Everyone has heard someone say they didn’t like deer meat because of the “gamey” taste. But what is gamey? The truth is, venison is a lean, healthy source of protein that is equally palatable if the proper steps are taken, beginning immediately after the shot.
There’s really no trick to good-tasting deer meat; a lot of it is common sense, but it does take some effort. The most important step list is cooling the meat, and that means field dressing, or gutting, the carcass promptly. This should be done in the field soon after the shot. Remove the entrails and prop open the ribcage, letting air circulate in the body cavity. After field dressing, be sure to sign, date and affix your deer tag to the carcass, and move it to a location for processing, taking care to keep the meat clean. If you plan to use a commercial butcher/processer, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure they are open and can get your deer into the cooler.
If you plan to process the meat yourself, you’ll need a cool, clean place to hang the carcass, which should be skinned as quickly as possible unless temperatures are very cool. Prompt skinning is another important step in cooling the meat when temperatures are mild.
Through every step in this process be vigilant to keep the meat clean of debris and hair. Don’t get in a hurry. There are instructional videos available to help you butcher your deer, and doing it yourself will give you the peace of mind of knowing exactly how the meat was cared for. Large commercial processors may mix your deer meat with that brought in by other hunters. Do it yourself and you can make custom cuts and package sizes suited for your family.
Once the meat is cooled, butchered, packaged and frozen, you can enjoy many great meals. Venison is very lean, so adding a strip of bacon to steaks or mixing beef tallow or sausage to the burger helps with flavor and cooking. The only “trick” to cooking tasty venison, is not overcooking it. Venison, and all wild game, should be carefully cooked to medium or medium rare. There is a fine line between just right and an overcooked, dry, livery-tasting (gamey) deer steak. When properly cared for and cooked correctly, venison can be as tasty and tender as beef.
Image courtesy Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism