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

Whether you're pursuing black bears, moose or whitetails, Quebec will put you on the right track. North America

Big-Game Adventure Beckons in Quebec

Lynn Burkhead

Whether you're pursuing black bears, moose or whitetails, Quebec will put you on the right...

These four hunts will test your endurance. North America Big Game

North America's Toughest Black Bear Hunts

Brad Fitzpatrick

These four hunts will test your endurance.

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...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Cheeseburger Poppers

Cheeseburger Poppers

David Draper shares his recipe for making delicious cheeseburger poppers with wild game in this edition of "Fare Game."

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 8: Midnight Sun Grizzlies

Kevin Steele and CZ-USA's Jason Morton return to Alaska's arctic tundra for Kevin's second and Jason's third attempt on the legendary species. Things are looking up on day one but time will tell if the boys will get a shot a the king of the tundra.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 16: Cedar Break Bucks

Kevin Steele treks to the cedar breaks and coulees of north-central Nebraska for a shot at a big prairie whitetail.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious marinades. Recipes

8 Best Venison Marinades

Hank Shaw

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious...

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians. News

The Ticks Making Hunters Allergic to Meat

David Hart

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians.

Many of the states in our glorious nation provide great hunting, but only a few have the whitetail North America

Top 10 Trophy Whitetail States

Joseph von Benedikt - December 18, 2017

Many of the states in our glorious nation provide great hunting, but only a few have the...

See More Stories

More Recipes

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...

Stay warm this winter with one of these delicious venison chili recipes. Recipes

The 6 Best Venison Chili Recipes

Petersen's Hunting Online Staff

Stay warm this winter with one of these delicious venison chili recipes.

Impress your significant other with one of these delicious venison recipes this Valentine's Day. Recipes

6 Venison Recipes for Valentine's Day

Petersen's Hunting Online Staff

Impress your significant other with one of these delicious venison recipes this Valentine's...

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.

×