Venison is versatile, but it would be a mistake not to know a deer’s anatomy.
Neck – Best of Shredded Meat Dishes
Venison neck is laced with silver skin and often times fat. It’s a great cut for slow cooking. All that collagen breaks down with slow, low heat, and takes on an amazing texture that rivals that of pork shoulder.
Because of its odd shape, use the neck for dishes that call for shredded meat, such as tamales, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, stew, soup and sandwiches. You can also cut off the entire neck, bone-in, and braise it to make pot roast over mashed potatoes.
Ribs – Best for Braising
Do not cook venison ribs like you would pork or beef ribs. Venison ribs dry out quickly. Cook them they way you would cook braised short ribs; slow cook the ribs first until tender – covered and fully submerged in liquid. And then finish with a reverse-sear or on the smoker or grill for color and flavor.
Shoulder/Chuck – Best for Burgers, Chili, Sausage
The shoulder is full of great meat for stew, soup, braising and grinding for burgers, chili and sausage. Aside from the “mock” tenders, most of the muscles on this part of a typical white-tailed deer are too small for decent steaks.
Leave the silver skin on for slow cooking – it will turn into gelatin and provide a juicy texture to the meat. If grinding, try to remove as much silver skin as possible. Too much silver skin in a grind will prevent proper binding in your burgers.
Larger muscles can also be shaved thinly for stir fry, fajitas. Also, you can slice the meat thinly to make jerky. Remember to remove as much silver skin as possible for these treatments.
Loin/Backstrap – Don’t Overcook It!
The coveted venison backstrap needs no introduction. The only rule for this cut is to not overcook it. Medium-rare is best: between 130–135 degrees Fahrenheit.
To cook the loin for stunning medallions, remove as much silver skin as possible. Tuck in the tapered ends and tie the entire piece with kitchen twine. This helps the loin cook evenly and keep its round shape. Allow the meat to rest before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute.
Tenderloin – Keep It Simple
The tenderloin is the first cut that is usually taken off a deer. This cut is so tender that it should be treated simply with salt and pepper. Do a quick hot sear with butter on the grill or in a pan.
Do not keep the tenderloins on the deer while hanging and aging. They will dry out quickly.
Rump – Best for Pot Roast and Stews
The rump offers a small piece of muscle, best for pot roast and stew meat. It can also be ground for burger, chili and sausage. The size and quality of the cut will also depend on how careful you were when cutting the hindquarters from the deer.
Hindquarter/Round – Best for Steak, Jerky, Kebabs
The hindquarter is large and variable, with cuts that are suitable for steak, jerky, braising, stew, kebabs and grinding. The major muscles in the hindquarter are the top round, bottom round, eye of round and sirloin.
The top and bottom rounds are large pieces of whole muscle, great for steaks in young deer or aged deer. The bottom round is usually more tender, especially in the tri-tip area toward the bottom of the muscle. If you find these cuts a bit tough, marinate them first. The rounds also make delicious kebabs and stir fry when sliced thinly.
Shanks – Best for Slow Cooker
These long bones look like clubs of meat and are full of silver skin and ligaments near the joints. They’re a massive pain to debone and clean. The muscles are tiny, cradled by an extensive network of connective tissue. Shanks are absolutely amazing in the slow cooker. However, they contain more collagen than the neck. When braised, they turn into gelatin, making it the most unctuous cut of meat that exists on a deer.
Flank – Best for Jerky & Sausage
The flanks are thin pieces of meat that stretch between the ribs and hindquarters on both sides of a deer. You can add them to the grind pile or slice for jerky.