What Is Venison?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Storing Venison

Venison slices on cutting board

The Spruce / Lindsay Kreighbaum 

Venison, which comes from the Latin venari, meaning "to hunt," usually refers to deer meat, but it can also mean meat from any large game animal, including elk, buffalo, moose, caribou, and antelope, as well as wild boar and hares. Deer can be butchered into cuts similar to beef, with steaks for grilling and roasts for slow cooking.

What Is Venison?

Generally referring to the meat from deer, venison gained more widespread acceptance among American diners with the rise of commercial ranching. Pasture-raised venison does not have the "gaminess" often associated with hunted deer, and it has found its way onto restaurant menus across the country, raising awareness of its culinary appeal. With short, thin muscle fibers, deer meat stays firm but reasonably tender, with a smooth texture.

How to Cook Venison

Venison is quite lean, so avoid overcooking it, or you'll have a dried out piece of meat. The grill is the perfect place to cook venison steaks because the intense heat allows for quick cooking times. Because of the low-fat content, venison can stick to the grill, so brush the steaks lightly with oil before you set them on the hot cooking grate. While you can marinate venison steaks ahead of time, they don't need much in the way of extra flavor. But a light oil-based marinade does provide a little moisture boost before cooking. Venison steaks taste best cooked to medium-rare, or not more than 145 degrees F. You also could use the slow cooker as in this venison steak recipe and this crock pot moose roast recipe.

Low and slow works perfectly with venison roasts, but you need to compensate for the lack of fat. Wrapping a roast in bacon adds both a moisture barrier and flavor. Venison roasts also make great jerky.

Ground venison tastes great as hamburgers, but watch the cooking time. Most people haven't seen a medium-rare beef burger in decades, and you don't want to overcook venison because you'll end up with a crunchy char-burger. It's not uncommon to mix some ground pork with ground venison to boost the fat content; you could also add some chopped thick-cut bacon to the mix before you shape the patties.

What Does Venison Taste Like?

Don't compare venison to beef, because there is no comparison in flavor, although the overall effect is similar. Many people stay away from venison because they believe the flavor is too strong, but it actually has a wonderful herbaceous, almost nutty flavor that pairs particularly well with fruit- or wine-based sauces.

Venison Recipes

Play up venison's gamey appeal with classic continental recipes or take it in a more rustic direction befitting its DIY persona.

Where to Buy Venison

This meat may be hard to find locally if you don't hunt, but you can buy wild game meat online or through specialty butchers and markets. Look for pasture-raised, grass-fed meat processed at a certified facility.

Storing Venison

Store commercially processed venison in the same way you would store beef, pork, or lamb. You can keep it in the refrigerator in the original packaging for up to three days; for longer storage, wrap cuts individually in plastic wrap, making sure you press out any air bubbles, then store it in the freezer for up to three months. For best results and extended storage time, package individual cuts with a vacuum sealer and use them within six months. Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, in a bowl of cool water, or in the microwave.

Leftover cooked venison stays good in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

The Spruce Eats / Catherine Song