We’ve been feeding our family on venison for quite a few years now, but we still buy ground beef to supplement when we need to. After many years of eating venison steak, ground venison, fajita meat, venison jerky, venison roasts, and hunter sticks, we’ve been able to form some well-rounded opinions on the taste of venison vs. beef.
Although you might hear different opinions from different members of our family, our overall conclusion is that if we had to choose between a cut of venison and a cut of beef, in all honesty, we’d probably choose the beef – all things being equal. But the answer isn’t quite that simple. There are a whole bunch of factors to take into account, like the cost-effectiveness of hunting, the health benefits of eating deer meat, and the importance of being comfortable harvesting our own wild game meats.
As a family of 5, buying a good beef steak (or 5!) at the grocery store regularly isn’t usually in the budget. The opportunity to harvest our own wild venison has made steak nights a lot more common in our house! We also love using the fajita meat in recipes we don’t regularly make without venison, like broccoli “beef”.
Venison can also be somewhat of an acquired taste. If you’re expecting it to taste just like beef, you might be disappointed. (Although there are lots of people who truly prefer the taste of venison!). But over the years of harvesting our own deer meat, we’ve also been able to find a lot of recipes that complement the taste of venison really well. If you know how to cook venison and what recipes to use, you just might be very pleasantly surprised!
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Venison Vs. Beef – How Does the Taste Compare?
Before we jump into the benefits of eating venison and our favorite recipes, let’s start with the taste. How does venison compare to the taste of beef?
There are quite a few factors that play into how a cut of venison tastes, so it’s tough to give this question a one-size-fits-all answer. Overall, the most consistent overarching difference between these two types of meats is that venison is leaner than beef. While cooking beef usually results in beef fat, cooking venison normally does not leave excess fat or grease in your frying pan. This can sometimes result in a “dryer” taste depending on how the cut of meat is prepared.
A lot of people say that venison has a gamey flavor. Terms like “earthy” and “rich” or even “tough” (if overcooked) are also used commonly to describe the meat of deer.
However, the flavor of venison really depends on a few major factors: what the animal ate, its age, how and what time of year it was killed, and how it was processed.
Diet of the deer
The deer’s diet is a major factor that impacts the distinct flavor of your deer harvest. Deer who live near corn fields and fill up on crops or sweet grass tend to have a more mild or sweet flavor. On the other hand, if the deer is eating sagebrush and nuts, you’ll get more of that gamey flavor profile.
Age of the deer
The age of the deer can also have a significant impact on the taste.
Not surprisingly, young deer have a milder flavor and produce more tender meat. On the contrary, mature deer that are a few years old can have a more gamey flavor to them since the older muscle is tougher.
When put to a taste test, an old buck will usually not give you great flavor compared to a younger deer with a much more tender texture. Of course, most people who are after bucks are harvesting them not just for the meat, but also for the antlers.
How and when the deer was harvested
The time and way that you harvest your deer will also affect the taste of your meat. Bucks that are harvested during the rut (or mating season) are full of hormones that can give the meat a more gamey taste.
In addition, the precision of the shot matters. When a domestic animal is killed in a slaughterhouse, it’s kept calm as much as possible to prevent adrenaline from pumping through it and skewing the taste of the meat. A bad shot that causes a deer to suffer for a longer period of time can lead to increased stress and adrenaline compared to a more ethical shot that kills it quickly. This is another factor that can lead to a gamey taste.
Lastly, what you do with your deer after you shoot and gut it can have an impact on the flavor of the meat. Often, a whitetail hunter will let the meat hang in a climate-controlled, cool room or garage (processors use a walk-in refrigerator) for 5 days or more before harvesting the meat. This process allows the acids and enzymes to break down and gives the meat a more tender texture and less gamey taste. Some hunters prefer more aged meat and hang their carcass for much longer using the dry aging process.
Tip: If you process your deer yourself, it’s important to understand that the deer fat and silver skin are where you’ll find the more intense, gamey flavor. Make sure you trim off all of these portions.
Benefits of Eating Venison
There are numerous reasons why we choose to eat venison, and they don’t all have to do with the health benefits – though that is a great place to start!
Venison is a high-protein food that’s also has a lower saturated fat content compared to other red meat options. It’s a great source of zinc, haem iron, B vitamins, and essential amino acids.
Many people with heart concerns choose venison because it’s such a lean meat with little saturated fat and cholesterol. Venison can prevent anemia, strengthen the immune system, aid in muscle growth, and more.
Next, hunting is a sustainable food source. In many areas of the U.S. (including our state, Michigan), deer are overpopulated. This can lead to problems like car accidents and car damage, crop damage, and diseases like Lyme and chronic wasting disease.
Hunting helps to manage some of these problems, and also helps to keep the deer population healthy.
In addition, hunting is sustainable compared to factory farming. And although the diet of the deer can vary quite a bit depending on what they’re eating, in many cases, the meat is healthier than the typical beef you’d buy in the store. At the least, you know that no antibiotics or hormones have been pumped into your deer.
For our family, the relative quality of our venison is much higher compared to the cost of buying comparably-priced beef at the grocery store.
Connection to your food
From planning your hunt to field dressing your deer to cooking up a couple of steaks, deer hunters have the unique opportunity to have a very close connection to the food they’re bringing to the family table.
For our family, it’s really important to us that our kids know where our food comes from. At young ages, they’ve developed a respect for the animals they see outside the window, and they know that those animals provide us the meat we use for sustenance.
Whether you hunt wild animals or raise them on your homestead, harvesting your own meat is one of the best ways to develop respect for God’s creation and understand the circle of life.
Although we certainly appreciate the convenience of modern grocery stores, we also want to have the skills and knowledge to harvest our own food, whether we ever really need to or not.
Cost-effectiveness and opportunity to eat different cuts
Lastly, we’ve found that hunting for meat is actually quite cost effective. In fact, by our 10th year of hunting, the average cost per pound of wild deer meat that we’ve harvested will be down to about $1.90 per pound. (Check out our charts in this blog post to see how we got this number.)
And that’s $1.90 per pound on average for every cut – not just for ground venison.
Although the taste of the meat is a little different when you compare game animals with beef from the grocery store, we truly enjoy the taste of venison, and we’re glad for the variety it provides in our diet, since different types of meats offer different vitamins and minerals.
For families who don’t regularly buy steaks or roasts, harvesting and cooking venison provides the opportunity for home cooks to try different, prime cuts and a variety of recipes.
Best Venison Recipes
Here are some of our favorite ways to eat venison!
Venison Chili, from The Magical Slow Cooker
Broccoli Beef, from Natasha’s Kitchen (just replace with venison!)
Venison Fajitas, from Miss Allie’s Kitchen
Venison Backstrap (of course!)
Venison stew, venison roast, and venison meatballs are other popular recipes. You can also use your ground venison in anything that uses ground beef, like meatloaf or casseroles. Just keep in mind that it will usually be a bit more dry.
We also eat a lot of hunter sticks, and enjoy jerky from time to time, too! They’re a great way to get a healthy, high-protein snack on the go.
Venison Vs. Beef FAQs
How many pounds of meat will I get per deer?
The average deer will yield around 50 pounds of venison. In general, bucks are bigger than does and will yield more meat. Of course, the size and age of the deer plays a factor in how much usable meet you will get.
Our family of five goes through about two deer per year, eating venison around 2-3 times per week.
Should I process my deer myself?
There are certainly pros and cons to processing your own deer versus taking it to a processor.
Pros of processing your own deer:
- Learning the process. It’s incredibly fulfilling to go through the entire process of hunting your deer to putting it on the table. Every hunter should have the ability and knowledge to process their own deer. This gives you a closer connection to your food and also gives you the ability to do it should you ever NEED to.
- Lower cost. Taking a deer to the processor – in our area of Michigan – costs at least $150 depending on the cuts you choose. So, you can save a chunk of cash by processing your deer yourself. However, you’ll need to invest in certain processing equipment, like a grinder, meat saws, freezer paper and/or a vacuum sealer and bags, and a sharp knives (processing with dull knives is not only difficult, but can be dangerous, too!).
- Choosing your cuts. When you process at home, you can choose your own cuts easily. You’ll also end up with pounds of soup bones that you can use later and bushel baskets of meat scraps that you can give to your dogs, use as predator bait, or use for recipes like hot dogs or sausage.
Benefits of taking your deer to the processor:
- Less equipment. You don’t have to worry about having the right processing equipment, like a grinder or freezer bags, if you take your meat to the processor. Most processors will let you choose your cuts. For example: all ground, roasts, steaks, sausage, etc. You’ll get your meat back in neat packages that are ready for the freezer.
- Less mess and less time. Of course, throwing your deer in the back of a pickup truck and heading to the processor means that your kitchen stays clean. If your processor is close by, you can also save a lot of time this way (unless you’re very proficient at processing yourself!).
- More meat. Since this is their profession, processors are incredibly proficient at harvesting all the meat off the deer. Getting every bit off the bones and separating the meat from the silver skin can be tricky. We usually find that we get more meat back from the processor than when we do it ourselves
Why does venison taste different than beef?
Besides being different animals and eating a different diet, venison and beef also go through majorly different experiences before the meat is actually harvested! Cows and other domestic, large animals are kept calm until the kill, then harvested quickly in a controlled, cool environment using strict sanitary precautions.
Deer, on the other hand, are killed in a field, often with a surge of adrenaline if it wasn’t a fast, clean kill. After that, they’re gutted (usually on the ground), dragged across a field or through the woods, then loaded into the back of a pickup truck and driven to a processor or to a makeshift butchering environment in a hunter’s garage or kitchen.
Of course, this isn’t the main reason why the meat tastes different, but it is worth keeping in mind!
Why We Love Eating Venison
Regardless of your absolute preference, there are tons of benefits to eating venison. Our family especially enjoys:
- The fulfillment of harvesting our own meat from our own woods
- Specific recipes that are just better with venison
- The health benefits of venison, and the variety of different meats in our diet
- The cost-effectiveness of hunting and the opportunity to eat different cuts of meat (especially steaks and sausage sticks) that we don’t normally buy otherwise