Venison refers to the meat of deer species, primarily red deer and elk. The term comes from the Latin word venari, meaning “to hunt or pursue game.” So venison is simply the meat obtained from hunting deer. The most common animals that venison comes from are:
The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is one of the largest deer species and is found throughout Europe, parts of western Asia, and has been introduced to parts of South America, Australia and New Zealand. Males grow large antlers annually which are shed and regrown each year. Red deer venison has a richer flavor and is darker in color compared to other types of venison.
The elk, also known as wapiti, is one of the largest deer species found throughout many parts of North America and eastern Asia. There are several subspecies of elk including the Rocky Mountain elk, Tule elk, Manchurian elk and Altai wapiti. Bull elk grow large antlers like red deer. Elk venison has a slightly coarser texture but sweeter flavor compared to red deer venison.
The European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is a small to medium sized deer found throughout most of Europe. Males grow short, simple antlers. Roe deer venison is considered the most tender and flavorful, but because roe deer are much smaller than red deer and elk, the meat yield per animal is lower.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are found throughout most of North America. Males grow antlers that branch off a main beam. They are smaller than elk and their venison is mild flavored. White-tailed deer are often hunted for venison in North America.
The fallow deer (Dama dama) is a medium sized deer found in Europe, parts of western Asia, South America and have been introduced in other parts of the world including the USA and Australia. Males grow large, flattened antlers. Fallow deer venison has a fine texture and mild gamey flavor.
The caribou or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is found in the arctic and subarctic regions of North America and Eurasia. Both males and females grow antlers. Caribou venison is extremely lean with a juicy texture and sweet, mild flavor.
Key Facts About Venison
- Venison refers to the meat of any deer species but most commonly comes from red deer, elk, roe deer, white-tailed deer, fallow deer and caribou/reindeer.
- The flavor and texture varies slightly between deer species. Elk and red deer venison has a stronger flavor while roe deer is considered the most tender and mild.
- All venison is low in fat, cholesterol and calories compared to beef, pork or lamb.
- Deer are typically hunted for their meat in the Fall and Winter months.
- Venison is higher in moisture and protein than other red meats.
- Common cuts of venison include loins, tenderloin, shoulders, legs (ham) and stew meat.
- Venison should be cooked quickly over high heat and not overcooked to prevent it from getting tough.
Nutritional Profile of Venison
Venison is highly nutritious and is much lower in fat and calories compared to traditional meats like beef and pork. Here is how 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked venison compares nutritionally to other types of meat:
|Beef (lean ground)
As you can see, venison is significantly lower in both calories and fat compared to beef and pork, while still being high in protein. It is also an excellent source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and other B vitamins.
Fat, Cholesterol and Calories
A 3 ounce portion of venison supplies 122 calories, 2 grams of fat and 55 mg cholesterol. This is far less than the same portion size of select or choice cuts of beef, which provides 200-300 calories, 12-16 grams of fat and 75-95 mg cholesterol. Venison is one of the leanest and lowest calorie meats available.
Deer meat is an excellent source of quality protein. A typical 3 ounce portion of venison provides 25 grams of protein, which supplies about 50% of the recommended daily amount. Protein is vital for building and repairing muscles and tissues as well as supporting a healthy immune system.
Venison provides 2.6 mg of iron per 3 ounce serving. This supplies 14% of the daily iron needs for men and 20% for women. Iron is critical for healthy blood and preventing anemia. Venison contains more iron than beef or chicken breast.
In addition to being rich in protein and iron, venison also contains:
- Zinc – supports immune function
- Vitamin B12 – needed for red blood cell formation
- Niacin – converts food into energy
- Vitamin B6 – supports metabolism and nerve function
- Selenium – acts as an antioxidant
It also contains smaller amounts of magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins E, K and A.
Health Benefits of Venison
Eating venison provides many potential health benefits due to its excellent nutritional profile. Here are some of the top reasons why venison can be part of a healthy diet:
Lower in Fat and Cholesterol
Venison is significantly lower in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to beef, pork and chicken. Consuming foods lower in saturated fat and cholesterol supports heart health and reduces risk factors for heart disease.
Good Source of Lean Protein
Venison is an excellent source of lean protein which helps build and preserve muscle mass. Higher protein diets have also been associated with lower blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.
Rich in Iron
Venison provides more iron than many other types of meat. Consuming iron-rich foods like venison improves oxygen flow throughout the body and prevents iron-deficiency anemia.
Source of B Vitamins
Deer meat contains a variety of B vitamins including niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and riboflavin. B vitamins help convert food into fuel and allow your body to run more efficiently.
Provides Other Essential Nutrients
Venison delivers a variety of minerals and vitamins that have important functions in the body. It provides zinc for immune function, selenium and vitamin E for antioxidant effects, phosphorus for bone health and vitamin K for proper blood clotting.
How to Cook Venison
Venison has a mild gamey flavor and lean texture. Because it contains very little fat marbling, venison should not be overcooked, which can cause it to become tough and dry. Here are some tips for cooking delicious venison:
Use Moist Heat Cooking Methods
Braising, stewing and slow cooking are great ways to keep venison tender and juicy. Venison shoulder, leg and stew meat are good cuts for moist heat cooking methods.
Cook Quickly Over High Heat
Pan frying, grilling or broiling are best for venison steaks, chops and loins. Cook quickly over high heat and do not overcook past medium rare to medium doneness to prevent drying out.
Marinating venison in an acidic ingredient like wine, vinegar, yogurt or citrus juice will help tenderize and enhance flavor. Refrigerate meat overnight in the marinade for best results.
Use Fatty Liquids When Cooking
Baste venison in olive oil, butter or beef fat when grilling or pan searing. The additional fats prevent drying out and add flavor.
Pair With Strong Flavors
Robust herbs, spices, garlic, onions and mushrooms complement the flavor of venison. Experiment with marinades, rubs and sauces featuring ingredients like rosemary, thyme and juniper berries.
Tips for Purchasing Venison
If you don’t hunt your own venison, you can likely find it frozen at specialty butcher shops, farmers markets or online meat retailers. Here are some tips for buying high quality venison:
- Look for venison that is vacuum sealed and solidly frozen with no visible ice crystals or freezer burn.
- Venison is often sold deboned. Ask for cuts with or without bones depending on your recipe needs.
- Choose venison that has a deep burgundy red color with bright white fat marbling.
- For steaks and chops, select venison cuts at least 1 inch thick to prevent overcooking.
- For stews and braising, opt for shoulder, leg or stew meat cuts.
Properly handled venison can be safely stored frozen for 9-12 months. Thaw slowly in the refrigerator before cooking.
Is Venison Healthier Than Beef or Pork?
Yes, venison is one of the healthiest and leanest meats available. Here’s how it compares nutritionally to beef and pork:
Lower in Fat and Calories
Venison contains far less fat, saturated fat and calories than beef and pork:
- Venison: 122 calories, 2 g fat per 3 ounce serving
- Beef: 200-300 calories, 12-16 g fat per 3 ounce serving
- Pork: 139 calories, 4 g fat per 3 ounce serving
Higher in Protein
Venison contains just as much or slightly more protein compared to beef and pork:
- Venison: 25 g protein per 3 ounce serving
- Beef: 22 g protein per 3 ounce serving
- Pork: 23 g protein per 3 ounce serving
Lower in Cholesterol
Venison contains about 30-50% less cholesterol than beef or pork:
- Venison: 55 mg cholesterol per 3 ounce serving
- Beef: 75-95 mg cholesterol per 3 ounce serving
- Pork: 63 mg cholesterol per 3 ounce serving
Higher in Iron
Venison provides more iron than beef or pork, making it beneficial for preventing anemia:
- Venison: 2.6 mg iron per 3 ounce serving
- Beef: 1.6 mg iron per 3 ounce serving
- Pork: 0.7 mg iron per 3 ounce serving
Potential Drawbacks of Eating Venison
Venison is very healthy and nutritious overall. However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider:
Risk of Parasites
Deer are susceptible to certain parasites like ticks and roundworms. However, the risk of transmission to humans is very low if venison is properly handled, frozen to kill parasites and cooked thoroughly.
Risk of Chronic Wasting Disease
Chronic wasting disease affects deer, elk and moose populations in certain regions. It is not known to affect humans but research is limited. Avoid venison from areas with known outbreaks.
Contains Less Fat Than Beef
The extremely low fat content of venison means it can become dry and tough if overcooked. Proper cooking methods must be used to keep it tender.
Some people find venison has too strong of a “gamey” flavor. Proper aging, marinating and seasoning can mild the taste for those who find it unpleasant.
Less Convenient to Find
Venison may be less convenient to source and purchase compared to common meats like beef, chicken or pork at local grocery stores.
Is Venison Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Yes, venison is generally considered safe to eat during pregnancy as long as it is properly handled to avoid potential foodborne illnesses. Here are some tips for safe consumption:
- Choose venison that has been processed by a reputable butcher or meat processor.
- Avoid venison from areas with chronic wasting disease outbreaks.
- Cook venison thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F/75°C.
- Freeze venison for 2-3 weeks at 0°F/-18°C to kill any parasites.
- Do not eat raw or undercooked venison.
- Avoid excess mercury exposure by limiting venison consumption to 12 ounces per week.
Pregnant women have a higher risk of foodborne illness, so take extra care with raw meat handling and preparation. Always cook venison well done and follow food safety guidelines.
Venison refers to deer meat, most commonly from red deer, elk, roe deer, white-tailed deer, fallow deer and caribou/reindeer. It is an extremely lean and nutritious meat that is low in fat and calories yet high in protein and iron compared to beef, pork and lamb.
Venison provides a number of health benefits due to its rich nutritional profile. It is much lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than other red meats. Venison is also an excellent source of lean protein, iron, B vitamins and other essential minerals.
When cooking venison, quick cooking methods should be used and it should not be overcooked to prevent it from becoming tough and dry. Venison pairs well with bold herbs and seasonings and benefits from marinating. While very healthy, venison may contain parasites if not properly handled and some people find the flavor too gamey.
Overall, venison is an excellent high protein, low fat meat option that can be part of a healthy and balanced diet when safely handled and prepared. Its nutritional profile offers advantages over fattier types of red meat.