Venison… The Smoky Alternative

Biltong hunters enjoy an additional benefit of hunting that the trophy guy really misses out on. Long after the sore feet, insect bites, sunburn and thornbush damage have faded there’s the tasty reminder of that day in the veld. It keeps us going back again and again.

Successfully rationing the sweet manna, that is biltong and dry wors, until the next season seems to be beyond the capabilities of many of us. What remains in the gloomy depths of the deepfreeze always seems to be an endless supply of stewing meat. Not to mention the semi-compromised vacuum packs from 2 seasons ago… if not more. So how do you get rid of the backlog of meat when the mere thought of chewing on an oven-baked sirloin has you reaching for a glass of water? Time to get creative with some smoky flavour…

 

Preparation

The meat should be pre-soaked in a brine solution in the fridge, to remove a bit of the “gamey” taste and to drain some of the blood. It’s up to you what you use to soak the meat with. Basic brine mix contains 1/4 cup salt; 1/4 cup brown sugar & 4 cups water. In this experiment, we soaked Blesbok fillet, rump and sirloin in a mixture of milk and light salad dressing. Leave the meat to soak overnight and drain off the solution when it’s time to cook the meat.

Run over to your nearest hardware store and grab some wood chips or shavings. We will be using both to give you some feedback on which works best. If you choose to use the chips then soak them in water for a few hours before you cook the meat. Smoking can be done with a kettle-style braai/barbecue or even a built-in braai that can be closed up. This method is known as “Hot-Smoking” as the heat from the coals will cook the meat but the chips will add that smoky flavour.

STEP 1

Start the fire by packing the coals to one side of the braai. Once the coals form a layer of ash its go-time. Smoking temperature depends on how much smoke you want the chips to produce, and how long you want to be out there. Add coals and chips throughout the process if needed.

STEP 2

Add the drained wood chips directly onto the coals. For option B We sprinkled water over some oak barrel shavings and put the shavings into a drip-pan. Put the pan onto the coals.

STEP 3

Rub some spices or marinade onto the meat… we used braai salt and peppadew flakes to keep things simple. Put the meat onto the grill on the opposite end to the coals to avoid direct heat. Place the lid on the braai with the vent half-closed above the meat. This will help the chips to smoulder, trap the smoke inside the braai and cause the airflow to direct smoke over the meat and out of the vent.

Check the meat often and turn as needed. After about 2 hours both our option A (wood chips) and option B (shavings) were done. A small cut was made to ensure the blood had cooked out but that the meat was still juicy.

 

Results

It’s easy to time when the meat should be taken off because the smoking process takes so much longer compared to regular braaiing. This experiment produced perfectly cooked venison even though the outside had dried and hardened a bit. The chips produced more smoke than the shavings and could be left unattended for longer. The shavings produced decent smoke but quickly burnt out inside the pan. After about an hour of constant pan-refilling, the pan was abandoned and moist shavings were liberally sprinkled directly over the coals. This produced great results and soon the two options were competing closely again. The effects of the two approaches could also be tasted in the meat. The chips produced a much more smoky taste than the shavings which gave a subtle yet delicious smoke aftertaste.

The smoked venison can be eaten plain with sauce, mustard or salsa. It can also be used to make wraps, pie, pasta and tastes great on a roll or even in a salad. The “gamey” taste had been almost completely removed by the smoke, which is a bonus for those who dislike the usually strong taste of game.

Final thought

This whole process was relatively simple… and great results were obtained by just adding chips or shavings to an otherwise straight-forward braai. Anyone can do this on their first attempt and say cheers to oven-baked and even pan-fried attempts that produce grey or dried out cuts. If you would like to develop and refine the smoking process have a look at placing your wood chips inside a steel smoke-box or adding a tray of water below the meat to help keep some of the moisture inside the braai. Enjoy experimenting and perfecting your own unique techniques.

 

Add your 2cents below if you have any advice, questions or comments…

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