By Aaron Farley
Some people do not have a keen appreciation for the flavor of wild meat. I, on the other hand, happen to love it. I kid you not, I feel like I can taste the smell of a slaughterhouse when I bite into a store-bought steak. It might be because I’ve watched one too many slaughterhouse documentaries, or maybe I just prefer meat I looked in the eye before I cooked it. Or perhaps, it’s because I can grill the hell out of a venison steak.
That said, below are the steps I take to cook one of my favorite dishes – grilled venison steaks. I have tried several different methods over the years, and have landed on these as the best. I hope you enjoy!
Items I use: Weber kettle grill, lump charcoal, chimney charcoal starter, venison steaks 1 ¼ – 1 ½ ” thick, salt, pepper, rosemary, olive oil, butter, pineapple juice (*optional), 1 chunk of mesquite or pecan wood (*optional).
1. Set up the grill for indirect heat
I still use my old, weathered, weber kettle charcoal grill that I bought when we first got married. I have tried to use gas grills, and infrared grills, and just cannot get the same results. I use whole lump charcoal instead of briquettes. The lump charcoal does not burn as long, but it burns hotter and adds a smokey flavor that I like. The lump charcoal is also natural and you typically do not have to worry about the adhesives used to keep briquettes together getting into your food.
Indirect grilling is simply a method of using heat that is not directly underneath the meat being cooked. To do this, I start my charcoal in a chimney starter and then dump it onto one side of the grill in a pile. I never spread the charcoal out into a thin layer. I want the pile to be about an inch from the top grill grate, and only directly heating 1/3 of the grilling surface. This will create two heat zones on the grill. One for searing, and one for indirect grilling.
2. Season the meat simply
Typically, I only sprinkle salt, pepper, and rosemary on the meat. This method of cooking steaks will bring out a lot of natural flavors, and absorb a lot of smoke flavor. Over seasoning can clash with the grill flavor that I am seeking.
3. Sear the steak on both sides
After dumping the started charcoal out of the chimney into a single pile on one side of the grill, I leave the lid off the grill for 2-3 minutes to get the charcoal plenty of oxygen. I know the coals are the right temperature when I am not able to hold my hand over the heat and count 2 Mississippi.
With the steak lightly brushed with olive oil (to prevent sticking to the grates), I lay the steak onto the hottest part of the grill. After 60 seconds, I turn the steak 90 degrees. This turn makes impressive grill marks on the steak but is not necessary. I sometimes skip the turn. After 2 minutes, I flip the steak over keeping it directly over the hottest part of the grill on the second side. I turn it a matching 90 degrees after another 60 seconds on the second side.
The steak should sear on each side for about 2 minutes. This will vary depending on my heat, charcoal, and how far the top grate is from the coals. It is important to watch for flare ups during this step. If flames lick the steak too much it can cause burning, so I keep an eye out. My goal is to have a slight crusting, but no burning on the meat’s surface.
4. Slow down and cover the grill
Now is when things slow down. After the searing is complete, I move the steak all the way to the opposite side of the grill away from the heat. This slow cooking is where the magic happens. The juices have been sealed in from the searing, and now they will marinate inside the meat as it breaks down from the heat.
This is the time I usually brush the steak with the secret sauce. Don’t tell anyone, but my secret sauce is just a mixture of 1 tbsp unsalted butter, and 1 cup pineapple juice. I mix the melted butter and juice together and let it cool for a while until it starts to congeal. The mix adds a light sweetness to the crust that will form on the steak. I brush a thick coat of this onto the top of the steak after moving it over to the indirect zone on the grill.
Once the steak is moved to the indirect heat zone of the grill and brushed down, I will usually drop a chunk of either mesquite or pecan wood into the coals to add smoke. The smoke mixes well with the hint of sweet from the secret sauce. I stick my digital thermometer into the steak, cover the grill, and take a seat.
5. Sit back and wait
The hard part is done. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the smells of the summer grill. In about the time it takes to enjoy a cool beverage, you should see the temp rising to around 160 degrees. I sometimes shut off the vents to the grill to remove oxygen and prolong this process. I find that another 20-25 minutes in this stage is ideal. If the grill is too hot to cook that slow, starving it for oxygen can cool things down.
So there you have it. 30 minutes start to finish. Do you have any questions? Feel free to ask below and I will be glad to answer. Now go fire that grill up and impress your family tonight at dinner (if you are one of the lucky ones who have not eaten all last year’s deer steaks yet).
PS – If you are looking for a desert idea, my boys love to make s’mores over the still-hot coals after dinner.
– Aaron Farley, RusticMan.com