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 39 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. I get a kick out of reading these comments. No doubt, S &P with a little EVOO are by far the best seasonings for just about any dark meat. I was getting the grill ready for some fresh back straps and decided to check out a few recipes. The first 3 were laughable; then I found this one and I was reassured that I’ve been doing it right all along. We were raised on venison, fresh fish, and homegrown vegetables. Sometimes keeping it simple really is the best. Love your recipes and just started following you on Facebook. Nice to see someone else that still appreciates hunting, fishing, foraging, wildlife conservation, and all the wonderful things nature has to offer. Thank you!

  2. This works with pork tenderloin too!
    Always, ALWAYS, slightly undercooked meat then TENT IT for 10 minutes at least.

    When cooking Turkey or Chicken, ALWAYS put foil overtop then a heavy breath towel for at least half an hour before carving.

    You will thank me for it!!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Hank Shaw. I read the grilling instructions 3xs to make sure I did it right. I’m almost 60 yrs old & have been hunting, fishing, & foraging most of my life here in So Oregon. Today I grilled my last 2pcs of venison backstrap using this recipe. I have always done fry meat, burger or stew meat for venison. It turned out phenomenal! & my family agrees wholeheartedly. I’m probably going to do it this way from now on. not only is it healthier but a hellava lot less messy. Thanks again Jerry

  4. My dad gives me all his hunting meat and I had no idea how to cook it and tried this and am very happy with results thank you!

  5. I tried your recipe today and loved it. Was so easy and tenderloin came out great. Thanks for the tent tip

  6. Best recipe I’ve ever tried! Thank you! I didn’t use bbq I put thyme and a little black pepper and followed your directions and it was amazing.

    1. Take you some backstrap or tenderloin and cut it into small chunks or slices. Mix equal amounts of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy Sauce ( enough to cover your meat in a Ziploc bag. Add a couple of serving spoons of mustard and brown sugar to the liquid and mix well. Add the meat into the marinade and let it sit in the fridge overnight or at least 3-4 hours. Take the meat out and cook it in a deep fryer for a few minutes (doesn’t take too long) and it will literally melt in your mouth. Some of the meat may look burned but it’s not, it just gets dark due to the marinade.

  7. This is a wonderful way to handle venison loin and letting the meat rest for 10 minutes is the way to go.

  8. Gonna give this recipe a try. I have two backstraps frozen. If I could hold till spring, I’d roast ramps and Polk salad.
    Tennessee Gal

  9. I used this recipe for both the venison back straps and the tenderloins and everything was perfect for Thanksgiving 2019…yesterday. Thanks for making ME THE STAR!

  10. Wow amazing recipe I always overcooked my steaks didn’t realize they keep cooking even after off the grill you said
    “You will thank me later” and you were correct and the recipe was amazing I always looked for good steak seasonings but they were right under my nose but I also added some Perfect Pinch seasoning for some more flavor but the backstrap was amazing thank you so much for your help and advice god bless

  11. This is the best recipe ever! Super simple with ingredients I always have on hand. Meat was perfect in flavor and tenderness. Trying this on beef filets next. Yum. Thank you for simplifying my dinners.

  12. OMG!!!! The best venison steak we ever had.
    I am definitely sticking with this recipe, everyone loved it.
    You can actually cut it with a butter knife, it was so tender and juicy.
    Thankyou guys for your awesome recipe.