Not everyone appreciates the wild taste of fresh venison. While all animals have some degree of gaminess, the taste is especially prevalent in wild meat.
I wanted to learn how to get the gamey taste out of deer, so I asked Scott and Seth Perkins — aka the Bearded Butchers — for their input. The Bearded Butchers have been processing whitetail deer for decades. Here’s what they said.
What Causes Gaminess in Deer Meat?
The animal’s diet is the greatest cause of gaminess in meat. If you’ve ever tried grass-fed and grain-fed beef side by side, you’ve noticed a difference in taste. A deer’s diet has the same influence. But there’s only so much you can do about a wild animal’s diet.
The state of the deer at its death also influences the meat’s taste. Did you make a clean kill, or did you have to chase it down? Was the deer full of adrenaline and stress hormones when you dispatched it?
The deer’s other hormones at the time of the kill make a huge difference, too. A rutting buck tastes different from one killed out of rut, and a doe tastes different from both.
Landing a clean, instantaneous kill should be your top priority. Depending on the hunting season and your local feeding laws, you may be able to tweak the other factors. In the end, the factor you control most is the cleanliness of your kill.
How to Remove the Gamey Taste From Venison
According to the Bearded Butchers, getting the gamey taste out of deer happens in three stages: the pre-processing stage, the processing stage, and the cooking stage.
As we’ve mentioned, cleanliness is crucial for removing the gamey taste from venison. “Once you have a dead animal, you want to treat it like you have a hamburger in your hands,” say the Bearded Butchers. “Would you put your hamburger on your tailgate for six hours?”
Just like you wouldn’t leave food sitting out for an afternoon, don’t leave your fresh kill unattended. Lay your kill in a safe, clean place. Opinions on hide removal vary, but the Butchers say removing the hide right away is important if you plan to age the meat.
The Bearded Butchers use a walk-in cooler to store and age their whitetail meat. Aim for ideal storage conditions, even if you don’t have access to that kind of technology. “Try to get as close to conditions that are optimal [as possible],” they said. “Optimal conditions are 36–40 degrees and 80–85% humidity. You can age meat a long time at those temperatures.”
If you don’t plan to age your meat, timely handling of the carcass becomes important. “Once that shot’s been made [and the] animal’s on the ground, field dress it immediately and get some air inside of it,” says Seth. “Stuff some bagged ice up inside the cavity, put some bagged ice around the hind legs, up around the shoulder and neck area. You immediately get that meat to start to cool down.”
The brothers also explain the difference between gaminess and spoiling: “If you shoot an animal and it lays overnight… you’re able to salvage some of it and discard some, but it still has an off-putting flavor,” said the brothers. “That’s probably not gaminess; that’s just due to the fact that it didn’t cool down quick enough.”
The where and how of processing your kill are also important. “Some place that’s in the shade with some airflow… you obviously don’t want flies and things like that around,” explain the brothers. “You only want to have meat [out] for a couple of hours. If you can, get a portion of the carcass out, work on it, and leave the rest in a cooler.”
Finally, the brothers emphasize the value of dry-aging deer meat. While this isn’t a required step, it helps remove the gamey taste from venison. “It’s like aging a piece of cheese,” they say. Allowing air to circulate around the animal “breaks down those muscle fibers, creating more tender, more flavorful meat.”
The brothers offer one last recommendation on how to get the gamey taste out of deer. What do you do if gaminess is inevitable? “You can always take that animal and turn it into a smoked product... That’s where our seasonings come in,” says Seth. “You can always turn that [meat] into a deer stick, or deer summer sausage, or maybe a deer bratwurst... You can really mask [gaminess] with the right spices.”
Other ways to reduce gaminess during the cooking process include changing your cooking method, since different fuels affect the final taste of the meat. “We love meat over a wood fire,” say Seth and Scott. “There are so many different mediums today… You can dig a hole in the ground, put some wood in it if you want, but you [also] have charcoal, you have pellet, you have propane. The options are limitless.”
Finally, be careful not to overcook or undercook your meat, and keep a clean cooking area.
“I can’t really think of a more fulfilling experience,” says one brother about the hunt. “You’re sitting around your family’s table, and everybody’s eating something that you took off land that you own... It’s a very close, almost spiritual circle.”