Cooking great venison steaks is a relatively easy to do as long as you don't break the golden rules. I listed five tips below that will help you step up your venison steak cookery game a few notches. None of these tips require any fancy kitchen gadgets or quirky gimmicks. These are straight forward tried and true methods that have been used by many chefs from all over the world. I'll eventually get around to writing a "complete guide to venison steaks". But for now, I hope that these tips will serve you well.
There are many different opinions on how to care for venison when the hide has been removed from the meat. Probably the most committed ''crime' of them all is placing the meat directly under the ice inside your cooler. This is bad practice as the drain cap is usually left closed, which leaves your prized organic meat floating in the pooled up water that's left behind from the melted ice.
The best practice is to place the venison on top of the ice, while leaving the drain cap cracked in order to let the water leak out. If you want to go above and beyond, you can lay a contractor bag on top of the ice so that the meat doesn't come in direct contact with the ice. This isn't a bad thing to do if the meat will be in the cooler for a few days. If I have the space, I like placing a couple of sheet pan wire racks on top of the ice and then place the meat on top. This keeps the meat from getting wet and allows air flow around the meat.
So why go through the trouble? Meat that is soaking in water will lose is vibrant red color and natural texture. You'll also end up with a wet steak when it's time to cook, unless you go through the extra steps to dry them out. If you've never tried to get a good sear on a wet steak, get ready to be frustrated by a lackluster pale piece of meat that's near impossible to achieve a crust.
The cut of venison that you use and the way you cut your steaks matter, a lot. For the best eating experience, I recommend eating steaks cut from the loins, tenderloins and hind legs. Many folks are surprised that you can have great steaks that are cut from the hind legs. The bottom round, top round, eye of round are all excellent.
The direction in which you cut your steaks after they are cooked plays a huge role in how tender they will be. You want to find the direction that the grain of the meat runs and slice in the opposite directions. Being that venison is very lean, I'd go as far as to not cut the steaks more than 1/2 inch thick. This will make each bite a lot easier to break down while chewing for you and your guests.
Temperature may seem like a topic that everyone already knows about when it comes to steak cookery, but keep reading. Temperature is a factor in a few different ways when it comes to having a stellar piece of meat on your plate. The temperature of your grill or pan shouldn't be too hot or too cold. Too hot of a cooking surface with thick steaks will leave you with a burnt exterior and a raw interior "black and blue". This isn't a problem with steaks 1 inch or less in thickness. With skinny steaks, high heat is actually a good thing.
A good rule of thumb is to use high heat on steaks that are 1 inch or less and around medium-high to medium for thicker steaks. It isn't a bad idea to have a "cooler zone" on your grill when cooking steaks. This means having a section of your grill set at about medium heat. This will give you the ability to switch heat zones if you need more or less color on your steaks. If you're cooking on your stove-top, you have the option of quickly moving your pan to a new burner or lowering the burners heat output.
This one is short, sweet and to the point. If you are searing your steaks and adding any seasonings other than salt or pepper before hand, you are asking for a scorched, off tasting piece of meat. If your heat is too high, your black pepper can burn as well. Most pre-made seasonings have sugar or dried herbs in them which is a recipe for disaster when trying to achieve a crispy golden sear on your steaks. I highly recommend adding your seasoning blends after you are finished cooking. Or even better, top your steaks off with a compound butter that's blended with fresh herbs for a high-end steakhouse experience.
Resting your meat at room temperature before and after cooking are just as important as the cooking process itself. Allowing the steaks to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour will help ensure that your meat cooks evenly. The room temperature steaks will also help with achieving a crust, being that you aren't throwing a chilly 40 degree steak onto your grill or pan rapidly cooling the cooking surface down.
Allowing your steaks to rest at room temperature after cooking will make sure that you end up with juicy steaks that have reached their proper internal temperature. A steaks internal temperature continues to rise after it has been pulled from the cooking surface, which is known as carryover cooking. This doesn't mean that you should cut into the steak right away to prevent this from happening. Slicing into your hard earned venison steaks too early will cause the natural juices to rapidly run out, leaving you with a dry shameful piece of meat. So what should you do? Pull the steaks from the cooking surface a few degrees below your desired internal temperature, then let them rest uncovered and "carryover cook" to perfection.