How Do I Choose the Best Deer Marinade?

N. Swensson

Deer meat, also called venison, is available in most of the same forms as beef — steaks and chops, roasts, or ground, but is leaner and believed to be healthier than most commercially processed red meat. Many people, however, describe the taste of venison as strong and gamey and like to add a lot of flavorings and seasoning to the meat to remove this flavor. A deer marinade is a popular way to enhance the flavor of venison and can be made from a number of different ingredients. Some of the simplest preparations call for onions, garlic, and salt and pepper with soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or olive oil. Others prefer to use a brine, a very salty liquid with other seasonings, as a deer marinade because it helps to tenderize the meat without making it mushy.

Some deer marinade can be made quickly with a minimum of ingredients.
Some deer marinade can be made quickly with a minimum of ingredients.

For home cooks who hunt or live with someone who does, learning to make a deer marinade can be essential, because the meat from one animal can often supply the average household for as long as a year. Deer steaks are very lean, so cooking the meat improperly can make it virtually inedible — extremely tough with a strong and unpleasant gamey taste. Many people who cook venison on a regular basis have developed their own favorite marinades to tenderize and flavor the meat, whether it is grilled, sautéed, or roasted. A good tip when cooking lean cuts of deer meat is to marinate it for as long as 24 hours to achieve the best flavor and texture. The simplest deer marinade can be made in a few minutes from classic ingredients like garlic, soy sauce, and vegetable oil with salt and pepper.

Salty brine actually makes venison juicier via osmosis.
Salty brine actually makes venison juicier via osmosis.

Venison has been a popular food in many households where deer hunting is a common activity, but recently the meat has gotten attention from gourmet chefs and has made appearances in their restaurants because of its unique flavor and health benefits. These dishes may feature a deer marinade with more unique ingredients like juniper berries, raisins, and blackberries. Unusual sauces made with dried cherries or green peppercorns may accompany the cooked meat. Whether a cook prefers these more adventurous flavors or the tried and true classic recipes, a deer marinade can be prepared to suit individual tastes.

Another favorite deer marinade is a brine, which consists of a very salty water with other flavorings added. Brining is also a popular preparation method for poultry and pork, and many Thanksgiving chefs swear that it is the best way to make a flavorful and juicy roasted turkey. Making a brine is as simple as a deer marinade and begins with sea salt or kosher salt with water. From there, other ingredients, such as bay leaves, dried chilies or chili powder, and garlic, can be added to the brine. Venison can be soaked in the brine for a few hours or overnight and then cooked in the preferred way. As brining produces a strong salty flavor, additional salt should not be added during cooking.

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