How to Cook a Juicy Venison Steak

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It’s easy to cook a venison steak so that it’s juicy, you just need to follow a few rules. A good marinade, a hot grill or pan and not overcooking is key.

sliced venison steak on a black plate with a napkin

I remember the first time I had venison steak. Jared and I had just started dating and I invited him on a camping trip with my friends and I.

To be honest, the venison steak was probably the highlight of the trip seeing that I got the campground directions wrong, a raccoon ran off with our bananas when we arrived after midnight due to my directional challenges, and it poured rain our second day there. I’m sometimes not sure why J stuck around…

Anyway, after the rain cleared Jared took a venison steak he defrosted out of the cooler and cooked it over the open fire. Up until that point, I had only had deer jerky a time of two, and I was really excited to try venison.

We’re still not sure exactly what he did to that steak, but it was absolutely PHENOMENAL. I think our entire group salivated over the perfectly medium-rare cut of meat and it was gone in a flash.

When J and I moved in together sometime later and he harvested another buck, I was excited to make some steak! I’ll never forget unwrapping defrosted venison directly out of butcher paper and putting it right on the grill pan in our apartment. I overcooked and probably under-seasoned the meat…needless to say, it was probably a pizza night, for sure.

deer meat marinating in a glass bowl

The meat I cooked was dry, tough, and way too gamey. So, why was the deer steak he cooked on that trip so much better than what I made?

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Fast forward about 6 years and I’m sitting here releasing my very first cookbook that’s all about cooking venison. I’ve come a long way over the past few years and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.

tenderized deer meat on a cutting board

Venison isn’t like beef. You can’t overcook and under-season it and expect it to still be OK. That really alters the flavor, as well as the texture. Click here for venison cooking 101.

Cooking really good venison steaks isn’t really hard, you just need to keep a few things in mind:

  • marinate and/or properly season the meat
  • don’t overcook it
  • rest before serving

Those 3 steps seem really simple, but they make a world of difference.

venison steak on a black plate with thyme leaves

Marinate your venison steak

It’s important to choose an acidic marinade with plenty of bright flavors from vinegar or citrus. My all-purpose marinade has plenty of red wine vinegar, lemon, and salt. You certainly don’t have to marinate venison steak but it helps if you’re learning. Follow this recipe when cooking venison chops without marinade.

These 3 ingredients not only work with the “gamey” flavor and tone it down, but they also tenderize the meat and help break down some of the tissue so that it’s buttery soft after you cook it. If you’re newer to eating venison/deer meat, I do recommend using a marinade because the flavor is different than the beefy flavor you may be expecting.

With venison steaks, I marinate for at least 3 hours, but up to overnight. I know that seems long, but it works great for me!

A note: If you’re working with really beautiful steaks from the loin/backstrap, you may not need a marinade if your meat is cooked appropriately. Or, if you’re familiar with the taste of deer, go ahead and skip this step if you’d like.

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Simple salt and pepper go a long way. I like to season liberally before cooking and then I finish a rested steak with a light squeeze of lemon and flakey salt.

Counter Rest/Pat Dry Before Cooking

Another great tip is to let your meat come to room temperature on the counter for 30-45 minutes before cooking. This will not make your food go bad, it simply ensures more even cooking because the center won’t be cold when you cook to medium-rare (more on this below).

You also want to pat your steaks entirely dry with a paper towel before cooking them. I NEVER rinse my proteins, but I do pat them dry, even if I marinade, to encourage a nice, brown crust on the meat. Liquid causes steam in the pan which shoots you in the foot if you’re trying to create a sear. This tip applies to cooking most proteins.

Don’t overcook it

Venison steak should be cooked to medium-rare or even rare plus if you like a rare steak. I pull my steaks from the grill or pan as soon as they reach 117-125F – I prefer 117F. They still cook a bit after you remove them and I always use a digital read thermometer to make sure I’m really precise.

You honestly can’t overlook this step. I’m all about making things easy on you and laid-back recipes, but if you overcook your meat…you’re going to be sorry. This is a HARD and fast rule in my book.

I understand that not everyone likes rare/medium-rare meat but I encourage you to try. My medium steak kind of guy has been converted.

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Rest before serving

Also…don’t cut into your meat right after it comes off the heat. As much as it does look amazing, allow it to rest so the juices have a chance to creep back into the meat for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Get together your side dishes, set the table, etc. Just give that meat time to rest!

How to Cook a Juicy Venison Steak

Follow these steps and you’ll be set to have a nice, juicy and flavorful piece of meat that’s the start of your plate!

Make sure you put my Juicy Venison Burgers on your next grill night menu!

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This post was published in July 2020 and was updated in October 2024.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>