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Wild Eats - Part 1 (Introduction to Deer)

Deer eating near tree

Partnerships are a big part of Illinois Extension programs.  This one started with a conversation about deer hunting and turned into recipe videos and a blog series.  So many ‘thank you’s to Sara Wade, MS, RD, LDN, with Kirby Medical Center for sharing her experiences.

Check out Healthy Eats and Repeats for Parts 2 and 3 of this series for more about cooking with venison and some easy recipes.


When it comes to protein in the American diet, deer – or venison – is not a common one. This is probably an exception for hunters and their families. 

In fact, registered dietitian, Sara Wade, notes “…my household does not consume much beef at all.  Matter of fact, we don’t even keep any in the freezer because we use venison (deer) in its place 100 percent of the time.”



It is likely you can find someone in your family, your workplace, or town who hunts and is willing to give or sell you part of their hunt.  It is important that the meat was processed by a reputable butcher.  For the hunters, Penn State Extension and Ohio State University Extension provide recommendations for field dressing. And look online in your favorite search engine for deer processors in Illinois near you.


Venison Flavor and Fat

While Wade uses venison in place of beef, she points out, “…venison is naturally leaner and has a slightly different flavor than 90/10 lean ground beef.  In contrast to beef, fat marbling [in venison] does NOT make the meat more tasty—it actually hurts the flavor tremendously.” She recommends trimming all visible fat on whole cuts of venison, such as roasts, before cooking.

Local Food Systems and Small Farms educator, Doug Gucker, of Illinois Extension agrees, adding that deer in Illinois often have mild flavor because they graze on corn more than seeds or nuts.


Sex and Age

Fat is not all that impacts flavor. Wade shares that “Young does and bucks (1 year or under) are the best tasting harvest. Just like cows, older deer tend to have tougher meat and more gamey flavor. Older bucks that were in rut [mating season] are the worst tasting.” Wade suggests having a butcher process older meat into summer sausages, breakfast sausages, jerky, or meat “sticks”. 


Looking for more about deer hunting in Illinois? Check out the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for more.


Today's post was written by Caitlin Mellendorf.  Caitlin Mellendorf, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties.  She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others.  In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.