Venison Is The Gamey Ingredient Your Meatloaf Has Been Missing

A homemade meatloaf is one of those easy dinners that can always be relied on to provide nostalgic comfort. It's versatile, too, easily adaptable according to your taste and the ingredients you have available. While often made with ground beef, you can switch up the meat to make turkey meatloaf, or add pork or veal to the mix for a different flavor and texture.

But there's an equally good meat swap for meatloaf that you may not have considered: venison. Dark, tender venison meat is packed with rich, earthy, and gamey flavors, which all work exceptionally well in meatloaf. And because it's a naturally lean meat, its denser, less fatty texture also lends itself well to the dish.

Found at butcher shops and specialty shops, venison is tasty but can be tricky to cook as its low fat content can sometimes make it tough or dry, especially if overcooked. However, with a few simple steps, ground deer meat adds a wonderful depth of flavor, as well as making for a less dense meatloaf.

Lean venison adds rich flavor with less fat

Venison is a lean red meat, containing only around one gram of fat per quarter-pound of meat, compared to around eight grams in the same amount of beef tenderloin. A traditional easy meatloaf recipe uses 80/20 ground beef, which is 20% fat, and it's worthwhile to stick to this fat ratio when using ground venison. Many butchers already blend pork or beef fat into ground venison, but if you're grinding the meat yourself, or taking it to a butcher for processing, it's advisable to ask for an 80/20 blend or else add a fattier meat, such as ground pork, to the mix.

Because of how lean venison is, it's also important not to overwork the meat when making meatloaf. Break it up and mix it gently to avoid the finished dish from becoming tough or dry.

Another way to infuse more moisture into meatloaf is to add additional ingredients. Some chopped bacon adds smokiness, as well as a bit more fat, for a moister meatloaf. Alternatively, try incorporating diced sauteed mushrooms, which also add more robust, savory flavors to the mix while keeping the meat juicier.

Use venison as an ingredient swap in other recipes

A versatile and boldly flavored meat, venison can be used in many dishes traditionally made with beef. However, it's worth bearing in mind that, because of its firmer texture, stronger taste, and lower fat content, it may be necessary to prepare it slightly differently, such as by incorporating additional ingredients to enhance the venison.

To make chili with ground venison instead of the usual beef, try adding a bit of acid, such as lime or orange juice. This will brighten the flavor, and make the deer meat taste less intensely gamey. For a venison bolognese, the addition of a little red wine vinegar has a similar effect.

Or try using ground venison for burgers, meatballs, or sausages with a robust, savory flavor. A blend of three-quarters venison and one-quarter fattier meat, such as ground pork, will maintain juiciness and moisture, preventing the mixture from drying out during cooking. Whether you use it in these dishes or others, venison, with its rich taste and lean texture, might just become your preferred ingredient for hearty, meat-centric recipes.