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Smoked venison is deer meat that has been slow cooked over a flame or prepared in a professional smoking grill. Preparing meat with smoke adds tenderness and flavor and helps preserve even large cuts. Venison is a traditionally lean meat, which risks drying when placed for long periods in the smoker. As such, most smoked venison has been marinated before cooking to lock in moisture or smoked only at the end of its cooking cycle.
Smoking is one of the oldest ways of cooking meat, particularly wild-caught game such as venison. Hunters would traditionally bring their kills back to camp, then immediately cook the meat so as to preserve it for the trek home. Hot smoke from low flames slowly cooks the meat from the outside in.
The process typically happens in a dedicated smokery or other enclosed space. Modern meat smokers often resemble standard barbecues or grills, but are specially designed to capture and distribute smoke. Regular charcoal is all that is required, but aromatic wood chips — made of alder, hickory, or other natural woods — are quite common. The richer the smoke, the more flavor it will impart to the cooking meat.
Venison typically has a very low fat content. The meat is mostly lean and is heavily muscled. This makes for nutritious cuts and concentrated flavors, but can pose certain challenges where smoking is concerned.
More so than most other cooking techniques, smoking tends to dry meat. Cuts that are high in fat do the best in smokers, as fat deposits keeps steaks naturally moist from within. Smoked venison runs the risk of losing some of its natural tenderness if smoked too long or too hot.
Liberal use of flavorful marinades is one of the best tips for smoking venison. Soy, molasses, vegetable juice, and meat broth are popular options. Soaking steaks overnight or for a few hours before cooking helps them to retain their moisture for longer.
Other ways of preparing venison for smoking include rubbing the meat in salt, or starting the cooking in a more conventional way — on an open grill, for instance, or in the oven. So-called “combination cooking” imparts smoked venison with the flavor of smoke without the time required to induce dryness. The meat is usually cooked to a certain safe temperature indoors, then transferred to the smoker to finish things off.
Depending on the recipe, however, dried meat might actually be desirable. Smoked venison jerky, for instance, is little more than toughened strips of meat prized for its highly concentrated flavor and long shelf life. Smoking is one of the best ways to prepare jerky.