In my mind, it’s hard to choose what’s the best cut on a deer – the backstop or tenderloin. Either way, both are loins – backstrap is just the word we use to refer to the length of the two top loins on a deer that run along the spine – and provide delicious meals if done correctly.
Now that Thanksgiving is here, I’d like to share a simple reverse-sear recipe I’ve done before with smaller pieces of the backstrap to prepare for the holiday. It’s relatively simple, but make sure you have plenty of time on your hands – it’s worth the wait.
But before I get into giving you the recipe there’s one thing I want to touch on that is frequent in the hunting community: Telling the story of the deer.
The meat I’m using this year is from the 10-point buck I killed in Ritchie County. Once my brother and I skinned and quartered the deer, we were in awe of how big the backstraps were. Most deer will beef up around the time of the rut, and we knew this big-bodied deer was going to provide us with a ton of useful meat. I never thought of the backstrap until I saw it. Normally, I’ll cut the loin into smaller steaks, what you normally see as filet mignon, and serve it as a small dish with a side of vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts or green beans, but for this meal, I left both straps intact so I could cook it all at once, making sure the temperature is even throughout.
If you haven’t read the full story, I’ll link it here, but here’s the shortened version.
For years I’ve been hunting this property during gun season, typically getting out one to three times over the course of the season. I’ve passed on a few smaller bucks but having the necessary equipment this year I knew I wanted to hit what my brother and I call the “wasteland” during the rut. After moving the date back a week, Kenny and I packed up our crossbows and headed out to the permanent blind around 3:30 p.m. No less than 45 minutes later, I see the buck walking out of the northeast side of the woods, wind in his face. Luckily, it was in our face, too, as he obliviously walked toward the pile of corn we had set out. A few minutes later, I hit him in the vitals with the bolt and he fell shortly about 100 yards away. It was my first buck and my first whitetail, so I’m sure you can imagine how happy I was.
I began processing him the next day after letting the meat cool, and within a few hours, I had all of the deboned meat wrapped and in the freezer while my pile of scraps went into marinades for jerky.
As I mentioned, the plan for the backstrap is a simple one: A low-temperature roast in the oven followed by a quick reverse sear in a cast-iron skillet. To jazz it up, I’ll be rubbing the meat with some spices, although you can forego that if you choose – I’ll be giving you three sauce options that I think pair great with an herb rub, just salt and pepper and a sweet and spicy rub, respectively. But why a reverse sear? This method helps keep juices inside while giving it a nice crust.
The first method, and my favorite, is what I call my Joe Rogan style, named after the famous podcaster, former TV personality and current UFC commentator. Rogan is also a big hunter, who constantly talks about cooking elk backstrap on his Traeger grill with some jalapenos on his podcast, the Joe Rogan Experience. He also shares pictures of his cooking, and you can find one of his elk backstraps on his Instagram account that was posted Wednesday. This method is essentially a blackening spice mix with a hint of cinnamon and brown sugar to give it a Texas rub feel. The topping is a jalapeno garlic butter that should melt over the top of the hot meat.
The second method is backstrap with a simple salt and pepper rub down with cranberry sage butter. The original recipe I’m spinning off of uses cherries, but, in the spirit of the holiday, cranberries are my go-to. The final method is the herb spice-rubbed loin with a béarnaise sauce I learned from the New York Times.
Depending on if you use one or all three of these, make sure you prepare your meat first. Make sure it’s defrosted and brought to room temperature or close to it. I usually set mine out for half an hour after it defrosts in the fridge overnight. While it comes to room temperature, make your spice rubs or prepare what you need to for your sauces. Trust me, letting the meat come to a stable temperature before putting it under heat will help keep the meat tender and taste better.
The cooking process for all of this will be the same, which you can find underneath the methods.
Three-way reverse sear backstrap
Method 1 – Joe Rogan (Texas-style) Rub with jalapeño garlic butter
4 tbsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp of cayenne powder
2 tbsp of onion powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp of garlic powder
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 stick unsalted butter, brought to room temperature
1 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped to your desired size
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Mix your spice blend in a bowl and set aside.
Mix your butter ingredients in a separate bowl, cover with cling wrap and set aside. If you aren’t going to use the butter for a while, put it in the fridge and remove it prior to use so it returns to room temperature.
Method 2 – Cranberry sage butter
Salt and pepper
1 stick of unsalted butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh sage
1/4 cup of dried cranberries
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Before backstraps are done roasting, in a saucepan over low-medium heat, begin to melt butter. When melted halfway, add garlic, sage, cranberries, salt and pepper. Continuously mix so garlic and sage doesn’t burn. Top sliced backstrap with sauce and serve.
Method 3 – Herbs and béarnaise
2 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper, ground
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon leaves
2 egg yolks
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Kosher salt, to taste
Splash of lemon juice, optional
Combine your rub ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
Put the vinegar, shallots, black pepper and 1 tablespoon of tarragon leaves into a small saucepan, and set over a medium flame. Bring just to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer until there are only a few tablespoons of liquid left, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool.
Fill a small saucepan with an inch or two of water, and set over medium-high heat to boiling.
Put the cooled shallot-and-tarragon mixture into a metal mixing bowl along with a tablespoon of water and the egg yolks, then whisk to combine.
Turn the heat under the saucepan of water down to its lowest setting, and put the bowl on top of the pan, making sure that it does not touch the water directly. Continue to whisk the yolks until they thicken, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. You should just about double the volume of the yolks.
Slowly beat in the butter, a tablespoon or two at a time, whisking slowly to combine and emulsify. Remove the bowl from the pan occasionally, so as not to overcook the eggs, and taste the sauce. Season with salt. If the flavor is not sharp enough, add a splash of lemon juice. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a splash of hot water. Add the remaining teaspoon of tarragon leaves, and serve.
Cooking the backstrap:
- Regardless if you’re using an oven or smoker, preheat to 250 degrees.
- Season your meat with your desired rub. Once preheated, put seasoned meat into the oven for 45 minutes. Once in the oven for more than 30 minutes, check the meat’s internal temperature frequently to make sure you reach 125-130 degrees. If you desire more well-done meat, cook longer. Medium cooked venison is 130-135 degrees, medium well is 135-145 degrees and well done is 145-155 degrees. For the best taste, medium rare is the best temperature.
- Get a cast-iron skillet hot. Melt lard or butter in the skillet and add the meat, searing each side for 2 minutes. Once seared, pull out and put on a cutting board. Let rest for 5 minutes. Slice the meat half an inch thick and serve with respective sauce.