The tenderest cut on any meat animal is the tenderloin, and it's one of the easiest to prepare and cook. It has no bones or gristle and only little bit of connective tissue, and it's low in fat, especially on already-lean animals such as deer. That combination of leanness and tenderness makes it a premium cut, whether you get your venison farmed from the butcher or harvest your own from the wild. You can cook deer tenderloin in the oven at high or low temperature, whichever you like better.
Get the Tenderloin Ready
To cook deer tenderloin in the oven, trim any visible fat or silverskin — a thin sheath of leathery connective tissue — from the surface of your tenderloin with the tip of a sharp knife. If the tenderloin still has a second strip of muscle running all the way down one side, the rope-like "chain" muscle, remove that and set it aside to make stew or ground venison. Season the surface of the tenderloin with salt and pepper, or whatever other seasoning your favorite deer tenderloin recipes might call for.
Slow-roasting Deer Tenderloin In the Oven
Slow roasting your venison tenderloin is a good idea if you don't cook them very often, because the slower cooking means you won't have to watch it like a hawk. The process is simple:
- Heat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. While it's heating, place a large, heavy skillet on your stovetop and bring it to a medium-high temperature. Pour in a few drops of grapeseed, canola or other high-temperature cooking oil, and sear the tenderloin for 1 or 2 minutes per side so it's well browned.
- Transfer the skillet to your preheated oven and finish cooking it there. Depending on the size of your tenderloin, it should take 6 to 9 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 115 to 120 F, for a rare to medium-rare end result. Cook longer if you prefer your venison well done. Consult Warnings for a full discussion of the risks of cooking wild-caught venison rare.
- Remove your tenderloin from the oven, transfer it to a cutting board and cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting it into slices or medallions and serving it.
Quick-roasting Venison In a Hot Oven
Quick-roasting your deer tenderloin puts dinner on the table sooner, but it's also easier to overcook the meat if you're not careful. Keep a close eye on your timer, and have all your side dishes made up and ready to go before your venison goes into the oven. If you've marinated the venison, pat it dry before cooking with clean paper towels.
- Preheat your oven to 425 F. While it's coming to temperature, heat a heavy skillet at high heat on your stovetop. Add a few drops of high-temperature cooking oil, such as grapeseed, canola or avocado oil, and sear the tenderloin for no more than 30 seconds on each side.
- Transfer the skillet to your preheated oven and roast the tenderloin quickly at 425 F for 4 to 5 minutes. When tested with an instant-read thermometer, it should show an internal temperature of 115 to 120 F.
- Remove your tenderloin from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Let the venison rest for at least 5 minutes under a loose covering of aluminum foil before slicing and serving it.
The quickest way of cooking your favorite venison tenderloin recipes in the oven is by broiling.
- Arrange the racks in your oven so the venison will be six inches from the broiler element. Close the oven, and turn on your broiler to preheat.
- Place the tenderloin on your broiler pan and slide it into the oven, centering it beneath the broiler element. Be careful not to let the blast of heat from the newly opened oven door scorch your face.
- Broil the tenderloin for 3 to 4 minutes per side, using a pair of long tongs to turn it midway through the cooking time. Remove it from the oven after the second side is cooked and transfer it to a cutting board.
- Rest the venison for 5 minutes under a loosely tented cover of aluminum foil, then slice it and serve.
Tips for Cooking Venison Tenderloin
Venison cooks more quickly than beef because of its leanness. Fat acts as an insulator, slowing your cooking time, so lean venison — like grass-fed beef, only more so--cooks quickly. The small amount of fat there is on a tenderloin can give it a "gamy" flavor, so remove as much of it as you can.
The intense heat of the broiler will give the surface of your tenderloin a slightly chewy texture. Wrapping it with bacon provides protection and flavor, which is why bacon wrapped venison is always a good choice. Woodsy flavors like juniper berries, gin, rosemary and morel mushrooms also go well with venison tenderloin.
Tenderness vs. Food Safety
Chefs and gourmands usually recommend cooking tender cuts of venison to rare or medium-rare, which gives the most satisfactory result from the culinary perspective. Unfortunately, wild-caught venison often contains the parasite Trichina spiralis, which causes a highly unpleasant condition called trichinosis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking all game to a temperature of 160 F, or well done, to maximize food safety. You'll have to decide for yourself where to draw the line between safety and tastiness, just as you do with soft-cooked eggs and rare steaks.