By Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley
The smells, sounds, and taste of meat sizzling over a hot fire ignites our senses in ways that are unlike anything else. Appreciators of all things smoky and meaty, we are the type of people who are happy to receive whatever overcooked hamburger or pork chop our friends might offer at backyard barbecues and bashes, but as hunters, we know that this carelessness would be unthinkable with venison.
Wild game is lean and unforgiving, and with sous-vide cooking on the rise among hunters, it’s no surprise why grilling continues to be a tricky proposition for many. Read on for tips and hints on how to achieve the perfect medium-rare, grilled piece of venison steak.
For grilling, choose cuts that have little silver skin running through them. Loin—or backstrap—is a great choice because it is both tender and uniform in shape, which helps it cook more evenly. Other cuts include the tenderloin (inside strap), top and bottom rounds (hindquarter), eye of round (hindquarter), and mock tender (front quarter).
Keep in mind that on older deer, these hindquarter and front quarter cuts could be tough. In that case, they could make good kebab meat. Cut these muscles into large cubes, marinate in an acid-based marinade to help tenderize, skewer and then grill.
For cylindrical cuts, such as the backstrap, it helps to tie them for more even cooking. What I mean by this is that an untied backstrap will lie flat, resembling more of an oblong shape rather than round— the middle will appear thicker than the edges. By tying the backstrap, you force it into a cylindrical shape; a circle is symmetrical all around and therefore will cook more evenly.
The goal is to achieve even pinkness throughout the interior, not uneven areas of gray.
Before grilling meat, take it out of the refrigerator 3 hours before cooking. Many sources will tell you to take out meat 1 hour ahead of time, but I don’t find this sufficient. The meat should be room temperature to the touch. The colder the meat, the more uneven the cooking. You’ve likely seen photos of venison that appear perfectly pink in some areas while cold, blue-rare in the very middle—that’s the result of starting with meat that was too cold.
Season meat with salt 1 hour before cooking. Before you cook it, make sure to pat it completely dry with paper towels—wet meat does not form a crust. If it’s a big piece of meat, I often salt it again right before I throw it onto the grill.
Grilling meat is a two-step process. The first requires high heat to form an outside crust, which provides flavor, and the second step requires lower heat, which will slowly bring the internal temperature up to where you want it. Thin steaks need little more than a quick sear on both sides, but for steaks thicker than 1½ inches, taking this two-step approach will yield a uniformly pink center.
The idea is simple: get one area of your grill searing hot while keeping another area cool. Sear the meat directly over the hot area to achieve a crust, and then slowly finish the meat on the cooler side of the grill.
For a charcoal grill, place hot coals on one side of the grill only—sear on the hot side. Then allow the coals to cool off to 300 degrees with the lid closed, and then finish the meat the rest of the way in the coolest part of the grill.
For a gas grill, turn up the burners on one side to sear the meat, and then move the meat to the other side to finish; adjust burners to achieve a 300-degree grilling temperature when the lid is closed.
With a smoker, it’s more difficult to get the grill grates searing hot. If your smoker comes with a searing box, use it—sear the meat with oil and/or butter first. If a searing box isn’t available, sear the meat in the house in a pan. There’s more room to play with a smoker. If you’re in a hurry, set the smoker to 300 degrees and proceed as previously described. But for more smoke flavor, set the smoker temperature to 225 degrees to allow more time for the smoke to penetrate the meat.
If you’re not confident with the finger test to check for doneness, use a probe thermometer to keep track of the internal temperature.
Finishing Temperature and Resting
For medium-rare, pull the meat off the grill at 125-127 degrees. Loosely tent the meat with foil and then allow it to rest. The finishing temperature should read between 130-135 degrees.
Never skip resting. Not only does resting meat allows it to finish cooking, but it also gives the muscle time to reabsorb its juices. Cutting into meat directly off the grill will result in major moisture loss. A good way to tell when a piece of meat has been properly rested is by watching its internal temperature. When the internal temperature hits a plateau and starts to go back down, the meat is ready to slice into.
Ready to grill some venison? Try this Grilled Venison Loin with Caper-Mustard Sauce Recipe.
Grilled Venison Loin with Caper-Mustard Sauce Recipe
- 1 pound venison loin, trimmed
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons cold butter, divided
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 to 3 sprigs thyme
- Splash madeira wine
- 1 cup unsalted chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, smooth or coarse ground
- Canola/vegetable oil for greasing grill grates
>> Click here for the full recipe.
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