Deer ribs. The hunters dilemma. Well, one of the many dilemmas anyways. You don’t want to waste meat. Yet you know there just isn’t much meat on those scrappy little ribs. And the meat that is there is layered in deer fat, which is not very tasty.
While it’s true there isn’t a lot of meat on the ribs, I usually save a least a rack or two from the deer I take every year. Let me share with you what I’ve learned.
- When cutting the ribs out during butchering, there is a fairly thick layer of meat under the shoulder that covers the ribs. You probably cut this layer out and add it to the trim pile. If you want to try cooking some ribs up, leave some of this layer on. Still trim off anything that looks like it will easily separate, otherwise it WILL separate when you cook them.
- Cut the ribs out last. You want to get your backstraps and neck muscles out of your way first.
- The rib bones on a deer are very thin. They are super easy to cut with a bone saw, or a hack saw, or you could even use a clever or a heavy knife if you needed. A second pair of hands will make sawing a lot easier.
- Cut the ribs about an inch or two up from the sternum, and the same down from the spine. I find that the material at these ends typically has the funkiest taste, so cutting those ends out up front will give you better tasting end results. Think of it more like saving the short ribs, which are NOT the ribs at the short end of the rack, but more a center cut of the meatiest part of the ribs.
- Let the cut out ribs air dry a little. There is a membrane on the underside of the ribs that will peel off like a layer of plastic once it dries a little. You need to get this layer OFF because it does NOT taste good.
- Trim off any VISIBLE fat. They are ribs, there will be fat left. You can not, nor should not, try to get all the fat off.
- You should have a rack of ribs with bones about 10 to 12 inches long at this point. You can freeze them up this way, or, I like to cut those in half to get a much more manageable rack.
- At this point, they can be cooked the same way you cook your pork ribs. I recommend braising them for several hours in the fluid of your choice (stock, beer, ginger-ale, BBQ sauce, they all are great braising liquids). I’ll braise them in the crock pot, or covered in the oven for 4 to 6 hours. This will tenderize the ribs as well as melt out some of the fat.
- After braising, get your grill nice and hot. Toss the ribs on with a generous amount of your favorite barbecue sauce and get a nice sear.
- Now, this is THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP: eat them HOT. There will still be a good deal of fat in the ribs. The problem with venison fat is not so much that it tastes bad, but it feels chalky in your mouth – which isn’t a pleasant experience for most people. This chalkiness increases as the fat cools.
If you eat the ribs fresh off the grill, they will be pretty awesome. After a few minutes, they start cooling, and the chalkiness will start detracting from the experience. If you can keep them warm throughout the meal (leave in a warm oven), you’ll find that venison ribs can be well worth saving.