How To Roast A Whole Deer
Perhaps the most satisfying aspects of being a hunter is sharing the bounty of your time in the field with others – divvying up the meat from the harvest with friends and family and sharing in your good fortune by handing out small freezer wrapped packages to the ones you love. Better still are the times when you and yours come together for the holidays to share in a meal made up of meat you harvested yourself. However, while all the steaks, chops, burgers, loins, and roasts are great, there are times when there either isn’t enough meat to go around or when your offering doesn’t seem to meet the occasion. During these times, instead of completely emptying your freezer or trying your best to find some exotic piece of meat you haven’t served before, why not go all out and commit to roasting a whole deer?
Roasting any animal whole is a hell of a commitment. It takes a lot of prep-work and time but, if you do it right, there are few better ways to enjoy your harvest. While it seems like a challenge to get it right, the reality is it can be done quite easily by following just a few simple steps.
Butterflying The Deer
After you have your deer carcass gutted out and skinned, the first step to roasting the animal is butterflying it. While you can stick a whole deer carcass on a traditional rotisserie set up, the best way I’ve found to ensure that the animal cooks evenly is to butterfly it out. It is also the most versatile method, allowing you to roast the animal on a rotating spit, a large grill, or even on a rack over an open fire.
To butterfly the animal you need to split it from the tail end all the way to the top of its neck. It’s best done by using a heavy chef’s knife or a meat cleaver, a bone saw, and a hammer or rolling pin. Make your cuts with patience and precision because its easy to make a mistake and accidentally cut your deer in half.
- Step 1– Roll the deer onto its back and starting at the tail end cut open the deer’s pelvis and then using a bit of muscle, push down on the deer’s thighs to break it entirely and force the deer’s hindquarters to lay flat.
- Step 2– Next move up to the breast bone of the deer and saw through that, pushing on the ribs and opening up the deer’s chest cavity, exposing the vertebrae.
- Step 3- Moving back to the tail end, pick up the cleaver and start cutting the backbone near the animal’s pelvis. To do this, place the blade of your cleaver or chefs knife horizontally with the point towards the head along the deer’s vertebrae and give it a few whacks with the hammer. The vertebra should split fairly easily under the pressure. Begin moving up the deer’s backbone towards the neck, splitting two or three vertebrae at a time, being careful not to slice all the way through. As you work the deer should start to spread out until it is lying completely flat.
Once the deer is butterflied out entirely you are ready to mount it on your spit, rack, or grill.
Racking Up The Deer
Now, while laying the deer out on a giant grill or homemade rack may seem the simplest method, for purely aesthetic reasons I prefer to put it on a spit. My preferred cooking spits are the traditional South American asado style spits. These can be easily made by taking two pieces of stainless-steel flat bar – one four feet and one two feet – and welding or bolting them together in the shape of a giant cross and then filing a point into the long end. I’ll mount the butterflied deer to the spit, pinning the thick hams to the cross bar and then wiring the front shoulders around the backbone down by the pointed end. To start roasting the deer, jam the pointed end of the spit into the ground about 8-12 inches away from the base of the coals and lean the animal on the spit over the fire at about a 45-degree angle. It’s my favorite and probably best way to roast the deer, allowing it to be the center piece of the party while it cooks.
However, whether you choose to roast your deer using this method or not, before you start cooking the deer there are some things you need to do first.
Ready to Roast
The biggest issue with roasting a deer whole is the animals severe lack of fat. While most domestic animals have a thick layer of the good stuff covering their whole body which will soak into the meat as it cooks, a deer’s lack of it can make the animal dry out as it cooks. To prevent this, you must do two things: rub the deer down with a fat substitute and then baste the hell out of it while it cooks.
As far as fat substitutes go, there are a lot of options. Melted butter, olive oil, or Crisco will all work, but when it really comes down to it nothing beats the real thing. I always prefer to use actual fat such as bacon grease or for the more adventurous palate, bear grease or goose grease. Mix the fat of your choice with a bit of salt, sage, garlic powder, pepper and any other herbs you feel will go well with the meat and then rub it down, being sure to get it into every part of the deer, including inside the ribcage and along the deer’s neck.
Once the deer is good and fattened up, it’s time to put it on the fire. Start roasting the animal on high heat if your using a grill or over a hearty fire and then lower the temperature, ideally keeping the fire on low coals. As the deer cooks it should be basted every half our or so, painting or drizzling the meat with a mixture of melted fat or butter mixed with whatever liquid tickles your fancy such as red wine or, better yet, beer.
When it comes to cooking times, the deer can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to completely roast depending on its size, so it’s best to have a meat thermometer handy. The meat should be ready when the internal temperature is between 140 and 170 degrees depending on your preference. Check it every half hour or so by testing the temp of the shoulders, loins, and hams – the thickest parts of the deer.
Roasting an entire deer may seem a bit ridiculous to a lot of hunters. Many probably feel that it is a waste cooking all of that hard earned venison all at once instead of doling it out sparingly on special occasions. However, if you live in a state where you can get your hands on an extra doe tag or are in search of something special to do with your buck for the family, there’s nothing better. Roasting a whole deer is a primal – almost Medieval – way to honor the deer and commemorate any occasion, one that culminates by calling forth everyone to the table to feast!