Venison Tenderloin Basics

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Venison Steaks) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the slow food movement, venison is showing a resurgence in the American culinary scene. “Game” animals give a rustic flare to restaurants that are trying to capitalize on the public lean toward traditionalism.

I’ve put this article together as a primer for those who might be interested in bringing venison into the home to cook for the first time. However, due to the scarcity of venison at retail outlets you’re best bet for acquiring some is either ordering it online, hunting, or knowing a hunter willing to share. I’ve decided to skip the rundown of cuts & techniques to focus on the on the one part of the deer your most likely to run across, the tenderloin.

The first thing you need to be aware of is cooking venison can be quite different than anything you might have cooked in the past. As you can tell by the above photo, there’s little to no fat in the meat. Deer are very active animals. This in turn leaves little body fat and very small amounts of intramuscular fat. This is a pretty big contrast to something like beef, as cattle tend to be more sedentary. So we have two possible methods of cooking: “Low & Slow,” or “High & Fast.”

“Low & Slow” is not my preferred method for cooking tenderloin, as you’ll have to braise it in liquid to keep the meat from drying out. Other parts of the deer are better suited, so keep the crock-pot in the cupboard until someone passes a hindquarter or shank in your direction.

“High & Fast” it is.

So here’s the basic rundown:

1. Tenderloins will taper from one end to the other. So try and trim off the cone-shaped end to keep the size more uniform. If you feel comfortable trussing, go right ahead, it definitely helps.

2. The older the deer, the wilder it will taste, and the tougher it will be.

3. Rub the loin with oil. You’re cooking this thing HOT. The oil will prevent sticking, and help keep the tenderloin moist.

4. A little salt & cracked black pepper is my preferred seasoning, but you can run the gambit with whatever seasonings or rubs you prefer. Just keep in mind that things like juniper berries, rosemary, and sage are earthy flavors. They’ll pull the gamey-ness of the meat out to the front of the palette. (Some like this flavor profile, some do not.)

5. Start with a room temperature loin. Heat a pan on medium-high. Once the pan has preheated, drop in a tablespoon of oil and add the venison. Immediately drop the heat to medium. Sear on all sides and continue to rotate until the tenderloin has cooked to medium rare. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, on a  carving board for 10 minutes (you’ll need all the moisture you can get, don’t short change the resting period.)

6. Don’t cook the meat past the first stages of medium, or after you let it rest, you’ll have a large gamey deer flavored log for dinner.

7. Slice the meat against the grain in small medallions, no thicker than an inch. I personally prefer carpaccio -thin slices. Serve with a fruit compote (my go-to is blackberry.), or a dime-glace of your choosing.

I’ll have more venison recipes up soon. Thanks for reading!