At this time of year, towards the end of modern gun season, thousands of deer hunters have packages of processed venison in their freezers.

Game as a table meal is unsurpassed. It’s the original local free-range red meat, with fewer calories than beef or pork and lower cholesterol than chicken.

Minced venison can be used in many recipes (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports that a three-ounce serving of venison has 133 calories and only about seven grams of fat. That includes more than four grams of monounsaturated fats, which the American Heart Association says can help lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke when eaten in moderation.

Venison is also a good source of protein, as well as vitamins B12, B6, B3 and B2 and trace elements – phosphorus, selenium, zinc and iron.

Deer in the wild are also devoid of the growth hormones and antibiotics that most commercial cattle typically receive when fed corn and other grains while “done” in forage plots.

Venison Chili

During the cold weather months, chilli is a favorite for many of us in the area.

Cooking chili with ground venison is a flavorful, delicious alternative to beef.

Every chili fan has a favorite recipe. Here’s a basic recipe for a big pot of chili using local ingredients. For a smaller pot of chili, halve the ingredients.

The addition of thin spaghetti is a regional preference. You can put the cooked spaghetti in the chili or place the chili on top of a pile of cooked spaghetti.

Wild Chili (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

Ingredients:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 16-ounce cans Bush Chili Beans (Red beans in medium sauce. Strain the sauce if you want to reduce the sodium.)
• 32 ounces diced tomatoes (Homemade canned tomatoes have less or no added sodium. Some cooks add an 8-ounce can of tomato paste to thicken.)
• 2 pounds of ground venison
• 2 medium onions chopped
• 2 1-ounce packets of Bloemer’s Chile Powder (Made in Louisville, Kentucky.)
• 1 tablespoon chipotle chili pepper (optional)
• 1/2 of a 16-ounce package of thin spaghetti
• 12 ounces beef broth or beer
• 1 medium bell pepper, chopped (optional)

Sauté onions in olive oil, salt and pepper. Add minced meat and fry. Add chilli powder, beans, tomatoes and broth (or beer). Some cooks add a few teaspoons of cinnamon or a tablespoon of brown sugar to sweeten their chili.

Simmer on low heat for about two hours.

In a 3-quart pan, cook 8 ounces of thin spaghetti in water and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. When the spaghetti is done, drain and add to the chili or set aside.

It’s a regional preference to serve the chili with shredded cheddar cheese and salted crackers on the side. A spritz or two of Louisiana pepper sauce is a flavorful finishing touch.

Grilling and smoking game

In spring and summer, there’s nothing more relaxing than grilling or smoking venison in the backyard while listening to Reds baseball on the radio.

Warm weather was made for cooking outside over an open fire.

Venison burgers are a great alternative to beef (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

For grilling and smoking, a covered barrel grill is a good choice to retain smoke and keep the fire from igniting. One of the best brands of charcoal/charcoal grills on the market is the Char-Griller from Sea Island, Georgia.

Because it has moveable grates, there are cooking options: 1) positioning the fire in the center of the barrel flanked by the cooking grates for indirect heat, 2) positioning the fire to the right of the grill (or in the optional fire box), farthest away from the stilled chimney for indirect heat and maximum smoke, and 3) positioning the grates over the fire for grilling.

Add a mix of fresh, local hardwoods when grilling or smoking game. Experiment with combinations of oak, maple, cherry and hickory to suit your taste.

Do not cook venison for too long, it dries out. Venison is best when cooked medium-rare for maximum flavor and juiciness.

Two prime venison cuts are backstrap boneless chops and tip steaks.

Art Lander Jr. is the Outdoors Editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, graduate of Western Kentucky University, and a lifelong hunter, angler, gardener, and nature lover. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former contributor to Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-author of the newspaper column Kentucky Afield Outdoors.

Kabobs are another excellent option. Cut the venison into 1 inch cubes and thread the onion, green pepper, tomato or other vegetable onto a metal skewer. Add your favorite BBQ sauce. Grill over direct heat.

Wild Burgers are at their best when upgraded. Here’s a basic recipe. Use your imagination.

• 1 pound ground venison
• 1 egg
• 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
• 3 tablespoons green pepper finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons shredded carrots
• 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
• 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

Mix thoroughly and shape into 1/4 pound burger patties.

Defrosting and marinating venison

Venison cuts should be thawed in the refrigerator and marinated before cooking.

A good way to ensure all blood is removed from the venison cuts to avoid a venison flavor is to soak the venison overnight in the covered bowl filled with lightly salted water.

The next morning, soak the venison cuts in cold water, seal them in a zip-top plastic bag with marinade, and refrigerate the bags for several hours before grilling or smoking.

A tried and tested soy sauce based marinade is Allegro, made in Paris, Tennessee and available from Kroger. To read their selection of marinades, visit their website here: www.allegromarinade.com.

Dry rubdowns

Dry rubs are another way to enhance the flavor of venison.

Here’s a recipe for an easy Texas-style rub that’s great for boneless venison chops, prime steaks, venison burgers, and roasts:

• 2 tablespoons kosher salt
• 2 tablespoons garlic powder
• 2 tablespoons of peppers
• 2 tablespoons of black pepper

November is the time when most hunters start their year’s supply of venison. It pays homage to Kentucky’s favorite free-range native protein.

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