AMAZINGLY TENDER - CURED AND SMOKED VENISON SHOULDER

Recipes, cured, smoked

2020 - 2022 Kjell Hedström

This recipe is a keeper. Before I went down this path I used to save the front quarters for the grinder. No more of that! Using this recipe your venison shoulders will be transformed into a delicious, tender treat that will make your kids ask for thirds and gain the praise of your dinner guests. I have found through experimentation the secrets to getting this right and practically fool proof. If you follow this procedure you can add another trick to your venison cooking prowess.

Using the Equilibrium (EQ) Curing, which is popular with bacon and charcuterie makers, your “dry brine” will be exactly what you want it to be. Leaving it in for a longer time will not make the meat too salty. Equilibrium Curing will give you a repeatable process with minimal risk of failure. There is a downside to EQ curing, however as the minimum time for a cure is two weeks. The upside is that you can leave it safely in the fridge until you are ready to smoke it. Just like charcuterie, the longer the meat is cured stays the more tender and flavorful the end result will be.

Smoke it low and slow, As venison doesn’t have fat to protect the moisture and flavor, I prefer to pull it out of the smoker when it’s between 130 - 140F. A digital meat thermometer with an alarm setting is a necessity.

Due credit to Hank Shaw’s “How to smoke a deer ham”.

Before we go into the details, I want to give credit to Hank Shaw’s “How to smoke a deer ham”. This recipe was what originally put me down the path to start smoking deer meat. The recipe was so close to what I wanted yet not exactly what I was looking for. I needed a deterministic, repeatable process with exactly the right saltiness and amazing tenderness. After going through several deer, experimenting and fine tuning the process with my family and friends I feel like I finally got it right!

The best starting point is a properly aged shoulder of venison. The one shown here was aged for 40 Cdg in my dry-aging and curing space. If you don’t have a way to dry-age you can also skip this step and butcher the deer after rigor mortis has passed. Just go straight to the cure preparations and it will continue to age, develop flavors and tenderize as the meat is EQ curing inside the protected cover of the vacuum bag. For non-aged deer, I’d recommend doing the EQ cure for a minimum of 4 weeks in the fridge cool temperature.

FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Some spontaneous comments I have heard when serving this meat to friends, both hunter and non-hunters.

“Amazing. Is this really a front quarter from an adult deer?

I am surprised it is not tough and stringy. I really like this. Was it a full-grown doe, you said?

What about the deer fat, what did you do to avoid that nastiness?

This tastes amazing! It is the best deer meat I have ever tasted, period!"

Following this process, there will be no more guesswork and you can dial in the sweet, saltiness, and spice level exactly to your liking. A repeatable process that removes all the guesswork.

What about Wet Brining instead?

Absolutely, just remember to use the combined weight of the water and the meat for the % calculations of the salt, sugar, cure #1 and the spices. I am not sure how much this will speed up the process but I would guess that it would take 5-7 days, in the fridge, until equilibrium is reached. I’d recommend using a syringe also and saturate the meat with the brine. As long as the wet brine is using the EQ method it cannot get saltier than the % salt you chose.

I would not recommend doing the speedy wet brine method unless the deer was aged for at least 40Cdg. We really want to get this to be the most tender as possible, right?

Ingredients

The gram % is based on the grams weight of the trimmed leg.

  • 75% - 2% non-iodized salt.

  • 1% maple sugar (or substituted for plain sugar)

  • 0.20% -0.25% cure #1

  • optional with spices - I have used thyme, rosemary and black pepper in the past. Remember to go by grams weight percentage and write it down so you can improve with small % adjustments if needed.


THE WAY TO GET IT RIGHT IS ESSENTIALLY FIVE SIMPLE STEPS:

  • Dry or wet age the front shoulder until you reach 40 - 60Cdg. You could also just leave it in the curing vacuum bag for an additional 40 Cdg.

  • Trim off most of the silver skin and the fat. Don’t go crazy with this. A little fat is OK as it will mellow in flavor during the curing stage and render out when smoking it .

  • Measure the weight of the leg and measure with a digital scale to the 10th of the gram the spices, sugar, salt, and curing salt based on the percentage of the gram weight of the meat. Mix the salt, sugar, and spices. Massage the mix all over the meat, and make sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies. Any leftover salt-cure mixture should be saved and added to the vacuum bag with the meat.

  • Place the leg in a vacuum bag with the excess salt-cure mixture. Get a good vacuum seal on the leg and place it in the fridge. The following EQ curing takes at least 2 weeks but I have left it as long as 3 months in my fridge before I decided to smoke it. The longer time will not affect the meat in a negative way - quite the opposite. As the EQ curing process happens the meat aging process continues. The meat is curing as well as wet-aging.

  • When you are ready to smoke the meat, rinse the meat to get rid of any surface salt-cure mix. Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Let the meat rest in the fridge to dry up an hour up to a day before smoking the meat. Smoke the meat slow and low! 180F for around 3 hours. If it’s still not done and dinner is coming up then increase the heat to 200F. Stop when the internal temperature reads 130F - 140F. My preference is somewhere in the range of 133F - 135F. This is a meat that you should not overcook! Let the meat rest for 10-20 minutes before serving it.

Deer quarters aging in my temperature and humidity controlled charcuterie space

Measure salt, maple sugar and cure based on the weight of the leg. Since this is a bone in leg the salt content is probably more like 2.5% based on the meat alone. 2% salt based on the weight (with bone) is a little on the salty side. if you want it less salty I’d suggest using 1.75%.

The cure is within safe limits but you could decrease it to 0.2% to roughly account for the bone weight.

Trimmed deer shoulder. The shank can stay on or be removed for some other delicious slow cooked meal.