Venison tenderloin is like the butter of meat. Well, except it has no fat in it really… or dairy. And you don’t really have to process it. Ok, so the only thing tenderloin has in common with butter is that it’s crazy tender and melts in your mouth. You have to give it some TLC though, so let me tell you how I provided that for these beautifully skewered bites of goodness with my smoked venison tenderloin recipe.
Step 1: Get the Meat
First, I acquired some venison tenderloin from a hunter; in this case, my dad. It doesn’t really matter which hunter you beg to kill you a deer (not that I begged my dad… much) as long as he (or she because we know plenty of ladies who hunt!) doesn’t mind you absconding with their kill. We’ve heard rumors that there are NOMS stores or even co ops where you can get venison as well, but we’ve never done that so can’t really speak on the subject at this time.
Step 2: Deal with the Fat
Deer fat has a sort of waxy texture and an unpleasant flavor, like chewing on a paraffin candle that’s been dipped in shoe polish; luckily, deer really don’t have much fat on them. The troubling part about that is it can dry out like boot leather, especially with a cooking method such as smoking. If you don’t want to end up with a piece of meat that tastes like a freshly polished boot, make sure you cut away any fat that you may see.
We got our tenderloin already trimmed and sliced, but it’s fairly easy to trim your own. I still like to inspect it to make sure the butcher did a thorough job. No insult intended; he seems like a great guy, but we take our meat seriously! While you’re trimming the fat, now is a good time to cut the tenderloin into skewerable sizes – I like roughly 1 x 1 x 1/4 inch; as long as they’re all about the same size, you’re golden. They will cook more evenly that way. Once they’re trimmed, cut to size and you’re sure all the deer fat is gone. then add some good-tasting fat back to the mix. We chose bacon, of course, because I mean…. bacon! But, more on that later.
Step 3: Season and Flavoring
A lot of people don’t care for the gamey flavor of venison. A lot of that flavor is in the blood that’s still in the meat, as well as the fat. If you’ve done your job in removing the fat, then next you need to remove some of the blood. The easiest way to do that is with a simple salt water brine for a couple hours (if you go longer than that, you could end up with too-salty meat). I prefer a brine over a marinade, especially for tenderloin, for a few reasons.
- It helps remove the blood that we don’t want
- It keeps the meat from getting too tough or mushy. Depending on the marinade, I’ve seen both of these happen (just never at the same time)
- It helps the meat retain moisture
- It gets deeper into the meat than a marinade, so it flavors it more evenly all the way through
I know I said “simple” salt water brine, which is typically 2 tbls of kosher salt per quart of water, but while you’re at it, you may as well impart some extra goodness to the meat. For example, you can throw in some bay leaves, coarse black pepper, some thyme, various styles of chili pepper – sky’s the limit!
Step 4: Wash and Skewer
Remove the tenderloin from the brine, throw out that water and then give the meat a good wash. If you skip this step, some or all of those pieces will be too salty. Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This is a good time to add back some seasoning like fresh cracked black pepper, a sprinkle of onion or garlic powder or even some herbs if you prefer. If you flavored up your brine, however, go easy on the spices at this step or you can over do it.
After washing, it’s time to skewer. Slip the end of your bacon onto the skewer, then a piece of tenderloin. Careful not to slide the tenderloin down very far on your skewer, though, because (if you want this neat wrapped effect I have in the picture) you’ll want to bring the bacon back over the top of the tenderloin and over the skewer again. Add another piece of tenderloin and repeat the process until you run out of room on the skewer. You will you want to leave a little room between each piece of tenderloin for even cooking.
Step 5: Smoke ’em if You Got ’em!
Here’s where different hunters, pit masters, chefs, cooks and just about anyone with an opinion and a love of meat will weigh in. Some people say that it’s a sin to smoke a cut of meat that’s so lean because it’ll dry out. You need a fast cooking method. Some will say that if you only cook it to 140 degrees F, then it won’t dry out, but others are only comfortable eating it after cooking to 160 degrees F to completely reduce the risk of food born illness. Since this is my recipe and blog post, and you’re reading it, I figure I’ll just tell you how I think ought to be done.
I decided to split the difference. I got the temperature in my smoker up to 300 degrees, and after spraying the grill grate with a little non stick spray, I put these skewers on there for 20 minutes. After turning them over once and letting them go for another 20 minutes, they were gone. That brought the internal temperature up to 150 degrees F, so I was confident that the bacon reached its required 145 degrees F (also, it just looked golden brown and delicious!). Ok, so this was ALMOST like grilling them, but that’s ok. They picked up a good bit of that smoky flavor from the hickory chips I used.
NOTE: all smokers and grills vary, so I recommend you start checking the temperature on these every 5 minutes or so after you flip them the first time. When they hit 150F, pull ’em!
Step 6: Get NOMS!
This is my favorite step! The bacon kept the tenderloin pieces nice and moist. Each little bite-sized chunk was perfectly seasoned and tender with that amazing smoke flavor. I had hoped to have some left overs for lunch the following day, but these were so good, they never made it that far. I’m not saying who did it, but the few that were left /may/ have turned into a bed time snack. These pair well with a darker beer, a red wine or a big glass of tea! They pair best with a lovely wife who thinks you’re a Grill Hero when you bring these into the house for dinner!
Smoked Venison Tenderloin Recipe
- 16-20oz venison tenderloin
- 7-8 slices of bacon
- 1 quart water
- 2 T kosher salt
- Cracked black pepper to taste
- Non stick cooking spray
- Trim meat of all fat and cut into 1 x 1 x ¼ inch chunks
- Brine meat in water and kosher salt (with options to add additional herbs/spices as you see fit) for 1-2 hours
- Rinse meat thoroughly
- Season with cracked black pepper
- Apply to skewers with bacon
- Smoke/grill at 300 degrees F for 40 minutes, flipping once
- When internal temp reaches 150 degrees F, pull them
- Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving