Italian Venison Ribs

4.93 from 14 votes
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Cooking venison ribs can be worthwhile, and in the case of this recipe is definitely so, but there are some things you should know before starting. Otherwise, you could end up with a mouth full of chewy meat and waxy fat. And no one likes that.

Italian braised venison ribs on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

You can’t just barbecue a venison rib like pork or beef ribs, largely because deer and their cousins are almost always older than their analog in the barnyard.

A typical whitetail is two to four years old, and the largest bull elk and moose can be well over a decade old. Beef is normally about eighteen months old when slaughtered, although grass-fed animals tend to be a few months older than that. Hogs are rarely more than a year old, and most of the ribs you find in a supermarket came from pigs that were about four to six months old.

Age does two things: It makes the meat tougher and more flavorful. To enjoy the latter, you must deal with the former. The answer is to braise or otherwise par-cook your venison ribs before finishing them in another way, if you choose to go that route.

Slow, moist, moderate heat gradually breaks down the connective tissue in the ribs and makes them tender enough to enjoy. On large animals, you can follow beef short rib recipes, and on deer and antelope, think closer to baby back ribs.

How do you get there? The simplest way is to season your ribs and braise them in broth with some herbs and vegetables until they are tender. This takes a few hours. You can also use a pressure cooker. Cover the venison with some water or broth and cook at full pressure for about thirty minutes.

Fat is the other issue. As any of you who have ever eaten it know, deer fat can be problematic. It is made up of very long-chain fatty acids that will coat your mouth unpleasantly as it cools. I go into this at length in this article

The long braising with these venison ribs solves a lot of that, since it renders out most of the fat. 

This particular venison ribs recipe is an adaptation of a wonderful dish in a wonderful book, Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand, which would be one of my “stuck on a desert island” cookbooks. It works best with ribs cut from a large animal: certainly elk, caribou and moose, but also the exotic red deer, nilgai, and oryx.

It will work with regular deer ribs, but do this with a big buck, not a little doe or button buck. 

Cutting venison ribs
Photo by Hank Shaw

You will want the ribs cut somewhere between four and six inches long, and either in a block of ribs or as individual ribs. Trim any excess fat off the cap of the ribs, but you do want some fat remaining. 

This recipe is what the Italians call an agrodolce, a sweet and sour sauce highlighted by balsamic vinegar and saba, which is boiled down grape must. Yeah, I know, you don’t have any lying around. Only reason I do is because I grow grapes. Fortunately, you can get really close by boiling down purple grape juice and using that.

Time is all this recipe asks of you. Venison ribs can require a long while to get tender, sometimes up to 4 hours if you have an old bull or buck. But they will, eventually, and that long cooking time infuses them with so much flavor you’ll wonder why you haven’t done this before. 

Once made, they keep a week in the fridge, although after Night One I shred the meat off the bones and store it in the sauce. It’s great on pasta or polenta later in the week. 

Italian braised venison ribs on a plate
4.93 from 14 votes

Italian Braised Venison Ribs

I prefer to do this recipe with elk, moose, caribou or nilgai ribs, but regular deer ribs work fine, too.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes


  • 3 cups purple grape juice, or 1 cup saba
  • 2 pounds ribs, each about 4 to 6 inches long
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 slices bacon
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large celery stalk, minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 2 large onions, minced
  • 1 ounce dried mushrooms, 1 standard package
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 10 fresh sage leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried and ground
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1 quart venison or beef broth


  • If you are not using the saba, boil down the grape juice to 1 cup in a small pot. Set aside. Take out the ribs and salt them well. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In a large, heavy, lidded pot like a Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove, eat one slice, then chop and set aside.
  • Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel and brown them in the bacon fat, adding olive oil if you need to. When you brown the ribs, don't brown the side with the bone showing—if you brown this side, too, the bones will fall off the meat too soon. When the ribs are browned, remove to a plate.
  • Add the minced vegetables and cook over medium heat until they are well browned, stirring occasionally. This should take about 8 to 10 minutes. Crumble the dried mushrooms over the vegetables and add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook this another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring often. You want the tomato paste to darken.
  • At this point you’ll notice that the bottom of the pot has a brown residue on it. Add the red wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape it all off. Boil the red wine down by half, then add the cooked-down grape juice and the balsamic vinegar. Mix well and return the ribs to the pot, bone side up. Pour in any juices that have accumulated with the ribs, too. Add the herbs.
  • Let this cook down a few minutes, then add the venison broth and mix well. Put the meat back in the pot. Cover the pot and put it in the oven to cook for at least 2 ½ hours. You want the meat to be thinking about falling off the bone, but not actually there yet. This could take as long as 4 hours with an old elk or moose.
  • When the meat is ready, gently remove it from the pot and set aside. Now you have a choice: You can use the braising liquid as-is, or you can make it smooth. I prefer it smooth. To do this, you can either push it through the medium plate of a food mill, use a “boat motor” stick blender, or pour everything into a blender and buzz it. I prefer the food mill option. Taste the resulting sauce. If it is to your liking, you are good to go. It might be too thin, however, so in this case boil it down until it’s like a barbecue sauce. Right before you serve the sauce, add some black pepper.
  • Coat the ribs in the warm sauce and serve with mashed potatoes or another mashed vegetable; I am big on mashed celery root with this recipe. To drink, you’ll want a big red wine like a Barolo or Bordeaux, or a big malty beer. A good Belgian beer like Chimay is a good choice.


Should you have leftovers, shred the meat and store it in the sauce. It is amazing on polenta or with pasta. 

Keys to Success

  • The celery, carrots and onions need to be pretty fine, so I mince them in a food processor. Just make sure they don’t become a paste.


Calories: 925kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 84g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 16g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 288mg | Sodium: 1418mg | Potassium: 2176mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 38g | Vitamin A: 5384IU | Vitamin C: 10mg | Calcium: 94mg | Iron: 13mg

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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  1. I hunt with about 14 people and no one keeps their ribs intact but I saw this recipe & decided to try them this yr. I’ll keep them every year. They were from a 2 1/2 yr old buck & came out super tender after 2 hours, 15 minutes, (some did fall off the bone but still delicious). The sauce is incredible, like I just unknowingly made my own barbecue sauce! I did a few slight modifications because of what I had on hand, used 3/4c of grape jelly with 1/4c of balsamic vinegar in place of saba. Used fresh chicken stock instead of beef. Kept dutch oven on stove at low setting vs using the oven. No offense Hank, I loved it!

  2. I made this recipe for a party of 10 and it was a big hit. I served with celery root puree and it was delightful. My only “complaint” was that the recipe yielded too much gravy and roasted veggies. I wonder if you can adjust it accordingly. Froze very well; reheated in a slow cooker.

  3. Once again, Hank does not disappoint!! When I asked my butcher for the ribs from my deer, he thought I was crazy. This recipe takes a little time for prep and cooking, but it is so good, the effort is worth it! I will never toss venison ribs again!

  4. Has to be one of the greatest Venison rib recipes I’ve tried. Messed up on a few things. Forgot to salt the ribs first, didn’t add the tomato paste before the red wine, will do next time. It was a young doe so I checked it at one hour and twenty in the oven and it was perfect. Thanks again for a great recipe. Will pass this one on to the sixty odd families that I give deer to.

  5. All I can say is WOW! we buy a small Roe deer from a gamekeeper friend once or twice a year. I’ve never really known what to do with the ribs, and so add them to the Ragu.
    This is our go to Venison rib dish, in the future. I do think that cooking lamb shanks, in the same way would also work. you must try!!!

  6. Sooooo good! I had a half cage and no one to make it smaller. I cleaned my Brach loppers and used them to cut the ribs. The ribs are MARVELOUS. I actually cooled the sauce so the fat would rise to the top for easier separation. Served with roasted Brussels and celery root (-as you suggested).

  7. I ended up with a ton of sauce using 3lbs of ribs. The ribs are gone, any suggestions to use the rest of the sauce? It’s delicious and with everything that went into it, I refuse to just toss it. I have venison, duck, and geese in the freezer, so I can incorporate it into a dish, just not sure what to do with it. Thanks Hank!

      1. Great! I’ll give that a try. I’ll treat it as a :meat sauce”. I was hoping maybe cook some venison or goose breast steaks and drizzle it on top. Any suggestions for that, or would that not jive well?

  8. Would Sous vide or a steam oven be a good option to tenderize the muscle and render off the fat without losing flavor?

  9. Exceptional ! As I have posted before, anytime Hank adds bacon, use his German Bacon recipe. It takes it to another level.

      1. im literally scrolling this thread because I just put my elk in the oven and i realized my bacon is still out “on the side”. What do I do with it!?!? LOL!

  10. I just happened to have a friend harvest a big (for Florida) buck, and give me the entire rib cage, and neck (to be braised later).

    Would a marinade and cook in a large instant pot cause any issues, rather than in a slow cooker or Dutch oven?

  11. Hank what is your method/recipe for making the venison broth used in this recipe? Deer season us just around the corner here in Ohio and I am looking forward to utilizing the previously discarded rib sections. Thanks mate ??

      1. Thanks, Hank. Any suggestions for time? Say, low for X hours? BTW I tried your Grilled Doves with Prickly Pear BBQ Sauce recipe and it was awesome!