So you like to cook your venison to pinkalicious. But, when cooked this way, is it really safe to eat?
Hunting families know that venison—elk or deer meat—is incredibly tasty.
It has a distinctly rich flavor, but one that’s not overly gamey as lamb. You can roast it, stew it, and stuff it in sausages, the recipes and methods of preparation are limited only by the imagination and ingenuity of the cook.
And, as with any other meat, cooking it to the right level of doneness is a non-negotiable.
Contrary to popular belief, cooked venison’s color isn’t a reliable indicator for its doneness. The only way to know for certain is to check its internal temperature with a meat thermometer. When it reaches 145°F (63°C), it’s done.
This article will explain how to know when your venison is fully cooked and include some helpful tips along the way!
Is Pink Venison Undercooked?
As with most red meats, it’s common to leave venison slightly pink in the center to maintain its juiciness and tenderness. Some people like their red meat “still mooing,” meaning rare, whereas others prefer it well-done.
Nevertheless, the color of meat is preference based.
It’s by making sure your venison is cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) that you make it safe for you and the family to eat.
Depending on how you cook the venison, its internal color may vary some. This is why it is crucial to test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer before taking it off the heat.
It is widely agreed upon that red meats should be cooked medium-rare, which is between 130°F and 140°F. Remember, though, the USDA recommends venison to be cooked to a minimum of 145°F (63°C) to kill the pathogens on the surface of meat and the parasites inside it.
How to Measure Venison’s Internal Temperature
Measuring the internal temperature of your venison is easy:
Stick the end of the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. The thickest section takes the longest time to heat up, so the center of it will be colder than other, thinner areas.
When the thermometer’s temperature stops rising, which takes roughly 2-3 seconds, it has reached the highest temperature of the part of the meat that the probe is in contact with.
If the meter reaches 145°F (63°C), the venison is fully cooked!
If you’re cooking your venison medium rare, it may read closer to the 130°F and 140°F range. Keep in mind, it’s possible that not all harmful bacteria have been killed in that temperature range.
Should You Rest Venison Before Serving?
The USDA recommends resting red meat for at least 3 minutes before serving. These 3 minutes do more than just cool the meat off.
First, it allows the flavorful juices to settle in before you cut into it. Fresh off the grill, the meat is so hot that the juices will just fall right out. Letting them settle for a few minutes prevents the juices from spilling out, and keeps them in the meat for you to enjoy.
Second, venison continues to cook even after it is removed from the what source. Those 3 minutes of rest allow the venison to finish cooking in a process known as “carryover cooking,” providing even more confidence that it is safe to eat.
Is Undercooked Venison Safe to Eat?
There is a fine line between undercooked and venison cooked just right.
Consuming undercooked always runs the risk of downing harmful bacteria and catching a foodborne illness. It’s estimated that 48 million illnesses, 128 thousand hospitalizations, and 300 deaths per year in the U.S. are due to contaminated food.
With that being said, venison is relatively low in fat, making it easy to overcook and dry out. So the key is to be attentive to the meat’s doneness and starting checking its internal temperature right about when you start to suspect it is done.
Our Tips for Preparing Venison
Thaw out the venison completely.
Don’t cook venison straight from the freezer.
It’ll be almost impossible to cook it quickly and evenly. By the time the inside of the meat gets up to heat, the outside will be all burned and charred beyond salvation.
Transfer the meat from the freezer to the fridge, in a baking sheet with tall walls or a large bowl to catch the dripping juices. Thin cuts thaw out in 24-48 hours, thick cuts defrost in 48-72 hours.
Bring the venison to room temperature before cooking it.
Cooking red meat straight out of the refrigerator is a huge no-no.
The center will be so cold that it’s hard to cook thoroughly and consistently. The meat will also be very tense at such a cold temperature.
After the venison has thawed, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before cooking. Do not let it sit much longer than this, or you risk entering the danger zone and accumulating bacteria.
Preheat the pan, grill, or oven before cooking.
Giving the pan, grill, or oven time to preheat is another way to ensure an even cooking.
Steel pans and cast iron skillets should be preheated for 4-5 minutes. Grills and ovens for 15-20 minutes so the walls start to radiate heat.
Red meats should be cooked as quickly as possible to maintain a tender texture. If the pan is still heating up, the meat will sit too long and get tough.
Venison can be pink in the middle as long as it has been cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) and allowed to rest for a minimum of 3 minutes before eating. Doing this helps ensure that any dangerous bacteria have been fully cooked away and reduces the risk of acquiring a foodborne illness.
For the best venison, bring it to room temperature before cooking and preheat the pan or grill for 5 to 10 minutes before putting down the meat.
Now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to get cooking!