There’s a good debate of sorts among hunters and chefs when it comes to preparing venison: salt and pepper, and nothing else, or a little marinade or herbs to give the roast some added flavor on the grill, smoker or in the slow cooker.
I’ve had it both ways and, honestly, appreciate both when done well. My biggest peeve is overcooking any wild game. Because deer meat is lean, as are elk, moose, pronhorn, turkey and waterfowl (when the skin and far are removed), overcooking will dry out the meat. Even just a few extra minutes can turn good meat into an inedible slab.
Having been in the kitchen with Stacy Harris, pictured above, at her gorgeous home in Alabama, and watched numerous times as Scott Leysath prepares fish, fowl and game, I’ve noticed some similarities. They love cast iron, have good cutlery and have a basic foundation of a few basic items: good herbs and spices, fresh vegetables, salt and pepper, butter, and keeping things simple.
Here are 12 items I think every good kitchen should have for cooking and cooking wild game:
Salt and Pepper: A pinch here, a dash there … salt helps enhance flavors and pepper is needed for smashed taters and scrambled eggs.
Butter: Real butter has fat, which helps with flavor. Most chefs use unsalted butter. It may not seem like a big deal but better to go without and add salt later, as needed. You don’t have to keep it in the fridge, either.
Eggs: Breakfast, cornbread, cookies and cakes, maybe even a nice fried egg atop a grilled venison burger. Eggs are must-haves for deer camp, no doubt.
Milk: Pick up some whole milk and buttermilk, the latter for using to make cornbread. I know some deer hunters use it to soak their venison in, too.
Teryaki Sauce: Get the low sodium version and then use it sparingly for marinade, just as a flavor boost. Teryaki mixes well with wild game and isn’t bad now and then.
Fresh Garlic: I don’t know of anything else I’d rather have if I had to pick just one herb or veggie or whatever garlic is considered to be. It’s great for slow cooking, in stews or soups, on salads, and as a rub for venison steaks. Get a garlic press and rub on the steaks before grilling. Also great in a vinaigrette dressing for salad, of course. If you have a green thumb and space at deer camp, you can grow your own garlic and onions so you don’t forget it at the store. The jar of pre-minced garlic at the grocery store also is a good pickup.
Oranges and Pineapple: Add these to marinades with the teryaki or so sauce so you’ll have some acidic juice to help with enzyme breakdown of the venison. The citric acid helps, and it’s a good flavor with the meat. Orange juice or pineapple juice in a can works the same.
Olive Oil: Rub on venison steaks before grilling, for searing roasts or use with pasta. Olive oil is a great all-around oil. Get vegetable or peanut for the fish fryer, of course.
Crushed Tomatoes, Beans: Gotta have these for venison chili or vegetable soup. Oh, you’re not a “bean in the chili” guy? OK, no problem. For those who are, beans are a must. Crushed tomatoes also are versatile and great for slow-cooking.
Fresh Herbs: Get the freshest herbs possible to add to soups, stews and other dishes: thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano are the most popular, it seems. You may be able to grow these in pots, if you have a green thumb. Remember that if you use dried herbs they’ll be stronger, and you don’t have to use as much.
White and Red Pepper: Yowza! Kick up your chili and other dishes with some hot pepper.
Hot Sauce: I love Louisiana Hot Sauce, Tabasco or other hot sauce on my scrambled eggs, chili, stew and other dishes. Mmm …
Baker’s Dozen Bonus! Be sure to have rice and pasta on hand at deer camp, too, so you can whip up a variety of dishes. Venison stroganoff, spaghetti, dirty rice with gumbo … both are definitely must-have items.
Uncle Ted’s Wango Tango Backstraps!
Check out Ted Nugent’s easy recipe below for his grilled backstraps, which he’s been perfecting for decades. The recipe is in his own words:
Venison backstraps, sliced
Vernor’s Ginger Ale
Though this favorite Nugent family recipe is as basic as flesh and fire, and quite honestly, all we need is flesh and fire to truly appreciate the superiority of venison, this little twist on tradition seems to maximize the natural flavor of our favorite meat.
I was raised on Vernors Ginger-Ale, a Detroit-brewed soda that is absolutely delicious, served hot or cold. It’s effervescent!
Take your favorite cut of meat, (can you say BACKSTRAPS!) and after proper cold aging and the careful butchering and slicing off of all the silver skin, fat and membrane, lay thinly sliced medallions in a glass dish deep enough so that a can of Vernors and a cup or so of quality olive oil, or oil of your choice, cover the slabs.
Add a dash of your favorite seasonings over each medallion, cover in Saran wrap and refrigerate overnight. We like ground ginger, paprika, oregano, garlic salt and garlic pepper. But over many years of creative experimentation, we have discovered that you just can’t go wrong with any seasonings of your choice.
Get creative, go wild, hit that spicy road less traveled already!
The next step is also very subjective, and though a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is always killer, as is usually the case, nothing quite compares with local seasoned hardwoods and coals. Mesquite, oak, cherry, apple, hickory are all good, as long as flames are kept under control, any good wood works great.
We like to combine dry seasoned wood with fresh cut green chunks to keep the smoke going and minimize the flames.
We tong each medallion still dripping with the seasoned Vernors and oil, and lay them over red hot, golden, orange coals.
Venison is always best when rare to medium rare, so we singe them quickly over these hot coals, turning them but once apiece. It only takes a minute or two per side as long as the coals are real hot.
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