The Secret to Perfectly Smoked Deer: Tips and Techniques from the Pros

If you’re looking for an organic and non-GMO option for your next meal, wild game meat is a great choice. And if you’ve got some deer meat in your freezer, smoking it is a delicious way to bring out its unique, rich flavor. Trust me, adding a little smoke makes all the difference. I’ve asked some of the best pitmasters in the world for their tips on how to smoke deer tenderloin, shoulder, and neck, and I’ve gathered all the best techniques here for you. So go ahead and thaw out that deer meat and get ready to fire up your smoker!

To smoke deer neck or shoulder, set your smoker to 225°F and cook the meat for 4-5 hours uncovered. Then wrap it in foil and continue cooking for 2-3 hours. For lean cuts like the backstrap, cook at 275°F for around 2 hours and serve medium to rare with an internal temperature of 130°F. Before cooking, remove the silver skin to prevent a strong gamey taste.

Key Points

  • Wild game meat, such as deer, is organic and Non-GMO.
  • Smoking deer meat enhances its unique, rich flavor.
  • Remove silver skin and external fat from the deer meat before cooking to minimize gamey flavor.
  • Marinating deer meat before cooking can also help to mask any unpleasant flavors and tenderize tough cuts.
  • The shoulder and neck are the best parts of the deer for low and slow cooking, while the backstrap and tenderloin are best cooked for a few hours at a higher temperature.
  • To prevent deer meat from drying out during cooking, consider wrapping it in bacon or pork fat or adding fat from the deer’s entrails to the meat.
  • To smoke deer neck or shoulder, set your smoker to 225°F and cook the meat for 4-5 hours uncovered. Wrap the meat in foil and cook for another 2-3 hours.
  • To smoke deer backstrap and other leaner cuts, set your smoker to 275°F and cook for around 2 hours. Aim for an internal temperature of 130°F and serve the meat medium to rare.
  • Monitor the internal temperature to ensure the meat is cooked to your desired level of doneness
  • Use a thermometer to accurately gauge the temperature of the meat
  • Consider using a rub and smoking wood, such as pecan, to add flavor to the meat.

How to Remove the Gamey Flavor from Deer Meat

Some people think that deer meat can taste unpleasant, but there are many reasons why this might happen. How the animal was killed can significantly affect the taste of the meat. When it’s handled and prepared correctly, deer meat can taste amazing. One important step in preparing venison for smoking is to remove the silver skin and excess fat, because this can give the meat a strong, gamey flavor. The silver skin, also called sinew, is a tough, fibrous tissue that can be removed with a sharp knife. Removing it helps to reduce the gamey flavor. Another way to deal with the gamey flavor is to marinade the meat prior to cooking. A marinade will penetrate the outer layers of the meat and mask any unpleasant flavors. A marinade will also tenderize tough parts of the deer meat. There are dozens of venison marinade recipes online, and they are fairly straightforward.

The Best Cuts of Deer for Smoking

Some of the best cuts of deer for smoking are the neck, shoulder, and backstrap. The neck and shoulder have tougher connective tissue, so they benefit from low and slow cooking to break down the tissue and make the meat tender. The backstrap, or tenderloin, is a leaner cut that can dry out easily, so it is best cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time and served medium to rare.

Tips for Wrapping and Basting to Keep Deer Moist

If you’re smoking deer meat, it’s a good idea to wrap it in bacon or pork fat. This helps keep the meat moist, and adds extra flavor. It’s especially helpful for lean cuts like the backstrap. If you don’t want to use bacon or pork fat, you can mix in some fat from the deer’s entrails instead. This will help keep the meat moist and add flavor while it cooks. Wrapping deer meat in bacon or using pork fat can help keep it moist during the smoking process. The fat from the bacon or pork will baste the meat as it cooks, adding moisture and flavor. This is especially helpful for cuts of deer that are leaner and can tend to dry out, such as the backstrap. The fat helps to keep the meat moist and tender, preventing it from becoming overcooked and dry.

Expert Techniques for Smoking Deer Shoulder

Cooking deer shoulder at low temperatures, like you would with a pork shoulder, helps to break down the tough connective tissue. To do this, first apply a thick layer of rub to the meat, then smoke it at a temperature of 225°F for 3 to 4 hours. After this time, spritz the meat with a liquid and wrap it in foil. Continue cooking until the meat is tender and easily falls off the bone or can be pulled apart easily. This method works well for smoking deer shoulder to create a flavorful and tender dish.

How To Smoke Deer Shoulder: Step-By-Step

1Apply a decent covering of your favorite barbeque rub to the shoulder
2Set the temperature of your smoker to 225°F
3Pecan goes well with deer, but use any of your favorite smoking woods
4Cook venison shoulder uncovered in the smoker for about 3 hours
5Spritz the meat every 30 minutes
6Once the deer shoulder has a firm bark and the internal temperature is around 150°F, remove the meat from the smoker
7Wrap the venison in aluminium foil. Spritz with broth before closing
8Continue cooking the deer for a few more hours until the meat is fall-off-the-bone-tender

Smoked Deer Backstrap

The backstrap is probably the best-tasting part of the deer. However, this part of the deer is very lean and would dry out if you cooked it low and slow. Most barbeque experts I’ve talked to will cook deer tenderloin at a higher temperature and serve the meat medium to rare. Keep in mind, when cooking at the higher temps, you’re not going to get as much smoke flavor as you would low and slow.

When smoking the backstrap, first remove the silver skin because this will give the meat a strong gamey taste. Set the temperature of your smoker between 300°F to 350°F and it should take 30 minutes to 1 hour. Test the internal temperature of the meat with a thermometer and remove the meat once the internal temperature reaches about 130°F. Since the tenderloin is lean, some people like to either wrap the deer meat in bacon or cook with pork fat.

Smoking Deer Backstrap: Step-by-Step

  1. First, remove the silver skin because this will give the meat a strong gamey taste.
  2. Set the temperature of your smoker between 300°F to 350°F.
  3. Cook the deer backstrap for 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the cut.
  4. Test the internal temperature of the meat with a thermometer and remove it once it reaches about 130°F.
  5. Since the tenderloin is lean, some people like to either wrap the deer meat in bacon or cook with pork fat to add moisture.
  6. Serve the deer backstrap medium to rare. Keep in mind that cooking at higher temperatures will result in less smoke flavor.

Advanced Techniques for Smoking Deer Neck

The neck has some of the most flavorful meat of the animal, but the neck can be a pain to debone if you’re not a butcher. Smoked deer neck is a great option for pulled meat that can be used in tacos or sandwiches.

Smoking a deer neck will need a long time at a low temperature (225°F). Depending on the size of the neck and the temperature of your smoker, it should take between 8 to 12 hours to slow smoke a whole neck roast. After spending the day in your smoker, the meat should be so tender it will fall off the bone.

Most people find it difficult to work a knife in and around the vertebrae, so they will just hack out as much meat as possible and make curry or a casserole. If you can debone the neck, a boneless neck roast will go well in your smoker. If I were smoking a boneless neck, I would first tie some twine around the roast to keep it intact. However, the easiest way is to smoke the neck as a bone-in roast.

How To Smoke Deer Neck: Step-by-Step

1Set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F and 250°F
2Apply your favorite barbecue rub to the neck
3Use any mix of smoking woods such as apple and hickory
4Position the neck on the grill or place it in a foil pan to prevent drying out
5Cook the neck for about 5 or 6 hours uncovered, then another 5 hours covered in foil
6Shred the meat for sandwiches or venison tacos

Smoked Deer Neck Pastrami

We normally make pastrami from either beef, lamb, veal or turkey. The meat is brined, seasoned, then smoked and served as cold meat. If you have the time to put in the effort, smoked deer neck pastrami is a great way to use the neck meat.

To make deer pastrami, first the meat needs to be brined for a few days. Then the meat needs to be soaked in water, seasoned with a rub, then smoked. Below is a quick rundown of how you can make deer pastrami. I highly recommend reading this article over at Amazing and apply the same principles to deer pastrami.

Deer Neck Pastrami- Step-by-Step

1Remove the bone from the venison neck
2Prepare brine mixture using kosher salt and curing salt Prague Powder #1. Soak the venison neck in the brine for 5 days
3After 5 days, remove the neck from the brine and roll it up like a spiral roll. Tie twine around the outside to hold the roll together
4Set the temperature of your smoker to 250°F
5Smoke the venison pastrami for about 5 hours
6To make the pastrami rub, mix together black peppercorns, coarsely ground black pepper, coriander seeds, coriander powder, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, yellow mustard seeds, and mustard powder
7Set the temperature of your smoker to 225°F and set up for 2-zone indirect cooking if using a charcoal smoker
8Choose your favorite smoking wood and place the venison pastrami on the cool zone (indirect) side of the grill
9Cook the meat for several hours until it forms a nice crust

The Rub For Deer Neck Pastrami

A pastrami rub typically contains black pepper, coriander powder, and brown sugar. I always use a homemade rub recipe from Science of Barbeque author, Meathead Goldwyn. Meathead’s pastrami recipe is about as close as you will get to the famous pastrami found in a New York deli.

Meathead’s Pastrami Rub Recipe

Whole black peppercorns2 tablespoons
Fresh coarsely ground black pepper2 tablespoons
Whole coriander seeds1 tablespoon
Coriander powder1 tablespoon
Brown sugar1 tablespoon
Paprika1 tablespoon
Garlic powder2 teaspoons
Onion powder2 teaspoons
Whole yellow (white) mustard seeds½ teaspoon
Mustard powder½ teaspoon

How To Smoke Deer Pastrami In A Smoker

  1. Set the temperature of your smoker to 225°F.
  2. If you are using a charcoal smoker, set up your smoker for 2-zone indirect cooking.
  3. Choose your favorite smoking wood and get some nice clean smoke rolling.
  4. Place the venison pastrami on the cool zone (indirect) side of the grill.
  5. Cook the meat for several hours until the meat forms a nice crust. Once the crust has formed and the internal temperature reaches between 150°F and 160°F, then it’s time to wrap the meat.
  6. Wrap the venison in two layers of aluminium foil.
  7. Continue cooking the meat until the internal temperature reaches 200°F.
  8. Alternatively, after wrapping the meat in foil, remove from the smoker, refrigerate, then steam before serving.

Make Tasty Deer Jerky With A Pellet Grill

Creating Delicious Smoked Deer Sausages

One of the best ways to use offcuts of the animal is to make sausages. If cooked right, smoked deer sausages are absolutely delicious. Sausages need a lot of fat, otherwise they won’t taste anything like sausages. Since deer is lean, use all the fatty parts of the animal such as the neck and run the meat through a grinder. Mix in some fat from the entrails, otherwise use beef or pork fat. The neck can be difficult to extract the meat because of the complicated bone structure.

Smoked Deer Sausage – Step-by-Step

  1. To make smoked deer sausage, use offcuts of the animal and mix in some fat from the neck and entrails. If these parts are not available, you can use beef or pork fat.
  2. The neck can be difficult to extract meat from because of the complicated bone structure, so you may need to use a grinder.
  3. Once the meat and fat are ground, mix them together and stuff them into sausage casings.
  4. Smoke the deer sausage at a low temperature until it is fully cooked.
  5. Enjoy your homemade smoked deer sausage as is, or use it in recipes such as sausage and peppers or deer sausage patties.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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