We grill the occasional chicken, fish and steak, but most often the meat sizzling on the Gilliland grill is venison, and usually burgers. One of the items on my personal bucket list is to learn to process our own deer, but for now we rely on a good commercial processor to handle that job. On years when we are fortunate enough to harvest two deer we get a little creative with the second deer as far as what cuts are made from it. However, on years with only one deer we have a pat system that gets us lots of ground venison. We use ground venison in burgers, meat loaf, chili, pizza and spaghetti sauce, omelets, etc.; absolutely everywhere hamburger is normally used. We have always used it in its pure lean form for everything except hamburgers for the grill. Even though the norm is to have fresh ground pork or sausage added to the venison during processing, we choose to keep ours just fresh ground venison. Ground venison is so lean that it does not hold together well for such things as burger patties, and I ’d like to share some tips we have learned for using it that way.
Even the leanest beef hamburger has enough natural fat to hold it together, create juice as it cooks and keep it somewhat juicy once it’s done. Pure, ground venison lacks that fat, so all three of those problems must be solved. A variety of purchased marinades can be used, and will make the meat moist enough to form into useable patties, plus add flavor and moisture. A teriyaki flavored marinade, for instance, will add a hint of teriyaki flavor plus moisten the meat. We use about one-quarter cup of marinade for one pound of venison and have found its best to add it eight to twelve hours before grill time and stir the mixture every few hours. The meat gets terribly wet and sticky as you add the marinade, but letting it stand and keeping it stirred not only permeates the meat with the flavor but gives it just the right consistency in the end. Our favorite marinades have become the dry marinade packets made by McCormick. They come in over a dozen flavors, but our favorites are Brown Sugar Bourbon, Montreal Steak and Mesquite. Nearly all flavors call for ¼ cup oil, some water and a little red wine or white vinegar. Here’s where you can get creative. Substitute teriyaki, soy sauce, Worcestershire or any flavorful wine or liquor for the oil, vinegar or water (don’t worry; the alcohol will easily evaporate during grilling leaving only the flavor.) Another product we like is the Fiesta Ranch dry dip mix made by Hidden Valley. Again, mix it with whatever liquid you please rather than the sour cream suggested in the directions. Another trick is to add one-half pound of ground turkey which is cheap and available at most groceries. Believe it or not the turkey adds just enough fat that the amount of marinade can be cut in half. Adding pork sausage is another good way to add the needed fat, plus you get the seasonings from the pork as well. Absolutely any liquid can be used and will add both moisture and taste, like spaghetti sauce, taco sauce or even salsa. We’ve also found it beneficial to marinade the first side of the burger as it grills.
Probably the biggest mistake made when cooking wild game, and especially venison, is cooking it too long, which renders it less tender and less flavorful. Grill venison burgers until they are JUST golden on each side, only turn them once and DO NOT press them down with the spatula after they’ve been turned. Don’t get me wrong, no matter how you treat it, a ground venison burger will never taste quite like a juicy hamburger, but use some of the above tips and it will come close, plus the health benefits will far outweigh any difference. The key is to experiment with different amounts of different flavors until you find what you like best. So this year after harvesting that Kansas deer, keep at least part of the ground meat in its pure, lean form and give the above suggestions a whirl as you continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors. P.S. Send me your favorite venison recipes and I’ll print them in future columns
Steve can be contacted by email at email@example.com