Grilled Venison Steak

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Properly grilled venison steak, whether it’s tenderloin or backstrap, is one of the great rewards of deer hunting, and it is one of the basic skills any deer hunter needs to know. Here’s how to go about making a perfect grilled venison backstrap.

Flipping grilled venison steak over the fire.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Grilling meats in general can be tricky, but this is especially true with grilled venison, because it is so lean you have little leeway between perfect and overdone — and overcooked venison is gray, dry and livery. Blech.

By the way, everything I say here for grilled venison steaks also works for elk or antelope, or a fillet mignon of beef, moose or bison.

You can grill any venison steak, and I am especially fond of grilled flat-iron steaks from the shoulder as well as venison fajitas from flank, or arrachera tacos from the skirt steak.

But for the most part, when you think of grilled venison you are thinking of grilled venison backstrap or loin. And here’s your first tip: Keep the venison backstrap whole. Don’t cut it into medallions. Yes, you can grill venison medallions, but they are far harder to grill successfully without drying them out.

Besides, you would be grilling the cut sides of the medallion, leaving the sides pinkish. Not so pretty. With a whole loin, you grill the sides and then, when you cut into it, you get to see that pink perfection.

Large animals, such as elk, moose or nilgai, can be cut into the sort of steaks we are familiar with with beef. 

Getting Started

Start with a piece of backstrap that’s at least 10 inches long, which is usually about 1 pound. Depending on how wide it is, that will feed 2 to 4 people, depending on how much else you have on the plate.

Your first question is to marinate or not? You do not need to marinate a grilled venison steak, but it doesn’t hurt, either. I have a list of really good venison marinades here if you are interested. 

Coat your venison backstrap in olive oil and salt it really well. If you used a marinade, wipe the meat dry first and then coat it in the oil. Let the venison come to room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This prevents the dreaded “black and blue” problem, where the outside is nicely grilled but the inside is raw and cold. 

Venison should be grilled over high heat, but with the grill cover open. This is important. You can grill-roast a venison loin, with the lid down, but it will overcook way faster — heat under the grill cover will cook the top of the loin almost as fast as the part that is closest to the fire. I rarely do this, preferring instead to take my time and let the fire do the cooking.

Grilled venison steak with a summer salad on a plate.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Also know that because venison has no internal marbling of fat, it can go from undercooked to overcooked quickly. So when in doubt, undercook your venison steaks. Why? You can always cook it more. You can’t uncook something.

Sauces for Grilled Venison

Grilling with the lid open also lets you baste the meat with your favorite sauce, if you haven’t already marinated it. I often skip this, but I do happen to like my Jack Daniels-based BBQ sauce when I am in the mood for BBQ sauce. A lot of times I will just let fire, salt and smoke flavor the venison, with maybe a splash of lemon at the table.

That said, some really good sauces for grilled venison steak are green chimichurri, red chimichurri, a mild ancho sauce, or maple-bourbon gravy

How do you know when it’s done? Use the finger test, which gives you a good idea about the doneness of the center of a piece of meat by touching it with your finger. My friend Elise has a good breakdown of the finger test here.

If you’re looking for an internal temperature, most grilled venison backstrap will be ready at about 130°F. A thicker piece of meat, say, from an elk or moose, will have more carryover heat, so I’d pull it at an internal of 125°F, while a flat iron steak, flank or skirt you want closer to 135°F. All of this presupposes you want your grilled venison cooked medium to medium-rare. 

No matter what temperature you choose, let your grilled venison rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into it. You can wait up to 15 minutes before losing too much heat if your backstrap is very thick. If you learn nothing else from this venison tenderloin recipe, remember to rest your meat.

If you don’t have a sauce in mind and you feel like adding a dry spice rub, now is the time to roll the venison in it. I am partial to porcini powder and black pepper. 

One tip: If you’ve pulled your venison and it’s too cool, like 115°F or something, tent it with foil and that will get you an extra five degrees or so. 

Grilled venison steak with a summer salad on a plate.
4.85 from 38 votes

Grilled Venison Steaks

I've gone through much of the detail on how to properly grill a backstrap of venison (or elk, antelope, bison, moose etc.) above, but remember that this is done over high heat with the grill top open, and that it takes a good 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient and you will be rewarded.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 to 2 pounds venison loin, ideally in one piece
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Your favorite sauce

Instructions 

  • Coat the venison backstrap in oil and salt well. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
  • Get your grill hot, clean the grates and lay the venison on the grill. Keep the grill cover open. Let this cook 5 to 7 minutes without moving, depending on how hot your grill is and how thick your venison loin is. You want a good sear, with good grill marks, on that side of the meat. Flip and repeat on the other side.
  • Do the finger test to check for doneness. If the venison needs some more time, turn it to sides that have not had direct exposure to the grill and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes, checking all the way. If you are using a barbecue sauce, paint the meat with it and let it caramelize on the meat for a minute or three.
  • When the meat has been cooked to your liking, take it off the fire and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you are using a spice rub now is the time to roll the meat in it.

Notes

If you use a sauce with this recipe, serve the venison with a side salad like potato, macaroni or bean salad, plus maybe some tomatoes and basil, corn on the cob, dinner rolls --- you get the idea. Nothing overly fancy.

Keys to Success

  • If you want to use a marinade, I have lots of potential venison marinades here. You can marinate a venison steak up to a day in advance. 
  • Let the venison come to room temperature. It will help it cook more evenly. Salting it when it comes out of the fridge helps season the steak better, too. 
  • All meats taste best grilled over wood. Charcoal is good, too, but gas isn't. If that's what you have, soak some wood chips in water for an hour or two and burn them as you grill. The smoke will help flavor the meat. 
  • Leftover grilled venison, if there is any, is good for sandwiches the next day. 

Nutrition

Calories: 170kcal | Protein: 34g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 90mg | Sodium: 65mg | Potassium: 451mg | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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57 Comments

  1. Kris: Is the seal still solid? If so, give it a go. If the seal has broken, though, use the meat for making broth.

  2. Hank, while loading up my freezer with this years deer, I uncovered a back loin from 2(gasp, how did this happen?) years ago. What would you do with this, if anything? It is vaccum sealed.

  3. Debra: You’re not coating the venison in salt, you are coating it in oil and sprinkling salt on the meat. So no, this will not make it overly salty.

  4. 1 Comment and 2 questions
    BBQ sauce goes great on a side of cooked greens

    Is the purpose of the salt coating on the pork loin to keep the moisture in? And does this make the meat really salty?

  5. wow!!! That venison heart recipe is GREAT.. Even though my BBQ was having trouble getting up to temp, it turned out better than anything I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long. AMAZING!!!

    Thanks,

    Rick Tweed
    Shelton, Wash.

  6. Venison loin grilled with BBQ sauce features high in our BBQ summer days (when we get them) and for the potato side, Oven baked Jacket Potato as we call them in UK, which is the whole potato with the skin on baked in the oven, or you can wrap it in lots of foil and put on a BBQ grill

    A side of sweetcorn and salad…hmmm. Grilled venison obviously a lot more tender than beef but so much more juicy and flavoursome…

  7. I have truly grown to love venison, of any stripe, cooked any way, but, of course, the backstrap, simply cooked, is my favorite. Last fall, one in our hunting group was so excited to share the bounty of his first deer in a long time, that he allowed us all to share in the backstrap, cooked on sticks over a fire. A wonderful memory.

  8. Steve —

    Did the rock salt on a pork loin. Very interesting result: the pork had enough water in it that the salt, while sitting above a smoky fire, solidified into a crust. I don’t think a drop of moisture dropped from the loin, and all of the juice was sealed in. Medium/low heat. The meat was incredibly moist and tender, with a nice rind on it. Really good. I cooked it over very dead and very dry diamond willow.

  9. Thursday noon before the afternoon flight of dove season openers our host grilled over mesquite the back strap off a muley that must have been the size of a hippo. Wow! Wow! Right up there in flavor with the best of wild duck mixed with beef. . I gave him a copy of your book, Hank.

  10. Cripes! That looks gorgeous, and as far as the BBQ sauce contention goes, I’ll try most anything once, why not? Beautifully cooked loin, Hank….I may cry 😉

  11. Hi Andrew. I think you’re absolutely right concerning the Brazilians amazing barbeque mastery. The meat that they slice, slightly raw, they name it “picanha”. Wonderfully tasty, best with beer or even better with “caipirinha”, a strong distilled spirit produced straight from cane juice, served with lime and crushed ice. But I guess you’ve already know that.
    But all in all, I guess, not sure, that they’ve learned the art of barbeque with the portuguese; last year will traveling up north in Portugal, we were invited to dinner «costeleta barrosã», a huge beef chop, tasty to the bone. Served with vegetables. But, this time, no beer or caiprinha, we drunk an exquisite Douro red wine.
    Sydney Debtson

  12. Now you’re talking, Hank! You know there the hill-man ( I refuse to be called a hillbilly. I’m from California, Damnit!) will never let go of my true love for grilled food! And back strap. Wow! I still haven’t made your bbq sauce recipe, but it’s happening soon. I hope you’re having a blast on the current leg of your book tour. I’ll look forward to duck hunting with you with when you get home.

    ~Matt

  13. Andrew – try that same rock salt routine with a pork loin – just don’t slice it right away.

    I do use a thermometer – but stop at 140. By the time you rest it a bit it goes right up to the required 145. It is hard to wait!

    And, as odd as this sounds, when I was totally out of ‘good’ hardwoods, I used some dry corn cobs – they worked well, just be careful of flaming embers if it is windy – another good reason to smother by cover at the finish.

    In the interests of civility, I admit to allowing barbeque sauce if it’s only pork….

  14. My wife is Brasilian, and those guys are expert on the barbeque (which doesn’t carry well into Canada, land of the charbroiled burger nuggets drowned in sauce, because Canada thinks it has good barbeque and good game cookery, which it doesn’t).

    The way they do meat like this is basically exactly how you describe it, except they cake the exterior with rock salt, then partially cook it around the sides like you do, then knock much of the salt off and slice it before finishing it on a hot grill. No sauces, just vinegary salads that suit it just lovely. And beer, of course.

    I find if I do that over a fire of hardwood, then shut the barbeque, starving all the flame and forcing it into a smolder, I get an absolutely killer result.

  15. Not everyone likes that gamey taste, so BBQ’s, Ketchup and other stuff comes in handy…….Especially with kids. I’m just sayin’. Don’t go judgin’ others. Just cause you like it one way, doesn’t mean everyone else has to.

  16. To be quite honest, I also can’t imagine barbecue sauce in this context, because I like the fresh, wild taste of meat, pure and simple. It is very common for us to grill one at the butchering party (where the whole extended family does anywhere between 8 and 12 deer in one evening a few days after the big 3-day deer camp, which I don’t participate in by the way except coming up on a Sunday afternoon, gotta give the guys time to be themselves – but at least I don’t go shopping either as other deer-hunting widows, just hunt elsewhere the opening day).

  17. Hey Hank, I do this fairly frequently (that is, until we run out of backstraps). At butchering time and I cut mine into 6″-sections (good size for my family). It used to be that we made butterfly steaks of it at butchering time, but I didn’t like it. I now progressed to keeping as many pieces as whole as possible and deal with the fine cutting later, at cooking time, depending on what I want to do. Like you, I grill it or I also sometimes pan-sear it and then finish in the oven. My favorite way to serve is with herb butter. However, I’ve also at other times cut backstrap horizontally in half (making two flat pieces) because we do prefer all of our meat at least medium, and so it would cook faster.

  18. Hank, I read your blog all the time, have your book, and respect your opinions very much. However, we part company on this issue.

    The venison back strap is pure meat-eater’s joy when prepared on the grill. I agree with the oil, salt, and maybe pepper, but just a little bit.

    But I cannot figure out what on earth you would do with that Barbeque sauce? Put it on French Fries?

    Anyone who comes near my backstrap with steak sauce, barbecue, ketchup, or anything of the like risks severe injury!

    😉

    Keep up the good work!