What it is: The meat from a game animal, but the term is generally just used for deer meat.
How it’s used: At this time of year, many hunters are taking their deer to be processed. That’s only for their personal use; hunters cannot sell deer meat. Venison that is sold in stores comes from licensed game farms or distributors.
From roasts to ground meat and steaks, venison can be used a number of ways. At Bavaria Sausage in Fitchburg, the business takes venison that has already been cut and processes it into 29 items, mostly sausage-based.
The most popular items hunters want are summer sausage, ring bologna, bratwurst, braunschweiger, canned venison and Landjaegers (dried, jerky-like snacks).
Though the gun deer season just ended, Bavaria Sausage will see customers bringing in the meat year-round.
“Even if people have steaks or tenderloin, it turns out their wife or someone doesn’t eat that so they bring it back and turn it to summer sausage,” owner Judy Cottrell said.
Different meat lockers and processors make different items, Cottrell said, adding that some customers like to move around to try new things or some stay with the same processor.
“Everyone has their niche and their specialty and everyone has their own tastes,” she said.
Flavor: The word “gamey” gets thrown out with venison a lot, said chef Joel Olson, who teaches cooking classes and hosts an annual game dinner. But that doesn’t need to be the case. It’s a lean meat and many things can impact the flavor, Olson said, from what the deer was doing when it was shot to how it was handled afterward to the preparation of the meat.
When the fat is trimmed, there’s none left to flavor or marble the meat. That’s just the physiology of game animals, which have the fat outside the muscle, unlike livestock, Olson said.
Preparation: The lack of fat can make venison dry, and it’s why Bavaria Sausage adds lean pork and beef to products it prepares with venison, Cottrell said.
Sometimes high heat, salt and pepper are enough to flavor venison well, Olson said, if done properly. Medium rare and medium well are the two levels that accentuate the meat’s flavor best, he said. Quick high-heat cooking or slow cooking are approaches that work best, he said.
He likes to cut the meat into medallions instead of larger cuts, and sear them. He’ll even sear the meat before putting it in a slow cooker.
“It caramelizes the meat and gives it more flavor,” he said.
Olson also said venison works well in Asian dishes, particularly in curries.
Nutrition: Venison is lower in fat than some other meats, with slightly higher cholesterol. The USDA reports 3 ounces of roasted venison has 134 calories (compared to 184 in roast beef and 161 for roasted, skinless chicken), 26 grams of protein (comparable to beef, pork and chicken) and 2.7 grams of fat and 1.1 grams of saturated fat, significantly lower than beef and pork.