Step up your culinary game by cooking up a batch of juicy, tender deer chops. The chops come from the saddle and the loin, making them tender and lean -- easy to cook in a matter of minutes for a quick but elegant meal. Maximize the flavor and texture of deer chops by choosing the right cooking method for the job, and by pairing it with some type of fat -- either by marinating the meat, basting it or topping it with a drizzle of butter or oil -- to keep the meat moist and flavorful.
Preparing the Chops
Follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's safe handling guidelines while handling raw game meat. The bold flavor of deer meat works equally well with simple seasonings such as salt and pepper, basic spices such as garlic and onion, and the assertive flavors of strong herbs such as rosemary or heat-packed chile peppers.
If you're sensitive to the venison's "gamey" flavor, you can take several measures to tame the wild flavor, including the following options:
- Soaking the meat overnight in the refrigerator in a solution of 1 tablespoon salt for each quart of water, or one cup vinegar for each quart of water.
- Marinating deer chops for three to five days in the refrigerator. The University of Minnesota Extension recommends using a highly acidic marinade that contains lemon juice, wine or vinegar to balance the flavor and tenderize the meat.
Deer are relatively lean, but tender -- making them well suited to a variety of cooking methods ranging grilling and pan searing to slow cooking and baking.
Grilling Deer Chops
Marinate the chops or rub them with dry seasonings garlic powder, black pepper and rosemary. Either way, season the meat and let it stand for at least 30 minutes, or as long as several days in the refrigerator. When you're ready to start cooking, fire the grill up to medium-high heat. Clean and oil the grates and place the chops on the grill. Cook them over direct heat for approximately eight to 10 minutes, turning them once. Transfer the chops to a platter and let the meat rest -- just as you would with a steak or other meat -- for five to 10 minutes.
Pan-searing the meat caramelizes the exterior of the chops, giving the meat deep, rich flavor. Make a flavorful marinade by combining red wine with olive oil, garlic, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, allspice, bay leaves and salt. Marinate the chops for four to six hours in the refrigerator. Set the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare the chops while it heats up. Pat the meat dry and sprinkle salt and pepper over the outside. Grab a large heavy-bottomed skillet and place it on a burner over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot, place the chops inside, spacing them apart to promote a good sear. Pan-sear the meat for two to three minutes per side before transferring the skillet to the oven to continue cooking them to the desired level of doneness.
Slow-Cooking Deer Chops
Is there anything that you can't cook in a slow cooker? This method works particularly well for cooking tender, flavorful chops in a zesty sauce. For example, make a barbecue-inspired dish by seasoning the chops with salt and pepper and placing them in the bottom of the cooker. Add fresh garlic and sliced onion. Use your favorite barbecue sauce or make your own by mixing ketchup with apple cider vinegar, molasses, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk the ingredients together in a small pan and cook them for approximately five minutes over medium-low heat. Pour the sauce over the chops and put the lid on the cooker. Let the chops cook for approximately six hours on low.
Baking Deer Chops
Baking deer chops is best reserved for thicker cut chops, which won't dry out as quickly as thin ones. Another way to help keep the meat moist and tender is to pair it with a little fat. For example, in The Venison Sausage Cookbook, author Harold Webster, Jr., suggests baking browned chops with browned venison sausage, some dry red wine, tomato sauce, onion, garlic and Italian seasoning. Bake the mixture, covered, for approximately 45 minutes at 375 degrees F.
Determining When the Chops Are Done
No matter which method you choose for cooking deer chops, making sure that the chops are fully cooked is essential to prevent food-borne illnesses such as Salmonella or E. coli. It's also essential to avoid overcooking the meat, unless you enjoy chewing on shoe leather. Pop an instant-read thermometer into the meatiest part of a chop and wait to see the internal temperature reading. Although the USDA recommends cooking all game meat to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees F, the University of Minnesota Extension suggests that cuts such as steaks and chops may be safe and more palatable at a lower temperature of 145 degrees F.