May 23, 2023
As of March 2023, according to CNBC 60% of homes in America owned an air fryer. If you’re doing the math, that is the majority of households. But what is an air fryer exactly—how does its magic work without actually frying food? Simply put: it is a more compact convection oven that circulates heat evenly around anything you cook. It does not actually fry foods, but rather creates crispy crusts due to its consistently circulating hot air.
Is it any different than a quality convection oven though? No, not really. For a lot of folks, it is a matter of convenience—punch a few buttons and after the initial warmup period, they’re off and cooking. For others, it is more a reliable regulation of heat. Example: my electric oven runs approximately 100 degrees hot and works via a dial (no buttons to set an exact temp). I know it runs hot because an oven thermometer has a permanent home inside my oven. And even with that thermometer, I still can’t get the dial to consistently regulate heat even knowing the 100-degree increase (sometimes it’s 125 degrees higher).
So, for the purpose of convenience, ease of use, and reliability, many people have fallen in love with their air fryer. Perhaps you’re one of those individuals. Here we are going to cover how to cook every cut of venison for a perfect juicy center and a crispy crust.
IS AN AIR FRYER THE BEST WAY TO COOK VENISON?
That is going to be a matter of opinion. I still think back to a Pheasant Fest several years ago when an attendee told me his favorite way to cook grouse was in the microwave. My only response was, “If you’ve tried other methods and that remains your favorite, no harm in that. Enjoy.”
So while I advocate trying different methods for cooking venison, I firmly believe what is best comes down to what you like best. Do I like air frying the best for venison? I personally do not, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. I still prefer a low smoke then a reverse sear for most of my red meats. I’m also not a big fan of sous vides for anything other than waterfowl or any wild bird legs, wings, and thighs. That’s me. “You do you,” as the saying goes.
WHAT AIR FRYER TO PURCHASE IF YOU DON’T OWN ONE
There are many choices, and I haven’t test them all, but I’ll share this insight: Pick one based on size, functions, and what fits your budget. If you’re cooking for a four-member family, chances are you want one that holds at least 10 quarts. Then determine does it have the functions you’d like? For example, my Instant Vortex Plus 10-Quart Air Fryer also comes with a rotisserie spit and setting, so I can rotisserie a pheasant (but doesn’t appear to be much room to roast a bird larger than that). I like being able to do that. I picked it up for $120 and that fit what I wanted to spend. What you want to spend is up to you, but make sure to check out reviews and even the warranty policy should something not work correctly.
GETTING AN AIR FRYER SET UP
Even if you’re like me and you hate reading instructions, read them twice. Not only do you want to fully understand how to safely operate your air fryer, you also likely want to know how various settings work, because you’ll need different settings depending on what cut of venison you’re cooking.
Insider tip: Run your air fryer for at least four times as long as the instructions recommend ahead of your first time cooking. For example, my instructions called for running at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. I ran it for 40 minutes twice and my wife and I could still taste factory oils in our food. So, I recommend running for an hour, letting it cool down, maybe taking a rag and trying to wash it out a bit, then running again for an hour or more, then another, then another. Set aside half a day to do this. Make sure to include any roasting trays or the like to also burn off factory oil from those parts. We don’t want to spoil priceless venison because we didn’t take the initial steps to eliminate protective factory residue.
AIR FRY VERSUS ROAST SETTING
Air fry is best suited for smaller chunks, while a roast is better suited for—you guessed it--a roast, or something similar in size, like half a backstrap. It comes down, as I understand it, to how the heat circulates. While you can setting the temperature of either setting (at least on mine, I can), air-frying a large roast will get the job done, but it may have a drier consistency throughout.
HOW TO AIR FRY YOUR VENISON
Stew Meat or Backstrap Medallions
- These recommended methods apply to any cut of venison approximately 1-inch thick. For anything smaller, shorter time. For anything thicker, you’ll need to lengthen time. You may wish to invest in some sort of high-heat-safe meat probe and insert that into the middle-most part of the meat to monitor.
- Make sure your venison is fully thawed and let it sit out at room temp for a least an hour. During this time, rub it down with whatever spices you prefer.
- Set your air fryer to 375 F.
- Add your venison with ample space between pieces to allow for ample airflow. Air fry for 4 minutes, flip, air fry for 4 minutes more. Pull and allow to rest uncovered for 10-15 minutes before serving.
- Here is how the internal-temp math shakes out: 60ish F when entering air fryer, 88 F after 4 minutes, flip, 117 after another 4 minutes, pull. A 10- to 15-minute rest will raise internal temp to around 130-133. (This is due to carryover, as the hot exterior crust will continue to cook the 1-inch-thick meat.)
Whole Roast or Backstraps
- This is where things get trickier because we want that medium-rare, juicy center but also not that well-done, gray outer layer. For traditional roasting methods, so often that perfect medium-rare center is surrounded by dry, drab venison. This occurs because heat as to make its way to the center and while doing so, it keeps piling on the heat to every layer it passed to get there.
- This is how we avoid this when using an air fryer or oven or any roasting method: Start with a partially frozen chunk of meat.
- Pull your venison from the freezer and let it sit out at room temp for 3-4 hours. Rub down with spices and let sit for half hour more.
- Insert meat probe in center. Thermometer will likely read around 28 F. Set your air fryer to 400 F air fry.
- Once at 400 F, add your roast or backstrap. Flip after 6 minutes. Air fry for 6 minutes more, then pull. You should have a nice crust.
- Allow your venison to sit out at room temp. The internal temp will continue to climb. Turn off your air fryer and leave the door open for 5 minutes, then set it to 180 F roast. Allow backstrap to sit out (after 12-minute 400 F air fry) for 15 minutes.
- Add your venison back to the air fryer, set to roast at 180 F. After 20 minutes, flip. Roast for 15 minutes more. Pull at 128 F internal temp. Allow to rest for 2-3 minutes before carving and serving (carryover is less of a factor with this method).
- How internal-temp math shakes out: Add when at 28 F. After 12 minutes at 400 (after flipping after first 6 minutes), a venison backstrap may sit at 68 F.
- After a 15-minute rest, temp will sit around 106 F. After 20 minutes at 180 F, perhaps 116. After flipping and roasting at 180 F for another 15 minutes, the internal temp may be around 128 F. Upon pulling and allow to rest, the internal temp will not rise more than 1 or 2 degrees, so don’t figure in carryover for this method.
Sausage and Burger Patties
- Treat burgers the same as you would 1-inch thick pieces of venison (described above). For sausage, medium to larger varieties (think brat-size) should air fry at 400 F for 9-12 minutes (feel welcome to use a meat probe and pull once internal hits 145/150 F). For smaller sausage, like breakfast links, shoot for 7-10 minutes.
Need more insight or have thoughts? Reach out to me on Instagram (@WildGameJack) with any questions or comments.