Cooking Venison: Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

by Steve Sorensen

Just because venison is red meat doesn’t mean it
should be cooked the way you cook beef.

People have opinions about venison. They toss around words like “gamey”, and “dry”, without ever defining what gamey is or considering what to do to prevent dry meat.


A super-sharp Havalon skinning knife is perfect for slicing your grilled backstraps as thin as you want. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)

Some people even have rigid attitudes without ever tasting venison. Or they tasted it once, poorly prepared, and think you have to “make it edible”. They forget venison was plenty edible for generations of Native Americans who ate well for thousands of years with venison as the foundation of their diet.

I don’t call venison “gamey”. In fact, I don’t even know what “gamey” is. Yes, it is game, but I don’t hear anyone describe squirrel, rabbit, turkey, and pheasant as gamey. The fact is, they’re all different, just as venison is different from beef. And right there is the big clue as to why people make plenty of mistakes cooking deer meat. Just because venison is red meat doesn’t mean it should be cooked the way you cook beef.

Mistake #1 – Allowing Venison to Dry Out

The best beef is well-marbled with succulent, juicy fat. Fat in meat does two critical jobs. First, it keeps the meat from drying out. Second, it keeps the meat flavorful. Health experts argue that juicy beef isn’t good for your cholesterol, but juicy beef doesn’t argue with your taste buds!


The backstrap is one of the very best cuts of venison. Here it’s being prepared on the grill after being marinated.
(Photo by Steve Sorensen)

Remember that the nature of the moisture in beef and venison is totally different. When you grill beef outdoors you get flare-ups. That’s because the melting fat fuels the fire. Beef can afford to lose some of its moisture into the fire; venison can’t. In fact, the moisture in venison goes the other way – it rises with the heat and nothing can restore it.

What can you do to keep venison from drying out? Lots of things. One is marinade. Ask five fans of venison what they use for marinade, and you’ll get at least four answers. Just in case the fifth person has his own idea, here are five simple and common marinades:

  • Milk and egg batter or evaporated milk
  • Italian salad dressing
  • Mushroom soup
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Red wine

Check the Internet for prepared marinades and marinade recipes. Five to six hours is usually enough time. Other ways to retain moisture in venison is to wrap it in bacon, cook it in gravy, or lay some strips of beef fat on it.

Mistake #2 – Failing to Trim Fat Away

Let’s chew the fat about fat on another point. Beef fat tastes great; venison fat tastes terrible. It’s tallowy. It coats the inside of your mouth. It’s better used in the candles on your dinner table than on your dinner plate. If the truth is told, fat might be the reason people think venison is “gamey.” Here’s a simple solution – trim away all the fat.

Mistake #3 – Slicing Too Thin Before Cooking


Fried squash, ripe tomatoes, mini potatoes with sour cream, and grilled venison backstrap. (Photo by Steve Sorensen)

Another mistake people make is to slice venison too thin. If you’re going to slice it thin, it’s better to slice it after it’s cooked, or cook it submerged in a sauce. Venison cooks very quickly, so if it’s sliced thin prior to cooking, it won’t take much heat to dry it out. An inch isn’t too thick. After you cook it, your Havalon skinning knife will slice it as thin as you want.

Mistake #4 – Forgetting the Meat Thermometer

Meat thermometers are in vogue these days, and you should use one for venison just as you would for pork. New guidelines say 145° F is adequate for pork. The same works for venison. When you use a meat thermometer, insert it so the tip is in the thickest part of the meat, and don’t let it touch a bone.

A meat thermometer gives you confidence your meat is cooked through even though it’s still pink inside. Don’t cook until the pink gets gone, because the moisture gets gone too.

Mistake #5 – Adding Salt

Salt has its place. If you’re preserving meat, salt is absolutely necessary (Think Jerky!).  But if you’re cooking meat, salt will further dry it. Let your dinner guests decide whether to add salt or not. Keep in mind if you’ve used a marinade, it may have salt in it already.

Most of these mistakes have something to do with drying the meat out. Avoid drying venison, and find a way to supplement its moisture. Do that, and you’ll put a culinary delight on your dinner plates.


About Steve Sorensen

steve-sorensen-head-shotOutdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen writes an award-winning newspaper column called “The Everyday Hunter®”, and he regularly provides content for the Havalon Sportsman’s Post. He has also published articles in Deer & Deer Hunting, Sports Afield, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at


To read more articles by Steve Sorensen, click here.
For the best skinning knife for your venison, click here. 

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7 Responses to Cooking Venison: Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

  1. Leander oblentz says:

    A lot of people complain about round steak being tough so I found a way to fix that. I take my hindquarters and section them out so I can cut all my meat cross section. It makes some peaces kind of small but they are very tender and take less time to cook.
    I cut my steak about 3/4 inch thick and when cooking them I do about 1 to 1/2 minute on each side and I also fry them in bacon drippings.. OHHH you talk about tasty, mmmm Hope this helps some people enjoy more venison without drying it out so much. Thanks,Lee

  2. havalon says:

    Sounds great, thanks for the tip!

  3. Mary says:

    My mother-in-law used to to thread bacon through the venison with a large needle before cooking. I don’t know where she got the needle but the meat was delicious basting with Italian dressing.

  4. havalon says:

    Interesting, would like to see that done – thanks for the tip Mary.

  5. Marci says:

    Awesome tips. We eat a great deal of venison and even though I’ve been perfecting my cooking skills on it for many many years this article has greatly helped me.

  6. Lisa b says:

    I marinate in pomegranate juice and twigs of rosemary

  7. HavalonKnives says:

    That sounds delicious, Lisa!

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