More than 33,000 whitetail deer were bagged by Maryland hunters during 1993's regular firearms season, the third highest total on record. In Harford County, hunters harvested 1,024 deer, most of which were taken during the season's first few days.
Although a substantial number of hunters claim they enjoy the taste of venison, you'll often hear a different story from their spouses.
"Sure we eat venison at our house, but it's always tough and has a gamey taste," said a woman attending the Mid-Atlantic Hunting & Fishing Show at the Maryland State Fair Grounds. "I think the only reason I eat deer meat at all is because it's fat and cholesterol free. In fact, the last time my husband cooked venison steaks they tasted like seasoned shoe leather and were just as tender."
When questioned about cooking techniques used for the less-than-palatable steaks, the reasons behind their taste and texture quickly became obvious.
"He defrosted the steaks, sprinkled on salt, pepper and garlic powder, and then broiled them in the oven for about 15 minutes," she said. "We like our steaks well done."
Tender venison steaks, the kind you can cut with a fork, are easy to prepare. The technique isn't complicated, but there is one thing that must be kept in mind. Don't try to cook venison in the same manner as you would cook beef.
Beef contains lots of marbleized fat, which keeps the meat juicy and tender during cooking. Venison has little or no fat content, so to retain its natural juices, you'll have to use recipes and cooking techniques used specifically for deer meat.
Turn on your gas grill and allow it to preheat for at least 10 minutes or until the lava rock coals are red hot. Remove venison steaks from the freezer, but do not defrost them.
Instead, sprinkle the meat with salt, pepper, garlic powder or other spices you normally would use on beef. Then place the steaks on the grill and cook them until the meat is seared on both sides -- no longer. By searing, natural juices are retained within the steaks, which essentially steams the meat from the inside.
If you don't have access to a gas grill, the frozen steaks can be cooked indoors, but don't try broiling them in your oven. Instead, moisten an iron skillet with non-stick vegetable oil, turn on the burner and when the oil begins to smoke, toss the frozen steaks in the pan.
Sprinkle with seasoning, brown both sides, cover and turn the burner to low. Allow the steaks about five additional minutes to cook -- no longer. They'll be just as tender as many cuts of prime beef and have an excellent taste. Overcook the same steaks and you'll end up with meat that has the same taste and texture as your son's gym sneakers.
Large cuts of venison taste best when pot-roasted for several hours. If you have access to a crock pot, use any recipe for beef pot roast and you'll be pleasantly surprised. However, instead of cooking for two to four hours, venison may require substantially longer cooking time for the meat to become tender.
OVEN POT ROASTED VENISON
1 5- to 6-pound venison roast
2 medium yellow onions, cubed
1 pack baby frozen carrots
4 large potatoes, cubed
2 packs dry onion soup mix
1 tsp. beef bouillon
1 cup cooking sherry
1 qt. water
1 tsp. each salt & pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
Place the roast in an appropriately sized roaster pan sprayed with nonstick vegetable oil. Brown the roast on all sides and add water, cooking sherry, beef bouillon, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover the pan, place it in a preheated oven at 250 degrees and cook for approximately six hours. Baste the meat with its juices at least once every hour, then during the final hour, add the vegetables. After cooking, remove the meat and vegetables, and use the juices to make gravy. There's no fat, no cholesterol and the meat literally falls apart.