Pan Seared Venison Tenderloin

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When you are blessed with a deer tenderloin, you will want to cook it simply — it is the filet mignon of venison. Here’s how to cook a venison tenderloin perfectly, finished with a simple pan sauce you can use with all sorts of meats.

Pan seared venison tenderloin with a red wine sauce on a platter, alongside lingonberries and wild rice.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I need to start with the obvious: Venison tenderloin is not venison loin. Loins, a/k/a backstraps, are the deer (or moose, elk, pronghorn, etc.) equivalent of the ribeye in beef. They are great, but are not quite as tender, thus the name “tender” loin.

A deer tenderloin, or really any tenderloin, comes from the inside of the animal. Each animal has two, attached to the backbone underneath the backstrap, over the gut cavity. They often can be pulled off with minimal knifework.

I’ve seen venison tenderloins called the “fish,” breakfast loins, even “weenie” loins. Whatever you call them, they will always be soft, even when overcooked. This can confuse some cooks using the finger test for doneness, because a well done deer tenderloin will feel like it’s only medium.

This is why it’s better to pay attention to time and temperature.

A platter of venison tenderloin with a pan sauce, with wild rice in the background.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Keeping it Simple

A meal of venison tenderloin is ultra special, because the tenderloins even on a large deer will still only feed two. The ones in these pictures were from a 240-pound, mature buck. So you want to keep things simple. Deer tenderloin is a perfect date night meal.

First, salt thine loins. Salting beforehand is always good practice, but even moreso with steaks of any kind. I always take the meat out of the fridge, salt it well, and let it come to room temperature for at least 20 minutes, and an hour is not out of the question.

This seasons the meat — the salt will penetrate — remove a little moisture, concentrating flavor, and is an extra food safety step for meat sitting around at room temperature.

You will want only a little bit of a high smoke point oil to pan sear your venison tenderloin: Too much oil or fat limits the sear. I use about 2 tablespoons of grapeseed, avocado, safflower or canola oil for this.

Timing matters, because, remember, a deer tenderloin is soft. Once the meat is at room temperature and your oil is ripping hot, it should only require about 6 minutes to sear a venison tenderloin — they tend to be kinda-sorta triangular in cross section, so I end up searing 2 minutes on each major side.

Move the meat to a cutting board, grind a whole lot of black pepper over it, and let it rest 5 to 8 minutes. This is when you make your pan sauce.

Venison Tenderloin Sauces

I’ll give you a very simple pan sauce below, but there are many pan sauces on this site that go very well with venison tenderloin… or backstrap, for that matter.

They all need to be quick, because you don’t rest a deer tenderloin very long. My favorites include:

  • Steak Diane, a zippy sauce of mustard, Worcestershire sauce, demi-glace, cream and shallots. The date night classic.
  • Cumberland sauce, which uses red currants and red wine or Port. Also a legendary pan sauce.
  • French au poivre sauce. I love this creamy green peppercorn sauce.
  • A Scandinavian beer sauce I often do with duck.
  • A barely sweet blueberry sauce that works very, very well with venison tenderloin.

You can also do “pan sauce jazz” by mixing and matching. You need the remaining fat in the pan, or add enough to get to 2 tablespoons. Sauté some shallots or minced onions. Add red wine, brandy, beer or vermouth. Let this boil. Add venison stock or beef stock. Maybe a pinch of dried herbs. Let this boil down until bubbles are all over the pan.

Turn off the heat, and swirl in 2 tablespoons of butter, which will emulsify into a cohesive sauce. Doneski.

If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.

Close up of seared venison tenderloin.
5 from 30 votes

Pan Seared Venison Tenderloin

This is a master recipe for cooking a deer tenderloin in a pan, along with a basic pan sauce to serve it with.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, French
Servings: 2 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 48 minutes


  • 12 ounces venison tenderloin (both tenderloins from a deer)
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespons safflower oil (see above for alternate oils)
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 cup venison or beef stock
  • 2 tablespoon butter, divided


  • Salt the meat well and set aside while you mince the shallot for the pan sauce, or make whatever side dishes you have planned.
  • When you are ready to cook the tenderloins, heat the safflower oil in a pan that will hold the meat — remember they contract when they hit the heat — over high heat. Turn your stove fan on and pat the meat dry with paper towels.
  • Set the tenderloins down in the pan. They will contract immediately. Let them sear hard for 2 minutes, then turn to another side of the meat. Do this once or twice more, depending on how done you like your tenderloin. It's OK to sear a side more than once if you need to. Move the meat to a cutting board and grind black pepper over it.
  • Add the extra safflower oil to the pan, then the shallots, and sauté until the shallots brown a little. Use a wooden spoon to move the shallots over any browned bits in the pan to lift them off the metal.
  • Add the red wine and let this boil for a few seconds, then add the stock. Sprinkle a little salt over boiling sauce. Let this boil down for a few minutes, until the whole surface of the pan is covered in bubbles, and the wooden spoon leaves a trail when dragged through the center of the pan. Turn off the heat.
  • Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the butter until it incorporates, then the other. Slice the venison into medallions and pour over the sauce. Serve at once.


Keep in mind this method also works for the tenderloins of pronghorn and caribou. For elk and moose, you will want to increase the cook time about 1 minute per side, so about 3 to 4 minutes total extra time. 


Calories: 502kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 54g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.5g | Cholesterol: 164mg | Sodium: 428mg | Potassium: 1020mg | Fiber: 0.4g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 352IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 8mg

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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Recipe Rating


  1. Venison tenderloin is always good, but salting prior and the simple preparation was perfect. Along with a pan red wine sauce, this was wonderful! The husband gave his compliments!

  2. Excellent recipe. I did marinate mine in buttermilk a few hours prior to cooking the tenderloin. This is very easy to make! I think when I make it again I would use just a bit less red wine vinegar. Overall a big hit.

  3. Wow – what a simple yet decadent dish. Our entire family was looking for more and more and more till nothing was left.

    Thank you for sharing such a winning recipe!!!!

  4. I took my first elk last week, and used this recipe for one of the tenderloins. It went over surprisingly well in the dorm hall kitchen. I like that the sauce doesn’t try to take over, but that blueberry sauce sounds really good. Will have to try that one next.

    I used duck fat because that’s what I had, and grape-cranberry juice for obvious reasons.

  5. Hank,
    My youngest son, a Certified Chef, put me on to your site….question, what is the side dish in the picture? Looks like a Wild Rice option?
    Thanks again

  6. Are you aiming for a lower temperature for rare? Or just the same as beef. You want in rare after its rests right. Do you use a Thermo pen or something to measure it?

    1. Chris: I aim for medium-rare. There isn’t a huge amount of carryover heat in a tenderloin because they are so small. 2 minutes per side generally gets you there after resting, with a normal sized deer tenderloin.

    1. This was fabulous! My in-laws keep “cleaning out their freezer” and sending my husband home with random venison and wild hog.

  7. This looks simple and delicious. I have some tenderloins left from a hill country Texas doe that I think I’ll try. Christmas Eve dinner would be an excellent time to try this recipe, afterall Santa has bucks pulling his sleigh. HO HO HO!!!

  8. Just did this last night here with au poivre.

    I often have trouble getting a hard sear without burning the fond, which makes the pan sauce bitter/acrid. I use cast iron. Any tips to help avoid this (other than “use less heat, genius.”)? I have realized that less oil helps, which I was pleased to see you note in the article.

    1. Conor: Yes, use a little less heat, but also, when you are turning the loin, put it right on top of the fond. The moisture coming out from the side that is now searing will drop the temp on the fond enough to prevent it from blackening.

  9. Would you recommend freezing any wild game before using to kill off parasites? I personally had an experience with this eating a fresh tenderloin from a deer. It was delicious to eat, but so not worth it!