steak. Simply flip it one time and then leave it be until it's done cooking. Here's a restaurant trick I learned awhile back: Get those great grill marks on one side only, then flip and cook the rest of the steak to order. No one is going to look at the underside of his steak to check for grill marks—trust me.

Are We There Yet?

How do you know when a steak is done? The best way is to use your fingers. Try to avoid piercing your steak with a thermometer because it opens it up and lets all those heavenly juices run out. That's no bueno. Instead, use your finger to check the steak for doneness. Here's how you do it: Simply touch your forefinger to your thumb and poke the base of your thumb with your other forefinger. Feel that? That's what rare meat feels like. Now touch your middle finger to your thumb—that's what medium feels like. Now move to your ring finger—that's what a ruined steak feels like. Easy enough, right?

Let it Rest

If you learn nothing else from this little primer, remember to rest your steaks for at least 5 minutes after grilling. If you don't, all the glorious juices will flow out of the meat like a river, leaving your plate wet and your steak dry. Resting allows everything that's going on within the steak to calm down. You can rest a steak for as long as 15 minutes if it's really thick, but in general 5 to 10 minutes is best. You will thank me later.

Putting it All Together

Let's say you have some nice leg steaks from a whitetail deer, and let's also say they're an inch thick. Starting from here, this is how you grill them for a family of four:

  • 4 venison steaks, about 2-3 pounds total
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon juice (optional)

Step 1: Bring the venison out of the fridge and salt it lightly. Let it come to room temperature for at least 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour. Use this time to get your grill ready.

Step 2: When your grill is hot, use a grill brush to scrape down the grates. Soak a paper towel with some vegetable oil and, using tongs, wipe down the grates.

Step 3: Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and coat them with a thin film of vegetable oil. Lay them down on the grill. Do not disturb for 2 minutes. Use tongs to pick the steaks up and move them 90 degrees on the grill—this will give you the cross-hatch grill marks. Grill another 2 minutes.

Step 4: Flip the steak and grill until done, using the finger test for doneness (outlined above). Move the steak to a cutting board and grind black pepper over it. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving, with a squeeze of lemon juice if you'd like.

Venison Bacon Cheeseburgers

Cheeseburgers and bacon are the perfect picture of an amazing couple — pretty cool by themselves, but spectacular when paired together. They can go upscale and classy with a nice craft beer, or they can go bluejeans on Friday with a Budweiser. Like the bald eagle or the pickup truck, the bacon cheeseburger may just be one of the greatest American icons of all time.

Like many American hallmarks, the bacon cheeseburger has changed over time. One great variation is the venison bacon cheeseburger, which takes another great pastime — deer hunting — and weds it with the heart and soul of a nation. Speaking of weddings, if this little dandy isn\'t reason enough to marry the person who made it for you, we don\'t know what is.

Ingredients:

- 6 slices bacon, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 pounds ground venison
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 6 hamburger buns

Directions:

1. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy. Pour bacon and grease into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool. Heat olive oil in skillet then add garlic and shallots. Cook and stir until softened, about three minutes, then add to bacon.

2. Once cool, mix in venison, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, salt, pepper, and egg until evenly combined. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

3. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat.

4. Shape the mixture into 6 patties and grill to desired doneness. Serve on toasted hamburger buns with your favorite toppings.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

Venison Stew

There\'s nothing quite like a warm bowl of stew on a cold winter day — it makes you want to snuggle up on the couch under a thick blanket with that special someone. While we can\'t provide the weather or the special someone, we can bring you a great venison stew recipe from the master himself, Emeril Lagasse, to help get your date started off on the right foot.

Ingredients:

- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds venison stew meat
- 1/4 cup flour
- Essence creole seasoning
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup red wine
- 4 cups brown stock
- Salt and black pepper
- Crusty bread

Directions:

In a large pot, over high heat, add the olive oil. In a mixing bowl, toss the venison with flour and Essence. When the oil is hot, sear the meat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add the celery and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, basil, thyme, and bay leaves to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the brown stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the stew for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the meat is very tender. If the liquid evaporates too much add a little more stock.Remove the stew from the oven and serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

Venison Goulash

Traditionally a Hungarian dish, goulash is a hearty classic. For a fresh twist and a surefire success on date night, give this venison goulash recipe a try. You won\'t be disappointed, and hopefully neither will your date.

Ingredients:

- 2 lbs. leg of venison, cut into 2" chunks
- 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 lb. smoked bacon, finely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. hot paprika, preferably Hungarian
- 1⁄4 tsp. dried ground thyme
- 1⁄4 tsp. dry mustard
- 4 whole allspice
- 4 juniper berries
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small tomato, cored and chopped
- 1⁄2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 cup red wine, preferably merlot
- Salt
- 6 medium yukon gold potatoes (about 2 lbs.), peeled; cut lengthwise into wedges
- 1⁄4 cup butter, cubed
- 2 tsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 — 8 slices crusty white bread

Directions:

1. Put venison and vinegar into a bowl; cover with boiling water. Put bacon into a large pot over medium heat; cook until crisp, 6 — 8 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, 6 — 8 minutes. Drain venison; add to onions. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until just browned, 8 — 10 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water, paprika, thyme, mustard, allspice, juniper, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, until venison is just tender, about 2 hours. Uncover pot, add wine and salt to taste, and cook until venison is very tender and liquid has thickened, about 1 1⁄2 hours more.

2. Put potatoes into a pot; cover with salted water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until soft, 10 — 12 minutes. Drain potatoes and toss in a bowl with butter, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve goulash with potatoes and bread.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

Venison Roast

If you\'re looking to impress the guy who loves to deer hunt, there may not be anything quite like a good roast to win his attention. With a nice thick gravy and a tender cut of roast to show for it, this venison dish is the ticket to your man or woman\'s heart. Throw in Legends of the Fall, set out a plate of venison roast with potatoes and gravy, and you\'re sure to get a second date out of the deal.

Ingredients:

- 1 venison roast (3 to 4 pounds)
- 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
- 1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder, divided
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 7 medium carrots, quartered
- 5 small onions, quartered
- 1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
- 1 teaspoon browning sauce, optional
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons cold water

Directions:

1. Cut 10 deep slits in roast; place a garlic clove in each slit. Combine the rosemary, 1 teaspoon onion powder, garlic powder and thyme; rub over entire roast. Cover; refrigerate for 2 hours.

2. Add 1/2 in. of water to a roasting pan. Place the roast, carrots and onions in pan. Cover and bake at 325° for 2-1/2 to 3 hours or meat is tender. Remove meat and vegetables to a serving platter; keep warm.

3. Strain drippings into a measuring cup. In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups drippings, bouillon, browning sauce and remaining onion powder. Combine cornstarch and cold water until smooth; stir into drippings. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with roast.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

Venison Kabobs

You just have to admit it — there\'s something sexy about kabobs. Maybe it\'s because they\'re exotic or because they oftentimes include pineapple, but we had to have them on our date night list.

One of the great things about kabobs is that you can mix and match as you see fit, adding choice vegetables or fruit as you wish. Either way, this is a great date night recipe that\'s sure to impress.

Ingredients:

- 2 lbs boneless venison sirloin, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 3 cups vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup dry Burgundy wine
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons liquid smoke
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion juice
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 24 small fresh mushrooms
- 4 small onions, peeled and quartered
- 2 -3 large green peppers, cut into 24 1 inch pieces hot cooked long grain and wild rice blend

Directions:

1. Put meat cubes into a shallow marinating container (I use my tupperware marinating container with lid so I can turn the container over during the marinating time); set aside. Combine the next 8 ingredients in a mixing bowl or large glass measuring cup; pour over meat.

2. Cover and refrigerate 48 hours, stirring occasionally (or turn container over). Remove meat from marinade; reserve marinade. Alternately thread meat and vegetables on skewers; brush with marinade.

3. Grill over medium-hot heat for 15 minutes; turn and baste frequently with marinade. Serve with rice.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

Grilled Venison Backstrap

Take the best part of a deer and the best part of a pig and what do you get? Grilled venison backstrap, twice-marinated and wrapped in bacon. You had me at bacon.

Like any good relationship, these medallions take time to marinate, but are completely worth the wait. Nothing says "I want to spend my future with you" like the choicest slice of venison wrapped in bacon.

Ingridients:

- 2 pounds venison backstrap, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 quart apple cider
- 1 1/2 pounds thick sliced bacon
- 2 (12 ounce) bottles barbecue sauce of your choice

Directions:

1. Place chunks of venison into a shallow baking dish, and pour enough apple cider in to cover them. Cover, and refrigerate for two hours. Remove and pat dry. Discard apple cider and return venison to the dish. Pour barbeque sauce over the chunks, cover and refrigerate for two to three more hours.

2. Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat. Charcoal is best, but if you must, use gas. Remove meat from the refrigerator and let stand for 30 minutes, or until no longer chilled. Wrap each chunk of venison in a slice of bacon, and secure with toothpicks.

3. Brush the grill grate with olive oil when hot and place venison pieces on the grill so they are not touching. The bacon will kick up some flames, so be ready. Grill, turning occasionally, until the bacon becomes slightly burnt, 15 to 20 minutes. The slower the better. Dig in, and prepare to want more.

(Representative image, ingredients may vary)

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