It’s mid-November and in a lot of places across the country, that means deer hunting season has started. If you’ve already got your hunting plans lined up, more than likely you’re hoping to end up with a good amount of meat to cook when you get back home. You should go ahead and plan to get your smoker ready too.
Smoked venison has been a part of outdoor cooking since our ancestors did it hundreds of years ago. This rich-tasting meat is very tender but also very lean, with little marbling or intramuscular fat. So, it does take some extra care to ensure you don’t end up with flavorless dried out chunks of meat. When cooked properly, smoked venison can be deliciously mouth-watering and not overly gamey.
If you are wondering how to smoke venison the right way, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ve got some of the most important tips on smoking venison straight from the pitmasters to ensure you end up with a delicious final product. Let’s take a look:
Though you may think that keeping the fat on the meat will help keep it tender, the excess fat on venison needs to be removed before cooking it. This also includes any silver membrane. The excess fat and silver “skin” on venison can leave a strange taste and is what can make the meat taste extra gamey.
Removing the excess fat will also help you avoid any flare-ups while you are smoking the meat.
Source: Serious Eats
Because venison has very little intramuscular fat throughout the meat, one of the most important things when smoking it is keeping the meat tender. A critical part of this is dry brining the meat before you start cooking it.
Dry brining is the process of coating the meat with salt and letting it rest in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours before cooking. The salt breaks down the muscle, locks in moisture, and acts as a tenderizer, ensuring you end up with delicious and juicy meat.
Dry rubs do very well on venison. You can even get creative and make your own dry rub that will complement the rich natural flavor of the meat. But, it’s important not to overdo it with the rub and keep it simple. You want the delicious smoky flavor to be the center of attention.
After dry brining the meat, pat it dry to remove excess moisture from the exterior of the meat. Coat the meat with a coat of olive oil (or another moist ingredient) and then apply your rub liberally just enough to coat the entire exterior. Once it is covered, wrap it and let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour or more so the rub can work to impart its flavors into the meat.
Bonus Tip: Ground coffee is a great ingredient to include in your rub for venison.
Since venison is a leaner meat, smoking it “low and slow” and not quickly over high heat is going to give you the tender result you are looking for. To do this, you will be smoking the meat over indirect heat. So, make sure your smoker or grill is set up so that you have a 2-zone cooking setup, with an indirect heat side and a direct heat side.
You want to adjust the smoker or grill vents so that the internal temperature of the smoker is holding at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will allow you to cook the meat through without drying it out or burning it. Make sure you have thin, white smoke coming out of your smoker before putting the meat on.
Again, because venison is a leaner meat, it is critical to keep an eye on it to ensure you don’t overcook it.
Check out our article on smoking in cold weather to help ensure your smoker setup is ready to go.
Another critical part of keeping venison tender throughout the smoking process is keeping the meat moist. This is done by having a source of moisture within your smoker itself.
Many smokers come with a built-in water pan or a place to put a water pan in when needed. This will help prevent the venison from quickly drying out as it cooks and keep the moisture throughout the meat itself.
Whether you are using chunks, pellets, or logs, the type of wood you choose to use in your smoker makes a huge difference in the flavor that is imparted onto the meat. So, you want to choose a species of wood that will complement the venison and stand up to its rich flavor without fighting it.
Dense hardwoods hold up better when cooking for longer periods like you’ll be doing. Oak, Hickory, and Walnut are great options for smoking venison as they are medium intensity versatile choices in flavor. Fruit woods like Apple and Cherry wood also pair well with venison if you want to balance the rich meat flavor with some sweetness.
Mesquite is the strongest flavor of hardwoods. It can be used with venison but paired with the meat’s already rich flavor, expect to end up with a very robust final flavor.
You may be wondering how long to smoke venison. The last thing you want to do is rely solely on a prescribed cooking time when you’re smoking. This can quickly lead to a dried or burnt chunk of meat because each piece is different in size and thickness. The best thing to do is have a good meat thermometer on hand and cook to temperature and not time.
For venison, you want to smoke it until it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most venison cuts, like loin (aka backstrap), are best enjoyed medium-rare.
Keep in mind that once you remove it from the smoker, you will have a brief residual increase in temperature. After you take it out of the smoker, wrap it in foil and let it rest for a little bit before carving to help retain the juices.
Source: Father & Us
The type of beverage you choose when it’s time to eat has a big impact on the flavors you’ll be tasting in the meat. Pair your smoked venison with a good Porter or Stout beer to amplify and complement the meat’s delicious flavor.
When cooked properly, smoked venison can be a deliciously tender game meat that doesn’t have an overly “gamey” taste. By following the tips above, straight from champion pitmasters, you can ensure you end up with a great-tasting and juicy result and not dried out deer jerky. Proper preparation is key when it comes to smoking venison.
Is venison one of your favorite game meats to smoke? Have you recently smoked venison for the first time? Are you planning to try smoking venison soon? Tell us all about it by leaving a comment below. We want to hear from you!
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