Elk Steaks or Venison
Grilled to Perfection

Have you ever turned elk steak, venison or even beef steaks into leather on the grill, then blamed the animal? Here's how to turn them into steakhouse steaks! Do it right. Take your time at lower temps, and then briefly sear the outside with a very hot temperature at the end. (Simple, but temperature critical step-by step directions below.)

Steak house beef steaks are dark and attractive on the outside, with succulent pink, moist flesh on the inside. You can do that with elk steaks! It won't be as high in fat as prime beef, but it can be moist and tender.

Any red meat, including beef is better if it is not cooked past rare or medium rare. Wild game meat, including elk steak, is very lean and can get tough in a matter of minutes. If someone wants their steak well done, then it will be their fault if it is tough!

Kristy Crabtree's, Wild Game Cuisine cookbook is available for purchase, if desired.

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That Ain't Blood!

Elk Steaks

That pink fluid is not blood! It is what makes red meat look red: myoglobin, the oxygen and iron-carrying protein in muscles. If an elk steak (or any red meat) is not over-cooked, it will leak a bit of water with a tinge of pink from the myoglobin. Blood is in the blood vessels. The red liquid comes from the muscle cells, not the blood vessels.

Choose elk steaks (or venison, etc.) from the following cuts:

Prime Rib, Strip Loin, Sirloin Butt, or Top Round. (Yes, you can identify those cuts on an elk! See the Hunter's Meat Map for the location of these muscle groups. The Meat Map shows you how to find them in order to label them properly for the freezer.)

Cut the steaks one to two inches thick. Thin steaks are hard to control, temperature-wise. They cook fast and dry quickly. Use thick steaks, if you can. If you finish the steaks to an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees (medium rare), it will be as tender and juicy as possible.Remember, they will rise about 5 degrees more after being removed from the heat, as the outside surface heat moves inward.

Red meat actually tenderizes a bit once it reaches 130 degrees, but begins to toughen after 135. If the steaks are thick, you can get the outsides that beautiful mahogany color and keep it pink, moist and tender on the inside.

Indirect and Direct Heat Areas

Grill Set Up for Steaks

It’s best to set up one side of your grill for slow cooking at about 225 degrees. The other side will be hot for searing in the end to brown the outside of your steaks.

You really need two types of thermometers to do this right. One is a grill thermometer placed directly on your grill. (Forget the thermometer on top of your grill. It tells you, inaccurately, the temperature at the top of the inside of your unit. That’s not where your meat will be.) Preferably one with a wire to the outside letting you know what the temp is on the indirect/cooler side of your grill, so you don’t have to keep opening the lid to check it.

The Maverick ET732 Wireless BBQ Thermometer Set

provides a leave-in probe thermometer for cooking thick cuts and a grill surface thermometer to tell you what the cooking temperature is. Both thermometers are wired to a digital unit outside the grill AND a wireless receiver that you can take to the couch! (About $60) You can get a simple oven thermometer that can sit right on the grill grate, but you have to lift the lid slightly to see it. That works, though!

Secondly, a digital instant-read thermometer is needed to know when to move or pull finished steaks based on internal temperatures.

A Thermoworks super-fast waterproof pocket thermometer

costs about $19. You will find it difficult to keep up with individual steaks to pull them off at just the right time without it.

We now use GrillGrates and love them! These are an excellent addition to your grill. They grill hotter and create a perfect sear without flare ups or fall-throughs. 

Here’s How to Do Elk Steak

On your gas grill turn one side off. Turn on the other side, or move charcoals to one side. Waste the time, gas or charcoal to get the indirect heat side to about 225 degrees F. Salt each side of the steaks. Put the steaks on the indirect heat side when it is stable. If you like, add a small handful of dry wood chips wrapped in foil with a few holes in the foil. Put the chips right above the flames.

Adjust the heat as necessary to keep it around 225. This temperature will slowly roast your elk steaks (or beef, etc.). Flip them every five minutes, or so, during this period until they reach an internal temperature of 110-115 F.

Grill Steaks

At this point, you’re done cooking on the indirect side and ready to end-sear; to brown the outside of the elk steaks on the hot side of the grill. Turn the gas all the way up, or pile all the coals together and leave the lid open. You can remove the elk steaks until you get it good and hot.

Blot off any moisture on the steaks with a paper towel. The steam from that will slow the browning process. Now, brush “beef love” (rendered beef fat), or olive oil on each side of the elk steaks and put them above very high heat, as close as you can get it to the flames. I turn my GrillGrates 90 degrees and drop them down right on top of the burners. The steaks are very close to the flames!

Mainly, all you are doing now is browning the outside, but the inside will rise to the desired doneness during this process.  This browning procedure won’t take long. If you’re right above the coals or burners, it will be just a few minutes on each side.

Again, leave your grill open and check the cooking side often. Don’t let it burn, but get it that beautiful brown color and move it around so the grill marks don’t burn the meat. Don’t flip it until you have it as dark as it will get before starting to burn. Then flip it with tongs, brush on some beef love or oil on the browned side, add a little pepper.

Now do the same thing to the other side. Use your quick-read thermometer to avoid getting hotter than 125-135 degrees (medium rare). Again, finish up the second browned side with beef love and pepper.

Serve immediately. Try not to make your guests wait for all the steaks to come off the grill. Just hand each one a sizzling hot steak, preferably on a warm sizzle platter. Let them start eating it as soon as it comes off the grill. It won’t be long until everyone has one anyway.  We eat outside right next to the grill. The Lord won’t mind if you have a dinner prayer before the food is done!

You might have to practice to get the inside of the steaks like you want them, but it’s easier to put them back on the grill to cook a little longer, than it is to uncook an over-done elk steak! Steak goes with potatoes. I’m a registered dietitian, but if we have to have some healthy broccoli with steaks, I prefer to eat that as an appetizer. I don’t want that stuff in the way of my steak and taters when the elk steaks are done!

Just for fun, wrap some miniature colored bell peppers in some foil and cook them on the upper holding rack for a few minutes. Clean out the seeds and dribble a little olive oil inside before cooking. Stuff some cheese inside, too.

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