November 22, 2022
By Jack Hennessey
Deer heart. The organ we all reach for first and retrieve from the gut pile—perhaps to confirm shot placement or to tuck into a bag to save for the grill later. For many, eating the heart the day of the kill has become a ritual. There are several ways to prepare heart, though a simple smoke and maple-syrup glaze is one of my favorite methods.
Deer heart is just another muscle and tastes like venison. To be more specific, for me, all wild-game hearts taste like the essence of the animal. To understand what that means, you likely just need to eat heart.
Some initial insights on pulling and prepping deer heart: If you shot your deer with a lead-core bullet and the heart received some damage, yes, you can trim away blown bits but please be caution of lead fragments. Said differently: a shot using lead-core bullets that directly or indirectly impacted the heart could leave behind lead that you can’t see. In the past when I have hunted with lead-core bullets and had damage to the heart, I did save what I could but did not serve to my wife or kids. Ultimately the choice is yours in terms of serving meat with any chance of lead content.
The heart is one major reason I hunt with Barnes all-copper bullets now. I like to save and cook many deer organs. I don’t’ want to have to worry about lead. Obviously, if you arrowed your deer, you have nothing to worry about.
Preparing a heart to cook is incredibly easy. The end goal is ruby-red meat, so that means trimming away any artery stems, fat, or connective tissues. Basically, anything not ruby-red should go, is my take, though some people do leave the fat attached to the heart when cooking. Like any fat on a deer, fat on a heart and its flavor is dependent on a deer’s diet. If you know that deer was corn- or soybean-fed (or similar), fat may be worth keeping. If their diet relied on something else or they have been scavenging later in the season, pulling whatever they can find off twigs, that fat may not be so flavorful.
I personally prefer to cut my deer hearts in half to snip away heart strings, but this isn’t absolutely essential. If, for presentation sakes, you want to smoke your heart whole and serve, you can cut away those heart strings while carving. Leaving them inside the heart should not affect flavor. Just make sure you do remove any bits of artery or fascia from top chambers before prepping to cook. And of course thoroughly rinse out the heart under cold water.
Whatever would you choose to smoke with is entirely up to you. I usually prefer mesquite or a blend of mesquite and pecan, perhaps cherry or apple. I always like that classic smoke flavor combined with some variation of a fruity wood. I do use a Camp Chef Woodwind pellet grill, though any form of smoker, pellet grill, or log burned will work for this. If you have a meat probe, you may wish to probe the thickest part of the heart while smoking to make sure you’re pulling the heart at 130.
Because we are smoking the heart low and slow, there is no carryover—meaning, unlike after a hot sear on the grill, a smoke at 170 will not result in the meat continuing to cook once pulled.
Lastly, if you’re not a fan of heart because of its “texture,” this one isn’t’ going to win you over. A smoke won’t form a hearty crust on the outside, but this recipe doesn’t result in a lot of flavor. I served to coworkers who initially declined and they were very happy they changed their minds.
Total time: 70 minutes
- 1 Deer Heart (approximately 15 oz.)
- Kosher Salt
- Freshly Cracked Pepper
- Maple Syrup
- Cut heart in half and trim away any fat, connective tissue, or any leftover arteries. Snip out heart strings with scissors. Rinse off any residual blood under cold water.
- Lightly salt and pepper all sides and leave in the fridge for a few hours.
- Heat smoker to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke heart for 20 minutes then glaze top side with maple syrup. After 10 minutes, flip and glaze other side with maple syrup.
- After another 20 minutes, glaze again with maple syrup and turn smoker up to 225. Smoke for another 20 minutes or until internal temp reads 130. (Total smoke time: 50 minutes at 170, 20 minutes at 225.)
- Remove heart and allow to rest uncovered for 5 minutes prior to slicing. Enjoy!
Enjoy! Reach out to me on Instagram (@WildGameJack) with any questions or comments.
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