Farm Progress

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Deer harvest numbers may have been down in Illinois in 2016, but we’re betting you still have a freezer full of venison. Here’s a hearty winter recipe that makes good use of it.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

January 2, 2017

4 Min Read
VENISON: The key to good deer meat? Get it processed right away, and don’t overcook it, says Mike Rahe, Spring View Acres hunting lodge, Pittsfield.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a new column we’re calling What’s Cooking in Illinois. Charlyn Fargo is a veteran agricultural writer from the Springfield area who also happens to work as a dietitian for Hy-Vee. Each month, she’ll be sharing a hearty, healthy Midwestern recipe, with tips for using Illinois products. Please let us know what you’d like to see featured!

I can remember my sister-in-law Lois serving venison chili, lasagna and anything else she could think of when we came to visit the family in South Dakota. Her husband was an avid bow hunter, and there was always plenty of deer meat.

Mike Rahe of Pittsfield, who operates Spring View Acres hunting lodge, says the deer season was good in 2016. “We didn’t harvest many monsters, but it was a good season, and generally, there were a lot of opportunities to take down even more deer,” says Rahe, who retired last year from the Illinois Department of Agriculture Bureau of Land and Water Resources.

Statewide, hunters harvested a preliminary total of 79,429 deer during the seven-day Illinois Firearm Deer Season that closed on Dec. 4, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That figure compares to the final total of 86,847 deer harvested during the same period in 2015.

“Our numbers are down a little from last year,” says Tim Schweizer, IDNR spokesman, who says they wanted a smaller harvest number. “This year we issued fewer permits.”

Schweizer is an avid hunter, and his favorite way to cook deer meat? “Chili, with some bacon added for flavor. You have to add the bacon because it’s so lean.”

Preparing deer meat
“The key to having really good deer meat is how you take care of it when it’s harvested,” says Rahe. “You need to get it processed right away.”

Also, don’t overcook it. Prep time for venison steaks is 20 minutes; cook time averages six to 12 minutes.

“If you cook deer meat at a lower temperature, it won’t dry out as bad,” says Rahe. “One of the things I do is marinate the meat. I like to use Masterpiece Steak House Marinade and put the deer steaks in for a half hour, then grill or cook it any number of ways.”

Others like to make deer summer sausage, deer jerky or snack sticks. My family ground much of the meat to use in spaghetti, lasagna, tacos or meatloaf.

“If you make deer burgers, some guys add beef fat to help the burgers stay together and not dry out,” says Rahe. “If you want to make a roast, one trick I learned is to soak it overnight in Coca-Cola and milk [equal parts]. It takes the gamey flavor out and makes it more tender. You just need enough to cover the meat.”

The nutritional analysis of venison is impressive. Compared to beef, venison is lower in calories (125 vs. 310 for a 4-ounce steak), slightly higher in iron and has less cholesterol. A 4-ounce beef flank steak has 9 grams of total fat (4 grams saturated fat), while venison has 3 grams of total fat (1 gram saturated). Both have equal amounts of protein: 24 grams per 4-ounce steaks.

Here's a recipe for slow-cooker chili that uses venison.

Slow-Cooker Venison Chili

1 pound boneless venison steak, cubed
1 pound pork sausage
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained
1 (15.5-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained
1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles
3 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese for garnish

Place the venison and sausage in a large skillet and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon as necessary, over medium heat until no longer pink and evenly browned. Drain grease. Stir in the onions and garlic, and cook until aromatic, about three minutes. Drain, and mix in the tomato paste. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper.

Pour the beans and tomatoes into a slow cooker. Stir in the venison mixture. Cover and cook eight to 10 hours on low, or five hours on high. Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheddar cheese.


About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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