A big chunk of venison backstrap needs little more than a pinch of sea salt and a few turns on the black pepper grinder before going on the grill.
However, other cuts may need a flavor boost, either to spark taste buds bored from standard deer steaks or to temper the strong flavor from a rutty buck or older doe. In those cases, smart wild-game chefs turn to a marinade.
Typically a mix of some type of acid (think lemon juice, vinegar or wine), oil and any myriad of seasonings and spices, marinades are a versatile part of the wild-game cooking pantheon. Feel free to experiment with your own, but here are six sweet, spicy and downright scrumptious venison marinade recipes worth trying.
Carne Asada Marinade
This citrusy blends adds a Tex-Mex bite. Great for rounds steaks and flank meat that can be quickly grilled, sliced and served with tortillas and other taco fixings.
Juice of one orange
Juice of two limes
1-2 shots tequila
1 cup cilantro, packed
2-3 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and chopped
4-6 cloves of garlic
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1. Add the marinade ingredients to a blender and pulse until the marinade is smooth and well mixed.
2. Place the venison steaks between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound lightly. Transfer to a plastic, zip-top bag or large bowl and pour the marinade over, mixing to ensure the meat is evenly coated. Let the venison marinate in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
Carazon de Venado (Deer Heart) Marinade
Anticuchos are a Peruvian staple, street food made from chunks of meat marinated and served on a stick. While this recipe was developed for deer heart, it works just as well with tender bites cut from the eye of round or other rear quarter roast.
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 anaheim pepper, seeded and diced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or 1 tsp. ground cayenne)
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. black pepper
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup water
1. Combine the first eight ingredients in a small food processor and pulse to form a thin paste. Whisk this pepper paste into a bowl containing the vinegar and water until everything is well mixed. Add sliced deer heart or tender chunks of venison and let soak for four hours before grilling on skewers.
For whatever reason, Asian flavors are a natural match for deer, elk and other venison. Perfect for stir-fry, hold back a tablespoon or two of the marinade, whisk in a tablespoon of cornstarch and add it at the end of the cooking time to create a luscious pan sauce.
2 cups orange juice
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbs. canola oil
½ inch fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. five spice powder
1. Place the venison in a non-reactive bowl or gallon-size zip-top bag. Whisk together the marinade ingredients, then pour all but ½ cup over the venison, reserving excess marinade to reduce to a glaze. If using a bag, remove all the air to ensure the deer is fully submerged in the marinade. Refrigerate for four hours.
Oh, Canada! Maple, whiskey and the rich umami of Worchestershire all combine to create this sweet and savory venison marinade from north of the border.
¼ cup real maple syrup
¼ cup Canadian whiskey
2 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs. apple cider vinegar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1. Whisk ingredients together until incorporated. Pour over steaks and soak, refrigerated for 1-2 hours. Be sure to reserve some marinade for basting the venison steaks as they grill.
Vietnamese Marinade for Venison Bahn Mi
For those not in the know, bahn mi is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, combining meat, pate and crisp pickled vegetable in a crunchy roll. This marinade takes the flavors of southeast Asia to a new level, making it the perfect start to a deer steak sandwich.
¼ cup lime juice (juice of 3 limes)
2 tbs. soy sauc
2 tbs. fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla)
1 tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 tbs. sugar
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalapenos, finely diced
1 tbs. sesame oil
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Slice deer steaks thinly and marinate for one hour before grilling.
Pan-Asian Grilling Glaze
Rather than marinate the wild meat I’m grilling, I’ll often go with a glaze instead. A glaze can be thrown together quickly and brushed on during the cooking the process, eliminating the need for a longer soak. They also give venison steaks, chops and skewers a more flavorful bite than the subtle taste of most marinades.
This particular glaze comes together easily and imparts bright, sweet flavors. If you like things a little spicier, a squeeze of sriracha or shake of red pepper flakes kicks things up a notch.
2-3 tbs. soy sauce
2 tbs. honey
1 tbs. fish sauce
1 tbs. sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Generous pinch of dried lemongrass
1. Whisk ingredients together in a small pot set over low heat until honey is full incorporated. Remove heat and let the glaze rest while you prep the meat and pre-heat the grill.
2. Place the meat on the grill and brush with the glaze. Turn and repeat until the meat is cooked to your preferred temperature.