HUNTING's Guide to Better Backstraps

HUNTING's Guide to Better Backstraps

backstraps_1Backstraps, loins, chops, or venison ribeye'¦whatever you call it, this is the money cut on a deer. The part we all bring out to celebrate the hunt. Other than the sacred tenderloin, normally eaten by only the hunters and those they love most, the backstrap is the tenderest part of the whole deer. Except when it isn't.

If you've eaten venison for any length of time, you've bitten into a medallion of seemingly lovely backstrap only to find it, well, chewy — sometimes really chewy. That's a sad moment.

Mind you, I'm not talking about overcooked meat here. I'm talking about nicely cooked meat that's still damn tough.

There are a few reasons why this happens. It isn't always easy to predict whether a piece of venison is tough or not, but there are a few tips and tricks to cook any piece of backstrap successfully.


Tenderness starts with the animal. Obviously, younger animals will be more tender. That's a given. Then factor in the animal's life. Did this deer scratch out a living on an arid mountainside in coastal California or living on an all-alfalfa diet in Iowa? This matters. We all know that the harder the life of the animal, the tougher the meat.


Once the animal is down, game care affects tenderness, too. Hanging your deer is a good thing. Aging meat relaxes it and gives a particular set of enzymes time to break down the proteins in the muscle. It also dries the meat slowly, which concentrates flavor. If you can keep the temperature between 33° F and 40° F, you can hang your deer for days to weeks. Even if you don't have those conditions, let your roasts and steaks hang out in the fridge for a few days before freezing. This is important, as the enzymes die when frozen.


How to butcher your backstrap? Style is a factor here, as some people like chops, some a boneless backstrap. I choose the boneless route because, frankly, it's a hell of a lot easier to process myself. No saw needed. Chops are a valid option, but I like them only if they are more than an inch thick. Why? Thin chops are very hard to cook properly. A better choice is to take a cue from lamb butchers and section the chops into foot-long pieces so you can cook the whole section at once and then slice the chops off when you serve.

Bone-in or boneless, backstraps of small deer should always be portioned into large serving pieces, which are much easier to cook rare to medium. Little medallions, which most people cut, have too much surface area exposed to the fire and tend to get overcooked very quickly. Better to sear the big piece and then slice off medallions when you serve.

Old animals should be treated the same way, but for different reasons. Backstraps from an old deer, elk, or moose should be thought of more like a leg roast. There's a good chance they will be tough, and once cooked you can combat this by slicing it thin like roast beef instead of thick like steaks. Always slice tough meat thin and against the grain.


Remember to remove the chain, a thin strip of the backstrap running alongside the main muscle. I can't tell you how often I see people slice steaks with a white line of sinew running through part of it. That means the chain was not removed. Unless it was a yearling, the connective tissue separating the chain from the main backstrap will get stuck in your teeth when you eat it. Silverskin is your enemy. Remove it all. Be relentless, and you will be rewarded with the best backstrap you've ever had.

But what about a nice venison steak? I love them as much as the next guy, but a great venison ribeye really needs to come from a larger animal — ideally a big, fat, young buck shot over a grain field, a moose, or an elk fattened on forage. Larger steaks from the backstrap, cut at least an inch thick (two inches is better), can be cooked just like a beef steak. Oh, and should you be lucky enough to get such an animal, keep the fat. Not all venison fat is bad, and it adds to the whole ribeye experience.

Finally, if you forget everything else in this article, remember to never, ever, ever cook your backstrap past medium. Anywhere from rare to medium is fine, but once it passes that mark, find the dog.


Recommended for You

We put the best boots for late-season hunting to the test. Here are the results. Clothing

Field Tested: Cold-Weather Boots

Kali Parmley - April 22, 2019

We put the best boots for late-season hunting to the test. Here are the results.

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great fishing and plenty of bears. North America

Bear Hunting Makes Quebec the Ultimate Springtime Destination

Lynn Burkhead - February 01, 2019

Hunting in Quebec offers plenty of quality outfitters, affordable hunting options, great...

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather. Clothing

Field Tested: Lightweight Raingear

David Draper - May 30, 2019

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 13: Forest Buffalo

Craig Boddington returns to Mozambique's fame Coutada 10 for a shot a forest buffalo that's eluded him for 10 years.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Have a freezer full of ground elk venison from your fall hunting trips? Never fear, the folks at Camp Chef have a great SHOT Show recipe that is lean and mean, easy to prepare, and a crowd-pleasing favorite!

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Didn't draw? Here are five great places you can make a last-minute mule deer hunt. North America

5 Great Last-Minute Public-land Hunts

Joseph von Benedikt

Didn't draw? Here are five great places you can make a last-minute mule deer hunt.

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use case. Ammo

Is the .308 the Perfect North American Big Game Cartridge?

Richard Mann

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use...

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great black North America

Best States To Hunt For Black Bears

Joseph von Benedikt

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great...

See More Stories

More Recipes

This cure and glaze combo gives great flavor to any big cat! Recipes

Cured & Smoked Bobcat Ham Recipe

Michael Pendley

This cure and glaze combo gives great flavor to any big cat!

This Braised Elk Venison Shoulder With Salsa Verde Recipe is a great dish to serve on special occasions. Recipes

Braised Elk Venison Shoulder With Salsa Verde Recipe

Robert Sweeney

This Braised Elk Venison Shoulder With Salsa Verde Recipe is a great dish to serve on special...

Some like it hot and if that's you, this elk venison recipe blends the savory flavors of Asia with a searing heat that won't soon be forgotten. Recipes

Spicy Asian Elk Venison Stir-Fry Recipe

David Draper

Some like it hot and if that's you, this elk venison recipe blends the savory flavors of Asia...

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.