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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Free-range venison a healthy and versatile alternative to beef, pork and chicken

This time of year, towards the end of modern gun season, thousands of deer hunters have packages of processed venison in their freezers.

Venison as tablefare is unmatched. It’s the original local, free-range red meat, with fewer calories than beef or pork, and less cholesterol than chicken.

Ground venison can be included in many recipes (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory reports that a serving of three ounces of venison has 133 calories and only about seven grams of fat. This includes more than four grams of monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke if eaten in moderation, according to the American Heart Association.

Venison is a good source of protein, too, as well as vitamins B12, B6, B3, and B2, and trace minerals — phosphorous, selenium, zinc, and iron.

Deer in the wild are also free of the growth hormones and antibiotics that most commercial beef cattle typically receive when they are fed corn and other grains while being “finished” in feed lots.

Venison Chili

During the cold weather months, chili is a favorite with many of us in the region.

Cooking chili with ground venison is a flavorful, delightful alternative to beef.

Every fan of chili has a favorite recipe. Here’s a basic recipe for a big pot of chili, using local ingredients. Halve the ingredients for a smaller pot of chili.

The addition of thin spaghetti is a regional preference. You can put the cooked spaghetti in the chili, or put the chili on a mound of cooked spaghetti.

Venison Chili (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)


• 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
• 2 16-ounce cans Bush Chili Beans (Red beans in medium sauce. Strain off the sauce if you want to reduce the sodium.)
• 32 ounces of diced tomatoes (Homemade canned tomatoes will have lower, or no added sodium. Some cooks add an 8-ounce can of tomato paste to thicken.)
• 2 pounds of ground venison
• 2 medium onions chopped
• 2 1-ounce packages of Bloemer’s Chile Powder (made in Louisville, Kentucky.)
• 1 Tablespoon Chipotle Chile Pepper (optional)
• 1/2 of 16-ounce package of thin spaghetti
• 12 ounces of beef broth or beer
• 1 medium bell pepper chopped (optional)

Saute onions in olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Add ground venison and brown. Add chile powder, beans, tomatoes and broth (or beer). Some cooks add a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon or a Tablespoon of brown sugar to sweeten up their chili.

Simmer on low heat for about two hours.

In a 3-quart pan, boil 8 ounces of thin spaghetti in water, with a teaspoon of olive oil added. When the spaghetti is done, drain and add to chili or set aside.

It’s a regional preference to serve the chili topped with shredded cheddar cheese, with saltine crackers on the side. A dash or two of Louisiana pepper sauce is a spicy final touch.

Grilling and Smoking Venison

In the spring and summer there’s nothing more relaxing than grilling or smoking cuts of venison in the backyard while listening to Reds baseball on the radio.

Warm weather was made for cooking outside over an open fire.

Venison burgers are an excellent alternative to beef (Photo by Art Lander, Jr.)

For grilling and smoking, a good choice is a barrel-type grill with a lid, to hold in the smoke and keep the fire from flaming. One of the best brands of wood/charcoal grills on the market is the Char-Griller, of Sea Island, Georgia.

Because it has moveable grates, there are cooking options: 1) positioning the fire in the center of the barrel, flanked by the cooking grates for indirect heat, 2) positioning the fire on the right side of the grill (or in the optional fire box), farthest from the dampered chimney, for indirect heat and maximum smoke, and 3) positioning the grates over the fire for grilling.

When grilling or smoking venison, add a mixture of fresh, local hardwoods. Experiment with combinations of oak, maple, cherry and hickory to suit your taste.

Don’t over cook venison, it will dry out. Venison is best when cooked medium-rare for maximum flavor, and juiciness.

Two prime cuts of venison are boneless cutlets of backstrap and tip steaks.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

Kabobs are another excellent option. Cut venison into one-inch cubes, and thread on a metal skewer with chunks of onion, green peppers, tomatoes or other vegetables. Add your favorite BBQ sauce. Grill over direct heat.

Venison burgers are at their best when enhanced. Here’s a basic recipe. Use your imagination.

• 1 pound of ground venison
• 1 egg
• 2 Tablespoons of bread crumbs
• 2 Tablespoons of finely chopped white onion
• 3 Tablespoons of green pepper finely chopped
• 2 Tablespoons of shredded carrot
• 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 teaspoons of liquid smoke

Mix thoroughly and form into 1/4-pound burger patties.

Thawing and Marinading Venison

Cuts of venison should be thawed in the refrigerator and marinaded before cooking.

A good way to ensure that all the blood is removed from the cuts of venison, to prevent a gamey taste, is to soak the venison overnight in the covered dish filled with lightly-salted water.

The next morning rise off the cuts of venison in cold water, seal them in a zipped plastic bag filled marinade, and place the bags in the refrigerator for several house before grilling or smoking.

A tried-and-true soy sauce-based marinade is Allegro, made in Paris, Tennessee, and available at Kroger. To peruse their lineup of marinades visit their website here: www.allegromarinade.com.

Dry Rubs

Dry rubs are another way to enhance the flavor of venison.

Here’s a recipe for a basic Texas-style rub that works great on boneless venison cutlets, tip steaks, venison burgers, and roasts:

• 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
• 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
• 2 Tablespoons Paprika
• 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper

November is the time when most hunters put up their year’s supply of venison. It’s a celebration of Kentucky’s favorite native, free-range protein.

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