Hunting > Whitetails

How to Age and Braise Venison

The key to delicious venison is aging it properly. Just like a good twelve ounce T-bone at the best steak house in town, venison needs a lot of hang time.

Georgia

Georgia is a chef, author, and hunter who has worked at some of the country’s best restaurants. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book "Food Heroes," and the upcoming book "Girl Hunter." She blogs about her travels at GeorgiaPellegrini.com.

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I spend much of my time traveling over field and stream in search of the main course. Game meat is the most natural thing that humans can eat. It is harder to cook than farm-raised meat because it is leaner and more muscular, but with a bit of effort the end result is food that tastes so much better than anything you can get at your local supermarket.

Most people who hunt for their food have a favorite dish or a favorite game meat. Some tell me they think that squirrel is the best meat in the woods, others say there is nothing like a whole roasted hog. And then there is venison, which seems to be a universal crowd-pleaser.

The key to delicious venison is aging it properly. Just like a good 12-ounce T-bone at the best steak house in town, venison needs a lot of hang time. The “gameyness” and “chewyness” disappear when you age. Although venison has less fat than beef, it has the same basic enzymes and lactic acid. So the aging process is very much the same as it is with beef.

How to Age Venison
Properly aging a deer begins as soon as you have made a clean shot. The entrails have to be removed impeccably and the chest cavity cleaned and kept dry. Hang the deer from the rear legs, high enough to avoid touching the ground, and remove the hide.

During this time, the muscles will go into rigor mortis, a stiffening which lasts about 24 hours. Butchering or cooking during this time is a very bad idea because the muscles will contract and become irreversibly tough. The same is also true for fish. In fact, a piece of fish can be too fresh. If it hits the pan before it goes into rigor mortis, the cell walls tear, forming the white albumin that you sometimes see emerging from a piece of salmon. Most importantly, the flavor and texture suffer.

Once rigor mortis is complete, hang the deer at a temperature above freezing and below about 40 degrees. This holds bacteria and rot at bay, allowing natural enzymes to do their work.

The enzymes break down collagen—the stuff that the ladies of Orange County use to puff up their lips. It is also what causes meat to be tough. Young animals have very little of it between their muscle cells, but as an animal gets older, more develops. Natural enzymes break down this collagen as the meat ages, so the longer it hangs, the more tender it becomes. That is why an aged steak is so expensive—it takes extra time and energy, which cost money. Your supermarket beef may only age a few days, which means it usually falls short of its full flavor potential.

At 40 degrees F, seven days of aging is usually sufficient, but for larger deer longer is better. I usually age deer up to seventeen days. If you don’t have a cool basement or walk-in cooler to age your meat, you can home-age your venison in the refrigerator. Skin the quarters and bone-out the other large sections of meat once the deer has come through rigor mortis. These will fit in the average refrigerator. Once the aging is complete you can then break the meat down further, into rounds, tenderloins, loins, ribs, stew meat, shoulder, ground meat, sausage, etc.

How to Braise
Braising is a technique that is used with what professional cooks call “third category” cuts of meat. These are the cuts that are high in muscle tissue and benefit from slow cooking at a low temperature in a bit of liquid and aromatics. Over time, the cooking breaks down the muscle tissue further than the aging did, and the meat becomes buttery and tender. All of this cooking is usually preceded by a marinade, yet another tenderizing technique. It seems like a lot of tenderizing but the results are worth it. Here is my favorite recipe for braised venison. Pair it with a bottle of good Cabernet and enjoy!  

“Braised Venison Shoulder”

(Serves 4)

For the Marinade:
1 Bottle Dry Red Wine
2/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar

1 Carrot

1 Onions
1 Stalk Celery

1 Clove Garlic

1 Whole Clove
2 Bay Leaves

Sprig of Thyme

Parsley Stems

8 Peppercorns
Oil

For Braising
4 Small or 2 Large Venison Shoulders
Olive oil

3 cups Veal or Beef Stock

1 cup Onions, diced

1 cup Carrots, diced

4 Garlic Cloves

1 cup Ripe Tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup Celery, diced

1 1/2 cup Red Wine
2 Sprigs Thyme

2 Bay Leaves

2 Cloves

Salt & Pepper

For the Marinade
1. Heat oil in a heavy pan and sweat the vegetables. Add wine, vinegar and 
    remaining aromatic ingredients and simmer slowly for 30 minutes.
2. Cool thoroughly and pour over venison. Let soak for several hours.

For the Venison Braise

1. Remove shoulders from  marinade and pat dry.
2. Heat roasting pan and add olive oil. Add venison shoulders and sauté on all sides until
    nicely browned. Remove and set aside.
3. Add onions, carrots, garlic cloves and celery to pan and cook until well browned. Drain
    any grease and add the herbs.
4. Add wine and deglaze the little caramelized brown bits at the bottom of your pan, scraping
    them with a wooden spoon. Add stock and tomatoes and a little salt and pepper. Return
    venison shoulders to the liquid.
5. Tightly cover roasting pan with tin foil and place in a 300–325 degree oven to braise for
    approximately 2 ½ hours.
6. When shoulders are tender, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Remove the lid and let
    shoulders rest for 10 minutes.
7. Carefully degrease cooking liquid by skimming the fat off the top with a ladle.
8. Remove shoulders from the pot and set aside in a warm place, covered. Strain the braising liquid   
    through a fine mesh sieve. You can reduce some of this liquid in a separate sauce pan until it is
    thick, and pour it over your venison to serve.

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35 Responses to How to Age and Braise Venison

Denise Wilson wrote:
February 07, 2013

Did you use a bone in shoulder roast? And how many pounds would you say a small shoulder roast is?

James Verscheure wrote:
October 06, 2012

I use to Live in Michigan and Now have moved to Florida. There is No way possible to Hang a deer in this Heat! However I was shown How to Put the meat on Ice in My Big 7 day Igloo Cooler. I leave it on Ice in the House for Up to 2 weeks! Draining out Only the Water and Adding New Ice Daily! This I found Bleeds out the meat and Gets Rid of that Wild Game taste and leaves the Meat Nice and Tender!

T. Hutcheson wrote:
September 04, 2012

A friend of mine has access to a walk in cooler, he ages venison 42 days .Is that to long to age venison ? Is it safe ? When does rot set in ? Thank you , T.H.

Michael wrote:
June 04, 2011

Do you cut away all the blackened dried up edges of meat or is that still considered edible. I've always liked cleaning and packing venison asap and have never had tenderness issues. I would still like to try hanging a few this year. thanks

Answer to Gary wrote:
May 16, 2011

Regarding Gary F.'s question below... I don't know the specific answer, but I know there are two types of bacteria, aerobic and anaerobic. The beneificial bacteria is... I believe anaerobic, meaning it does not require oxygen to exist. (Consider professional aging is done in a cryovac.) Hence the water in theory would not stop the "aging" process, though you might get some "absorbtion" of the water into the cell membranes of the meat, which might negatively impact its texture and flavor. I'm just a visitor to this site, perhaps the site owner "G" could share her knowledge here.

stawell wrote:
April 11, 2011

I have always cut my deer up and vacuum sealed the same day. It has been remarkably tender! If it were convenient, I agree aging is beneficial, but far from a requirement to have exceptional tenderness. :)

clark wrote:
March 29, 2011

Thanks for sharing your great information on proper aging of venison, i do a 18 day dry aging process at a controlled temp. of 35 degrees. The end result makes you think you are at Smith Wollensky steak house! Next secret involves butter,iron skillet and a hot fire !

Gary Facendini wrote:
March 27, 2011

Question please,we boneout 6-8 deer at a time the day after haevest.the temp can be 30-80.I use 5gal.plastic buckets with ice & water.I keep the water about 40 for about 2wks.Does the water help or hurt ageing? water conducts 4x faster than air.TK'S GARY.

Heather wrote:
March 24, 2011

Any chance I can do this with an Antelope roast??

Neil J wrote:
March 23, 2011

How do you keep the meat from drying too much when you remove the hide??

Carmenell Jobe wrote:
March 22, 2011

I have always aged my Venision on ice cant wait to try your method

Pete wrote:
March 22, 2011

nice recipe. I age my venison for up to 20 days but keep the skin attached. clean working is mandatory.

Bradley S. Jobe wrote:
March 21, 2011

Love your aging prosses. Thou we always age are venison on ice in a large spacious ice chest.,draining the water off daily and adding ice as neededfor ten to fourteen days.we always cut it up in to quarters first.I believe next year i will hang the meat for a day they cut up into quartesand place on ice .my question is will the way that i keep it on ice tenderize the meat as well as your way

francis wrote:
March 19, 2011

when the temp is right here in pennsylvania i like to hang a deer for 10 days. if the temp isnt right, i will cut it up then day after harvesting it. and cut it into steaks, roasts etc. and age it in the fridge for the remainder of the week or so. the meat is so much tender and tasty that way.

Lon wrote:
March 05, 2011

I'm moving back to our family farm here in Michigan and venison is one of our favored meat dishes. Thank you so much for the receipes, I love venison and your aging ideas make a lot of sense to me. I'm trying it this year. Keep the good ideas and recipes coming. I also read in the comments about covering the deer with plastic bags to prevent drying of the meat during aging, this might be a good thing to do also.

Bob wrote:
February 20, 2011

Great information, thanks.

Ashley wrote:
February 15, 2011

This was really interesting! I'm beginning to think there is much more you can do with it than I ever thought possible. I also think there is a certain pride and peace of mind that comes with knowing where your food is coming from - from kill, or harvest, to table! Thanks for sharing! www.southtexassaddlery.com

Jimmy wrote:
February 12, 2011

You’ve made clear to me, at last, the logic of what I’ve observed among veteran deer hunting friends of mine in New Mexico and Kansas; why they do what they do. Further, it seems to me a careful reading of your piece serves to remind the reader of the ancient ethics associated with the the hunt: reverence for the chosen animal, the stalk, the kill. And finally, the best possible preparation of that which is to be consumed. It amounts to honoring the beast, something I find essential. Many thanks, Ms. Pellegrini! Enlightening, informative, and read with much appreciation. More! More! More!

Nora wrote:
February 12, 2011

This is so interesting! It is great knowing the instructions AND the reasoning behind them, as opposed to just the instructions. Sounds delicious!

Rachel wrote:
February 12, 2011

I love how you got into the science of the "why". I hate when people tell you that things just happen that way without explaining the "how" and the "why". How can you apply methods or techniques to different dishes if you don't understand the reason for doing them? This looks delicious, I can't wait to try it out!

Lanny wrote:
February 12, 2011

I age my meat and like Bob said it dries out when left hanging for a week. What I have found out that works for me is after I skin the deer I take 2 or 3 large plastic garbage bags cut the seal end and slide them up over the deer. I leave the top open so the steam and heat can escape for a couple of days then I seal the top. The bottom bag I do not pull up tight agains the neck but leave it seal and about a foot below. This has worked very well for me, allowing it to age and reduce the dried meat that would otherwise happen leaving it in the open

Kathy wrote:
February 11, 2011

this looks amazing! it's so great to see such good recipes here finally!

SmokingGun wrote:
February 11, 2011

I pulled some venison out of the deep freeze yesterday and dutifully followed your well-articulated instructions. The result: best venison dinner I have ever eaten. So good that my wife waived my Valentine obligations.

Christina @ Dessert For Two wrote:
February 11, 2011

Great article! So lovely to see Ms. Pelligrini here--a great hunter AND recipe developer!

Big Steve wrote:
February 11, 2011

Great article. Simple enough for anyone to follow. Thanks for the great information. Looking forward to reading more from you and your book.

Mackenzie wrote:
February 11, 2011

Great article. Sounds delicious! I will definitely try this next time.

Elaine Davey wrote:
February 11, 2011

I have never taken these steps in preparing my deer meat. Wow what a treat. Your food looks amazing. I have followed your web and blog and am constanly intrigued by all the ideas you offer. You are a down on the ground Martha Stewart!Thanks I will take these steps and get back to you.

Tanya wrote:
February 10, 2011

Like it? Love it! We are feasting on elk this winter, well aged and delish!

Ilke wrote:
February 10, 2011

As always, great information! It is great to follow your articles in different locations:) Looking forward to the new book :)

Julia wrote:
February 10, 2011

One day I'll learn how to hunt, and then I'll be able to age my own venison. In the meantime, this is very clear and straightforward for me to understand, and just makes me want to do it myself more. Thanks!

John wrote:
February 10, 2011

It's not just hunting. It's a culinary adventure for foodies. This is what the hunting scene needs more of!

Roger wrote:
February 10, 2011

Very interesting. I never knew this stuff. Thanks.

Kim Y wrote:
February 10, 2011

Great article and very educational. Thanks for the info.

William wrote:
February 10, 2011

Very informative article Ms. Pellegrini; I was completely unaware of the practice of aging venison. I'll be sure to do it properly next season!

Bob wrote:
February 10, 2011

I have aged meat different ways and have found that when you skin it and then age it the meat dries out and you loose a lot of meat trimming off the dried parts. Boning it out and putting it in the fridge is a better option as it doesn't dry out as much but some of the meat discolors. What would be the proper way to age in the fridge? Leave it uncovered or covered? Is it okay to put in an aluminum pan or tray for 2 weeks of aging? Should you use glass or stainless steel instead? Should you drain the juices periodically from the bottom or is it okay to lay in it's own liquid?