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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

Outdoors Allie Cooks Venison: Hunting influencer embraces the ‘gamey’ flavor of wild meat.

Growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Allie D’Andrea wasn’t a hunter. Heck, at one time she didn’t even like venison. But in the end, Outdoors Allie cooks up venison.

But all that changed when she accompanied her boyfriend at the time—Nick Berger—who is now her husband, on a successful archery hunt for whitetail deer.

For the first time, D’Andrea witnessed the primal roots of putting meat on the table. She recalls seeing the deer fall, watching Berger field dress it, and helping him drag the animal out of the woods. “I cried. It was emotional for me, but it was also the first time I ever confronted something like that,” says D’Andrea.

Behind the tears, however, a passion was ignited and D’Andrea’s brand, Outdoors Allie, was spawned. While it wasn’t that long ago that the 30 year old was a hunting novice and a reluctant venison eater, today she is full-time outdoors influencer with almost 150,000 Instagram followers and another 111,000 YouTube subscribers who tune in to watch her shoot, cast, and cook.

D’Andrea has been sharing her hunting and fishing adventures on social media since 2015, but it wasn’t until 2018 that she left her job with a hunting apparel company to run Outdoors Allie full-time. It was a risky move, she admits, and in order for it to grow, D’Andrea knew she had to offer something more than basic hunting and fishing content.

Outdoors Allie Cooks Venison

She decided to add another of her passions to the mix—cooking. For D’Andrea, processing and cooking wild game, especially deer, is the most important step that brings any hunt full circle. At home with Berger, venison comprises the majority of their diet, and D’Andrea shares the recipe for every dish with her followers. “I take inspiration from what other people are doing with beef, bison, pork, or whatever, and I adapt it to venison,” she says.

The adaptation is needed partly due to the stigma that venison is “gamey,” a label that D’Andrea says is misleading. A few years ago, however, she admits to being indifferent about the taste of venison because of the so-called “gamey” taste. “Although I do think venison is inherently gamey, the way we use that word isn’t necessarily an accurate depiction of what it is. Gamey is used in a negative way. The gamey flavor is the actually the flavor and richness of venison,” says D’Andrea.

The other reason why venison needs to be treated differently than domestic meats such as beef or pork, she says, is the low fat content. The leanness of venison makes it a healthy choice, but it can be tricky to cook. Overcooking can turn a lean venison backstrap into a piece of leather in no time, which is why D’Andrea turns the heat up high and gives it a quick sear on all sides.

She cooks most of her venison on a pellet grill or in a cast-iron skillet, but there are steps that D’Andrea takes beforehand to keep it flavorful and tender.

getting salty

In this case, salt is an ally. After the venison cut is defrosted, D’Andrea coats it in salt and keeps it refrigerated for 24 hours before cooking. “Before, I would take a backstrap out of the freezer and throw it in a pan. Now, I understand the power of salting your meat ahead of time to maintain the tenderness,” she says.

Dry-aging is another crucial step, and it’s one made feasible based on the state in which D’Andrea is hunting. The outside temperature has to be just right—and remain that way consistently—to hang a deer and let it age. Between 38 and 44 degrees is the sweet spot, says D’Andrea, and it’s usually possibly to achieve that range during a fall archery hunt in her native Pennsylvania.

In other locales, relying on Mother Nature to age game isn’t a possibility. “If you’re on an archery antelope hunt out West in August, and it’s 80 degrees, or a backcountry elk hunt on a warmer day, and you kill late morning, that meat might not be as tasty as when the temperature is cool,” she says.

In the kitchen, D’Andrea does one more thing to venison after it’s been dry-aged and salted. She dries it off. Any excess moisture will cause the meat to cook by steaming, and that’s not what she’s going for when a backstrap hits the hot iron skillet. “You want to give it that sear. A beautiful, brown color once it touches that hot surface,” she says.

dressing down

Now that D’Andrea has immersed herself in the full circle of hunting—hunt, butcher, cook—she is adamant about sharing every step with her vast social media following.

Sometimes, doing so can be a bit dicey.

D’Andrea experienced the challenge firsthand when she shot a video on how to field dress a deer. Getting the guts out quickly is the biggest influence on tasty venison, she says, so showing how to do so was important from an educational perspective.

What about youtube?

To find out, D’Andrea filmed a video of herself field-dressing a doe, and she submitted it to YouTube asking that it be monetized. She knew the video showing how to remove entrails from a deer would be reviewed by YouTube, and that’s exactly what she wanted. “It was graphic. I’m showing how to gut a deer,” says D’Andrea. “But it was important to push it through that process, because it’s teaching people a really necessary part of how to hunt for meat. “I wanted to test the waters.”

Eventually, 13 people at YouTube reviewed the video, she says, and approved it for limited monetization. To D’Andrea, the decision was a win—not from the financial aspect—but it told her that even YouTube acknowledged the educational component is important, despite the guts.

The video also reaffirmed that when it comes to bringing a hunt to completion by putting venison on the table, not every step is appealing, but they’re all a critical part of the process. It’s a lesson that D’Andrea learned, and embraced, not that long ago when she decided to become a hunter and venison connoisseur.

“It’s the preparation of the hunt, killing an animal, field dressing and butchering.” says D’Andrea. “Everyone knows the process of getting meat on the table, but for me, until I experienced it, it never hit home. It never registered all the way. Now, I adore the hunting part of it, and when you accompany that with food and knowing how to cook it properly, how to process it—it’s the full circle and keeps you coming back.”

Coffee Rubbed Venison Recipe

Rub Ingredients: 

  • 1 Tbsp. finely ground dark-roast coffee
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

 Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Pat venison dry with a paper towel. Cover all sides of the meat with the spice mixture, patting it in. Add two tablespoons of a high-temp oil into a saucepan and heat over medium-high. Add your seasoned steaks to the pan (they should sizzle loudly). Sear for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. Let the meat rest on a plate for 10 minutes before serving.

For some pointers on getting your buck, click here.

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