With an estimated 11 million hunters in the United States taking to the woods each fall, the annual deer harvest brings an overwhelming tonnage of meat to the American dinner table each year. While many hunters pride themselves in the preparation of their harvest, the age-old methods of cooking venison in slow cookers or braising pans is handed down from generations past in order to conquer the lean cuts of meat that oft times trouble the sportsman in the kitchen. Sausages, jerky and ground meat many times become the norm from the local butcher and processor and often replaces traditional cuts of meat. We’ll aim to take one such traditional cut, the venison shoulder roast, and prepare it using the most primitive form of cooking one can find; a good old-fashioned fire.
Being so lean, grilled venison can pose a challenge if not undertaken properly. With little fat to keep the meat moist, venison can quickly become tough, leathery and overcooked in the blink of an eye. With a venison roast, the key is to simply barbecue the meat as you would with a larger cut of any animal, cooking slow with low heat to break down the connective tissue and muscle fibers. With a little trick to add additional flavor and moisture, we’ll show you a fail-safe method of grilling venison.
To begin, you’ll want to stick true to barbecue and dry rub the roast. The dry rub will not only increase the flavor of your meal, but will help create a thin bark that will encrust the meat and help prevent the juices from flowing out. A nice rub for venison can consist of a store bought variety or you can make your own by mixing the following (or any combination of your favorite spices):
- ¼ cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ Cup Granulated Garlic
- 2 Tbsp. Onion Powder
- 2 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
- 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
- 1 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
Next, to impart mouth-watering flavor and added moisture, we begin by injecting the roast. The injection I use in this method is a mixture of equal parts beef stock (or au jus) and bacon fat. Melt the bacon fat in a small pot over the stove until clear and add the beef stock. While hot, use a marinade injector (commonly found at most stores that sell kitchen or grilling utensils) to inject the solution into the venison roast on all sides multiple times, ensuring the needle has penetrated the meat in nearly every direction.
Prepare the grill to cook over indirect heat at a temperature of approximately 250-300°F. I am a proponent of cooking on a charcoal grill using lump hardwood charcoal and chunks of hardwood for maximum flavor, but grilling on a low to medium gas grill can work fine too. As in the charcoal grilling method where a zone of indirect heat is achieved by banking coals to one side of the grill and grilling on the opposite side, you can achieve a zone of indirect heat (where the heat from the fire is not directly underneath the meat) by turning off the burners directly beneath the roast. Add wood chips to the fire to impart the smoke flavor by making a pouch (or pillow) out of aluminum foil and placing directly over the flames on the open burner of your gas grill, making sure to pierce the pouch with a fork to allow the smoke to escape.
Cook the roast for about 1.5-2 hours, or until the internal temperature has reached 140°F for a nice medium rare to medium roast. Venison roasts may be cooked the same as a prime rib, where a rare roast would begin at 130°F to well done roast at 160°F or above. If you maintain your fire at a constant temperature, there is no need to move the roast once you’ve placed the lid on your grill.
Venison cooked over a fire is as primitive as a carnivorous experience can be; however, when done right, it can be as delectable and appetizing as an opulent dinner in a five-star restaurant. When wondering what to do with this season’s yield, the lucky sportsman will be the true culinarian if they surprise their guests with such a treat. After all, if you’ve spent eight hours or more in the forest in pursuit of your dinner, waiting a couple of hours to grill a roast is definitely worth the wait.
Keep on grillin’!