Smoked Venison Roast

Video how to brine and smoke a deer ham

Smoked venison roast sounds like it should be awful, but when you smoke venison just to doneness, medium-rare or medium, it can be an amazing cut of meat, both for dinners and for lunches with the leftovers.

Slices of smoked venison roast on a cutting board.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

if you’re used to smoking pork, you’ll need to change your perspective. Smoked, pulled pork, gently cooked for many hours until it falls apart is one of the great things about being alive. But you can’t do that with venison, alas. Pork is, well, fatty. Porky, with lots of little packets of fat in between the muscle fibers that means a slow-smoked pork shoulder will baste itself.

Deer are lean, especially when you get to the interior of a cut. And fat, as you may know, is insulation — and insurance policy against cooking too long — so the fact that a venison ham has none means it can go from sublime to dog food in a matter of minutes.

So is there no way to properly make smoked venison roast? There is indeed, but you have to shift your barbecue compass to the West, to Central California, to be specific.

The only contribution California makes to the barbecue universe is called Santa Maria Barbecue, normally done with beef tri-tip, a cut from the lower part of the cow’s hind leg. It is wonderful stuff, smoky with a lovely spice rub. But here’s the thing: Santa Maria BBQ, or what we here in Cali just call “tri-tip,” is never cooked past medium. To do so is a sin.

Venison roasts, typically single-muscle roasts or those with just a few muscles — from the hind leg — are what you want when you make smoked venison. You make smoked venison backstrap similarly.

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How do you get there? You can do what I call “smoke roasting” — I have a method for this in my cookbook Buck, Buck, Moosesmoked venison roast horizontal Smoked Venison Roast. That consists of tossing a hunk of meat into a hot smoker and cooking it until the meat hits the proper internal temperature.

Incidentally, if you don’t want to go through the multi-day salting and curing of the venison roast, you can use this recipe for reverse seared venison roast and get a similar result in one day. And if you are working with bison, which has tastier fat, you can make a full-on, Texas style smoked bison brisket.

To really make a nice smoked venison roast, you will want to salt it first. Not a full-on cure, but a nice salting.

You get there by using your digital kitchen scale. Yes, you must measure things for this recipe. You measure your hunk of venison. Do this in grams. Then you measure out 1 percent of that weight in regular kosher salt, and add an equal amount of sugar. If you feel like using a curing salt — I don’t — add no more than 0.2 percent of the venison’s weight. You’ll want a cure marked No. 1 here, not No. 2. Again, I don’t use curing salts, but you can.

Mix your salt and sugar together and get yourself a big tub or somesuch so you don’t lose any of it. Now you massage the salt/sugar into the venison, taking care to get it around the femur if you’re doing a whole leg, which is a cool thing to do if you have a teeny deer; the one in the pictures is an Arizona Coues deer buck.

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Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Now put your venison and any remaining cure into a big bag and set it in the fridge. How long? Two days per pound of venison. If you are going to err, err on the side of more time. When you’re ready, rinse the meat off, pat it dry and, if you want, let it sit uncovered in the fridge an extra day. You can skip this if you want, but it helps make the meat smokier.

Then you smoke the roast slow and low until the thickest part hits the temperature you want. I prefer 130 to 135°F. How do you know? You need an internal probe thermometer. I happen to have one that comes with the Traeger I use.

Wood choice is your own. I prefer fruit woods, but will use oak or hickory, too, depending on my mood. (The Traeger has all sorts of wood pellets you can use.)

That’s it. Measure your venison, lightly cure it in the fridge a few days, smoke it slow and low until it hits the right temperature, let it rest 10 minutes on the cutting board. Slice and eat.

This smoked venison roast is basically the best “roast beef” you’ve ever eaten. Don’t believe me? Try it.

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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 >>