Deer meat is often confused with venison; a term initially used to describe the flesh of a game animal. However, nowadays, it mainly relates to the meat of animals like elk or deer. Any consumable part of deer, even the internal organs, can be referred to as venison.
Because deer meat or venison is not as popular as beef or mutton, people often wonder what it tastes like. The answer is:
Dear meat or venison tastes richer and has an earthy, firm, somewhat dry flavor. The venison’s flavor, texture, and shade are significantly impacted by various factors, including field care, afterward care, and proper cutting and trimming methods.
Let’s explore in the following guide more about deer meat, including how it tastes and factors that impact its flavors!
- Deer meat is often called gamey, dry, tough, and overwhelming, but it depends on various factors leading to its taste.
- Gamey meat has a wild flavor and earthy sense, comprising a mixture of nuts and earthy mushrooms on a campfire.
- Deer meat tastes earthy and rich, with festive flavors. However, it is not as gamey (tough, firm, dry) as the richer, fuller flavor is developed by proper hunting, cooling, cutting, and cooking methods.
- The lifestyle of deer significantly impacts the flavor of its meat. Deers eat vegetation, like leaves, grass, bark, branches of shrubs, fruits (apples, pears, and berries), and moss. The meat is drier, denser, chewy, juicy (though not as juicy as beef), and rich.
- Higher adrenaline and lactic acid build up in the deer’s body and muscles if it runs too much and dies slowly, leading to a higher pH, darker shade, and drier texture.
- The meat quality increases with the speed at which the deer is hunted. If the animal is promptly slaughtered, and the meat is pure of blood and internal organ waste, it will taste richer.
- Factors like long-term pre-slaughter stress, short-term acute stress, mixing unfamiliar animals and different species around each other, and psychosocial factors like restlessness and fighting equally contribute to meat with a lower pH, lighter shade, less tendency to absorb water, and harder texture.
- Not quickly cooling the meat leads to higher chances of bacteria growth, resulting in meat spoiling and decomposition. It is okay to leave a deer hanging skin-on overnight in lower temperatures, but not in summer.
- Fat in deer meat doesn’t taste good, so it should be cut before cooking.
Gamey is the popular term many people use to describe deer meat. In simple words, gamey refers to a strong flavor. The term is widely used for the meat of wild animals and flavors different from the standard, store-bought, farmed meats.
As for the odor, gamey meat has an “earthy” smell, and people often describe it as a mixture of nuts and earthy mushrooms on a campfire.
Because it tends to have a wild flavor and earthy sense, gamey meat is often called “tough” and becomes overwhelming for some people.
Elk meat, rabbit, pheasant, moose meat, wild duck, bison, and goose are famous examples of meats called gamey. As for deer meat, whether or not it should be termed as gamey is a challenging question.
Although deer meat is not as juicy as beef, its dryness or toughness depends on how it is cooked. The earthy, wild flavor might be overwhelming for some, but it is one of the characteristic features of deer meat.
A strong gamey flavor shouldn’t be if your venison is prepared from a carefully field-dressed deer. Meat from deer grown on a farm won’t taste gamey when you eat it.
Ideal, well-cooked deer meat will give you a slim, rich, and earthy flavor. It is not bad or gamey, but festive flavors are enriched with sage, acorns, and herbs absorbed in the deer’s meat.
Earthy, rich, festive — these are all the words widely used to describe deer meat. But is that so?
To understand what deer meat tastes like, it is important to dig deeper into what renders it that earthy, wild flavor.
First, consider the lifestyle of the animal. Deers are active animals who spend most of their time running. They have slender bodies and live in plain areas and mountains.
As for the diet of a deer, it mainly consists of vegetation. What deer eats is what its meat tastes like. Although various factors contribute to rich or bad-tasting deer meat, the vegetation, like leaves, grass, bark, and branches of shrubs, make up most of a deer’s diet.
Sometimes, deer also like to eat fruits, including apples, pears, and berries. Moss is also a part of those deer’s living in a tundra. So, considering all this, deer meat is expected to be drier, denser, and more firm.
Compared with beef (which thrives on milk, grain, and hay), a deer’s meat is chewy in its texture. Also, though it is chewy, it is not as juicy as beef.
Furthermore, compared to mutton (which thrives on grass, hay, and other plant material), deer’s meat has a similar flavor to Lamb meat. However, it is more earthy and rich, particularly firm and dry, than mutton.
Various factors can make or break the taste of deer meat, including how a deer is hunted, taken care of afterward, cutting the meat incorrectly, poor trimming, and wrong cooking skills.
As mentioned earlier, perfectly, well-cooked deer meat will have a slim, rich, and earthy flavor. To achieve this, you must take care of various factors, such as:
When hunting a deer, the rate at which it dies and has run before significantly impacts the taste of its meat afterward. It’s because adrenaline and lactic acid build up in the deer’s body and muscles if it runs too much and dies slowly.
A study, The Effect of Stress on Livestock and Meat Quality Prior to and During Slaughter, explains how various external and internal factors impact the taste of cooked meat.
Physical factors like starvation or cold weather frequently have a more significant negative impact on meat quality than psychosocial factors like restlessness and fighting.
Long-term pre slaughter stress, which starts 12 to 48 hours before the slaughter and includes fighting, freezing weather, starvation, and traveling, reduces muscle glycogen, leading to meat with a higher pH, a darker shade, and a drier texture.
Lactic acid is released by glycogen degradation under short-term acute stress, such as restlessness or fighting just before slaughter. Meat produced in this way will have a lower pH, lighter shade, less tendency to absorb water, and might even be harder.
Furthermore, one of the leading causes of dark cuts in cattle and mortality in animals sensitive to stress is fighting triggered by mixing unfamiliar animals and different species around each other.
The quality of the meat will increase with the speed at which the deer is hunted. If the animal is promptly slaughtered, and the meat is cleansed of blood and internal organ waste, you can expect the ideal richer and earthy taste.
Regardless of the season or time, it is crucial to properly cut and store it in the fridge as soon as possible. It’s because the more time it takes to cool the meat, the higher the chances of bacteria growth, leading to meat spoiling and decomposition.
A study, “Growth of Spoilage Bacteria During Storage and Transport of Meat,” investigates the growth of pathogenic bacteria and other organisms on freshly slaughtered animals.
As stated by the study, the spoilage organisms in meat depended on various factors, such as their initial contamination levels, storage temperature, and the temperature during transportation. The later the storage, the higher the bacteria growth.
Also, note that warm temperatures tend to spoil deer meat more than colder areas. You can leave a deer hanging skin-on overnight in lower temperatures. But the same will lead to contaminated, spoiled meat in summer.
So, ensure the deer meat you buy is appropriately skinned, quartered, and on ice within an hour in summer and a few hours in winter.
Whether you hunt yourself or buy deer meat from the store, the way its meat is cut and trimmed significantly impacts its taste later.
Deer fat does not taste well, in contrast to beef fat. The ligament, silver skin, and other connective tissues that keep the major muscle groups together are not tasty. So, no matter what the meat will be used to make, it should be cut clean of any non-rich, red meat, that is, fat.
Deer meat, also known as venison, is famous for its earthy and rich flavors. Some people call it overwhelming, for the firm and rich flavors are sometimes too heavy to absorb.
However, besides the cooking skills, the key to having ideal, enriched venison meat lies in how the animal is hunted/slaughtered, taken care of afterward, and cut and trimmed.