Marinades can inspire some very passionate debates in deer camp. Some folks like to drown backstraps in a soup of syrupy ingredients for a novel flavor or to mask a “gamey” taste, while others consider the idea nearly sacrilegious.
I fall somewhere in between these two parties. I don’t like turning a piece of wild game into something that it’s not, but I also know that marinades are beneficial in certain situations. My goal with this garlic-herb marinade is to impart flavor without compromising the inherent qualities that make venison so special.
For those who don’t believe in marinating venison, consider the fact that wild game has significantly less fat in comparison to domestic animals. Fat contributes to moisture in the meat and acts as a barrier to heat transfer, a safeguard for overcooking. An oil-based marinade coats the meat so that you still end up with a juicy steak after grilling over high heat.
In addition to adding fat, it’s essential to add an acidic ingredient to the marinade; this counterbalances the oil and aids in tenderization.
At first blush, you might not think that lemon and venison would pair well—but they do. This recipe adds a light yet impactful flavor to backstrap, making it perfect for the summertime cooking.
Time to make
15 minutes, plus 1-8 hours of marinating time
1 lb. venison backstrap or sirloin, cut into steaks
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1-3 sprigs of rosemary, thyme and/or parsley
1/4 cup olive oil
Also works with
Any venison, duck
Mortar and pestle, grill
- Place garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle with the kosher salt and pepper. Mash into a pulp to release the oils. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use the back of a thick wooden spoon, the side of a chef knife, or a meat mallet.
- Add the lemon juice and herbs then whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. This makes enough marinade to cover about 1 pound of steaks.
- Place the venison in a resealable bag or container and pour in the marinade. Mix to coat evenly and let it rest in the refrigerator. Marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 8. Don’t be tempted to over-do this, acids can turn the outside layer of meat mushy and ruin the texture.
- Take the meat out of the fridge, wipe off any excess marinade and bring to room temperature before cooking. Preheat a grill, light charcoal or burn a hot fire down to coals.
- Lay the steaks down on the grates and grill each side for about 3-4 minutes, giving a quarter turn halfway through on each side for grill marks, if desired. For very rare, bring the meat to 125 degrees internal. For medium-rare, go to 128-130 degrees. For medium, go to 135 degrees. Allow the meat to rest before serving.