The biggest advantage of processing your own critters is being able to choose what to do with each part of the animal. A common misconception is that there are only backstraps, tenderloins, and burger meat on a deer. Many hunters are missing out on an array of cuts that deserve more attention.
I asked the MeatEater crew what their favorite, most underrated cuts are. Here’s what they had to say.
Nicknamed the hidden tenderloin, the eye-of-round is tucked inside the hindquarter. You’ll find this long, cylindrical-shaped cut sandwiched between the top and bottom round, or alongside the femur. It’s easy to distinguish and separates by pulling apart the fascia where it connects to other muscle groups.
The eye-of-round is popular among the MeatEater team. According to Ben O’Brien, after dry aging it’s better than a tenderloin. Save this cut and treat it like you would a steak. You can cook these on the grill, or butterfly open and stuff it with herbs.
As a native Texan, I have a deep-rooted appreciation for brisket. However, deer brisket is nothing like beef brisket, and that’s OK. Every year I look forward to cooking this thin flap of meat that covers the breast and ribcage of a deer.
The brisket has a long grain line that is very similar to the flank steak on a cow. This piece of meat can make some of the best fajitas you’ve ever had. Trimming the silver skin is tedious but necessary work. Once cleaned, you can quickly sear it over high heat. If you’re working with a large brisket off an elk, try slowly braising it in the oven for a hearty winter meal.
At the top of the hindquarter, there’s a small piece of meat connected to the sirloin tip. It’s referred to as the tri-tip (triangular-tip) in beef due to its shape. This same cut exists on venison, although in much smaller proportions.
“A lot of people miss this because it is not easily identified as a separate muscle. You’ve really got to look for the seam where it separates,” Brody Henderson said. He believes this cut is as good or better than a backstrap, which is a pretty bold statement.
This particular cut might be small on a deer, but it’s a sizeable chunk of meat on elk, upwards of 1 ½ pounds. When it comes to cooking, it’s best to flash sear the small tri-tips from deer, and slow-roast the larger ones off elk and moose.
The neck is tough, making it ideal for braising and slow cooking. Unless you live in an area where CWD is prevalent, try cooking it whole with the meat still attached to the bone. The vertebrae have so many nooks and crannies that it will be nearly impossible to trim away without wasting a bunch of meat.
You can cut the neck in small portions that will fit inside a crockpot or roasting pan for a hearty ragu. Another trick is to saw the neck crosswise into 4-inch cuts the same way you would a shank. The meat cooks quicker and the connective tissue dissolves, leaving clusters of fork-tender venison.
The shank is the calf muscle on a deer, a tough cut that’s wrapped in connective tissue. Still, you can turn this Flinstone-looking piece of meat into a variety of delicious, slow-cooked dishes.
Many folks ask me if they should trim the silver skin and connective tissue on the shank before cooking. I don’t believe this is necessary. Spare yourself extra work by leaving the shanks alone, because when cooked for long periods, the collagen inside that connective tissue will dissolve into gelatin. Gelatin is the high-quality protein that makes bone broth nutrient-rich and lends a silky texture to the braising liquid.
You can cook the shanks whole, but it takes a long time for them to tenderize. For faster cooking, saw them into 2- to 4-inch cuts for a traditional osso buco, or try a new variation with this Indian-inspired dish.
If you’re tired of eating ground meat all year, this will open up a world of possibilities in the kitchen! Don’t allow a lack of knowledge to keep you from enjoying a variety of meals.