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Meat and Fish

Gamey Flavor and Cooking Venison

Suzanne Driessen

What Causes the Wild or Gamey Taste in Venison?

Venison refers to the meat of antlered animals such as deer, moose, elk and caribou. The 'wild' flavor of venison is directly related to what the animal eats. Corn fed deer will have a milder flavor than those that eat acorns or sage. The 'gamey' flavor is more noticeable in the fat. Removing the fat, connective tissue, silver skin, bone and hair during processing lessens the 'gamey' taste. However, undesirable strong flavors are due to inadequate bleeding, delay in field dressing or failure to cool the carcass promptly.

Use Spices or Marinades to Mask the Wild or Gamey Taste in Venison

Spices or marinades may be used to cover up the 'gamey' flavors in venison. Marinades also tenderize and enhance the flavor of venison. The marinade should include a high acid liquid like lemon or tomato juice, vinegar or wine to soften the muscle fibers. Marinades can add fat and calories to this lean cut of meat. Other options to tenderize venison are to pound it with a tenderizing tool, make several small cuts in the meat with a knife, or grind it.

Cooking Methods for Venison

Big games animals tend to exercise more than domestic animals. Their muscles are relatively lean so venison tends to be drier and less tender than beef. Meat high on the upper hind legs and along the backbone is the tenderest. You can use a dry cooking method such as frying, broiling or grilling tender cuts from the rib or loin. Steaks and ribs retain more juice if the cuts are no thicker than three-fourths inch. Cook steaks and chops quickly. Do not crowd pan. Water seeps out if the heat is too low or pieces are crowded. Cook tougher cuts from the rump, round and shoulder using a slow moist cooking method like braising (simmering in a small amount of liquid in a covered pot).

The "wild" flavor of venison is
directly related to what the animal eats.

Slow Cooker Tips for Cooking Venison

Cooking Venison to the Proper Temperature is the Last Chance You Have to Destroy any Harmful Bacteria or Parasites

Venison should be cooked to at least 160° F to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Once the internal temperature of venison is confirmed with a food thermometer and has reached 160° F, it is safe to eat, regardless of the color of the meat, which may still have a pinkish color. The pink color can be from the cooking method used like smoking or adding ingredients like celery or onions in meatloaf.

Some folks like venison medium rare. Bacteria on whole cuts, like steaks or roasts, usually are just on the surfaces so these cuts can be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145° F. All ground venison needs to be cooked to at least 160° F. When you grind meat, you spread any bacteria present throughout the entire batch. Venison soups, stews, casseroles and leftovers need to reach an internal temperature of 165° F.


Related Resources

Peer reviewed by Kathy Brandt 2015

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