With deer season just concluded and freezers filled with venison far and wide, there’s no time like the present to begin preparing nature’s harvest for the table, and there’s no method more flexible than one that begins with a grind.
“You can use (ground venison) in just about anything,” Bubba Tutor, of Bubba’s Wild Game Processing, near Pontotoc, said. “It makes good chili, Hamburger Helper or spaghetti. You can pat it out and cook it like hamburgers.”
Meat from wild game is extremely lean. Hunters who’ve had their deer processed professionally almost certainly have burger in the freezer that has had fat added to it.
“Most processors do it the same way,” Tutor said. “I’ll add 10 percent fat to it, or 20 percent bacon to it when people ask for bacon burger. I do regular burger, bacon burger, and burger with jalapeno and cheese.”
For hunters who’ve done their own processing, Tutor says meat that has been frozen without being ground can be thawed, ground and re-frozen without concern.
“If it’s been ground, with or without added fat, I would not thaw it and re-freeze it,” he said. “It wouldn’t work to thaw it to add fat because it wouldn’t mix in, and re-freezing ground meat makes it so wet, it affects the quality.”
To add fat on the grind, Tutor says to mix the fat in with the meat as much as possible before the initial grind, then run it through the grinder. Once it’s all been through once, he and his staff mix the results again by hand then send it through the grinder a second time to get a well-homogenized mix.
Light the fire
Venison burgers containing added fat do very well on the grill alongside traditional beef burger and other domestically-raised meats. Venison medallions or filets, however, require a great deal of care and benefit from a different approach over the open flame.
Much healthier than a deep fry, the grilling method works well for tenderloin, sliced backstrap and even steaks when undertaken carefully, and that care begins with the fire itself. Regardless of marinade, lean cuts of big game will quickly become tough if overcooked, and a grill tuned to sear a grocery store’s heavily-marbled beef ribeye is just the tool to overcook it.
There are so many variables in play it’s hard to put a precise temperature on it, but about half as hot as a regular steak-cooking setup is a good place to start. Even then the fire won’t have to last long, because medium rare is not only the goal, it’s about the maximum amount of cooking the meat can tolerate.
As good as grilling is, if you have to have yours well done, you’ll do better cooking it another way.
Venison sausages typically contain a good bit more fat and have a much wider margin for error beyond the point of safely, minimally done, and so do as well on the grill as burgers.