D+DH In-Depth is our premium, comprehensive corner on America’s No. 1 game animal. In this graduate-level course, we’ll teach you about deer biology, behavior, and ultimately, how to become a better hunter. Want to be the first to get our premium content? Become a D+DH Insider for FREE!
When you’ve got a whitetail down, you’ve also got a lot of choices regarding what to do with all of that prime venison. Here are some opportunities and alternatives.
Back when I first started chasing whitetails in the woodlots, creek-bottoms, corn fields, hay meadows and cow pastures of southwestern Wisconsin, my family always did one thing with every whitetail we managed to shoot: take it to Helland’s Locker in the tiny burg of Juda and get it cut up into steaks, chops, roasts and ground meat.
The meat was always great — clean and hair-free, packaged well (sealed in plastic wrap, in fact) … processed with the deep care and attention to detail that only a small family run business can provide.
But there wasn’t much imagination there on our part. It’s not like a standard processing job was the only option; but the family budget didn’t provide for much more of an investment, and Dad didn’t feel he had the skills to do it himself or supervise his boys through it.
Then one year he suggested we try something else with all but the rump roasts and loins from one small and particularly grizzled-looking buck we happened to track down after another party abandoned the blood trail and told us where to pick it up. In those days, property lines were not monitored. We knew most every farmer in the township anyway, and a mile later we caught up with and killed the whitetail in a nasty thicket of thorny raspberry canes.
So we invested in something else with that deer — heaven forbid, we got some summer sausage made, and fresh brats, too! The price was fair but the bill was more than Dad was used to, of course. I think the sticker shock pushed us to become our own whitetail butchers; and the experience encouraged us to start venturing out more with what we created from our venison.
That brings us to the topic at hand: venison options. With the easy availability of high-quality meat processing tools and materials these days — one example being a proven provider such as Weston — the number of alternatives for making great meats out of your own whitetail — in economical fashion, no less — has never been better.
But it all starts with knowing what choices are available. The following list gives you an in-depth rundown of the kinds of meats you can create from venison. Maybe you’ll find some concepts you never thought of here, and perhaps you’ll rediscover some old favorites.
1. Straight Boneless Butchering
This is today’s most straightforward and popular way to process a deer: skin the carcass, remove all of the meat from the bones, and cut it into roasts, steaks, chops and trim for ground meat. This makes for great eating, but perhaps you will want to reserve some of the meat for the processed products that follow. Or sometimes, and for some deer, you might put the entire animal into other meat products.
2. Traditional Bone-In Butchering
Although it’s not as common as it once was, processing your deer with some of the bones in (for instance, round steaks cross-sectioned off the back leg, or chops sawed cross-wise off the loin with the T-bone intact) provides great eating. Bones add extra juice and flavor, no doubt. With bone-in butchering, you can also save some meat out for the following options.
3. Summer Sausage
Everybody loves summer sausage. It’s always a big hit with families and friends, and you’re the most popular person at every party and get-together when you walk in with a big stick of summer sausage. Summer sausage is a mixture of pork and venison, along with curing agents and spices, cooked (most often via smoking) to moist perfection. One of the beauties of summer sausage is the variety of flavors that can be made, such as garlic, mild, hot, jalapeno, cheese and many others. You can’t fail!
4. Meat Sticks
Venison sticks are essentially small hand-held summer sausages that are super convenient to pack along and snack on: No making slices, like you have to do with a log of summer sausage. This means sticks are great for packing in lunches, carrying as snacks, or just pulling out of the fridge for a quick bite. There’s almost no end to the flavors you can make with sticks. Consider the summer sausage flavors above, along with maple, pepperoni, beer, rosemary, and I’ve even thrown in juniper berries.
5. Cooked Brats
Pulling a pack of brats out of the freezer is like re-living the hunt. Brats are so easy to prepare, especially when they are pre-cooked and/or smoked in the preparation process. This means, essentially, you could eat the brat as-is after thawing, without cooking it again. But most folks put them on the grill to get more of that outdoorsy flavor. Cooking time is shorter and you’re assured of food safety through the initial cooking.
Brats are so popular, sometimes it’s hard to remember that venison makes superb wieners, too. If you have kids around, the wieners might go over better with them than brats do. And, of course, pre-cooked wieners are about as easy as it gets for meal preparation. Wieners take a little more processing work than brats, because meat for wieners must be re-ground to a finer texture, and the small casings can be challenging to work with. A good wiener stuffer makes the difference.
7. Fresh Brats
Fresh brats consist of venison mixed with pork and desired spicing, then cased up but not pre-cooked. Fresh brats don’t take as long to make up front, but they do take more investment on the back end when you thoroughly cook them. Be sure to cook them up to 160 F on the grill; this means sizzling and spurting grease. Still, fresh brats are immensely popular, one of the reasons being they’re perfect for poking with a fork and then boiling in beer to imbue that flavor before grilling.
8. Ring Bologna (Kielbasa)
I haven’t done ring bologna in a long time, but researching this article brought me back to the idea and my mouth is watering right now. Much like a brat, a ring bologna, also called polska kielbasa (polish bologna) can be pre-cooked or made fresh. The difference from a brat, though, is that the format is generally an 18- to 24-inch-long loop. There’s nothing like a kielbasa simmered in beer or red wine in a pan.
Just as the price of a package of jerky in the convenience store or grocery store gives me pause, so does the price of having a butcher make jerky from my venison. But you can create jerky on your own. While there is a time investment, it truly is fun work, and the price ends up being right. Making jerky involves curing the meat in a salty or sweet-salty brine, then drying and smoking it to remove most of the moisture and finish curing the meat. The brine (think teriyaki or barbecue) gives jerky its initial flavor while the smoke adds flair.
10. Breakfast Sausage
It’s simple to make breakfast sausage from venison: Just mix equal parts of ground pork and ground venison, spice to taste (sage, salt, ground black pepper, marjoram, brown sugar, crushed red pepper and cloves make a good base mix), and freeze in packages. One pounders are good. With this plan, you can thaw a package and create patties out of it, roll to form links, or brown and crumble it to use in breakfast casseroles or bakes.
11. Italian Sausage
Much like you would make breakfast sausage, fresh Italian sausage is easy to create with a mixture of pork and venison, and good Italian spicing. A typical Italian flavor spice combo includes salt, black pepper, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, paprika, red pepper flakes, fennel seed, brown sugar, oregano and thyme. Freeze in one pound or other appropriately sized packages. Italian sausage is perfect for topping pizza (of course!), making meatballs, creating sausage patties, putting in hot dishes or casseroles, browning and adding to spaghetti sauce, and much more.
12. Dry Sausage
A dry sausage is just that — a casing filled with meat that has been dried or smoked so that almost all of the moisture is removed. Because of that dryness, these sausages keep much longer than ordinary summer sausage and venison sticks. The best examples of dry sausage are pepperoni and salami.
Few hunters think about it, but you can create awesome ham from venison. The back leg is the best piece to use. Create hams from an entire leg with the bone in, remove a roast that has the bone in, or use a boneless roast. The secret to making a great ham is as follows. One, you must cure the meat with a brine — salt, pepper and brown sugar is typical — and inject that brine generously into the meat. Two, the ham must then be smoked to an internal temperature of 160 F for food safety.
Bacon from venison? You bet! While you won’t be making a whole deer into bacon, this is the perfect use for meat from the front shoulder, or a roast off the rump. In reality, making bacon is not unlike making ham. Bacon seasoning kits are available. Use venison pieces that are flat (about 2 inches thick), then slice cross-wise into bacon-like strips.
15. Canned Venison
Some folks love it, some folks don’t, but canning is an age-old way to store venison. Canning was more common back in the days when refrigeration wasn’t available. Place venison chunks in a canning jar with onion and bell pepper slices, seal, then put in a pressure canner and bring to a boil for 60 to 75 minutes. This is a great way to tenderize a tough deer, and the canned meat is great for easy and quick meals. Put canned venison in stews or soups, make sandwiches, or just heat and serve with rice, potatoes or noodles, and vegetables or a salad on the side.
16. Dried Venison
Making dried venison is a little like making ham — you use a large cut of meat, wrap it in netting, cure it with brine, then smoke or cook slow in a warm oven to 160 F inside. Slice off meat for sandwiches.
One of the beauties of today’s whitetail hunting world is this: With generous season structures and ample hunting opportunities for antlerless deer, there’s every reason in the world to try something new with some of the meat from your next whitetail. These venison options will help you make great (and great-tasting) choices.
Want to be the first to get our premium content? Become a D+DH Insider for FREE!