Braised Venison Shoulder

Think of this as “pulled venison”,­ a simple but wonderful way to show off one of the least respected cuts. It’s a guaranteed hit, even among folks that aren’t too sure about wild meat. It works just as well with shanks. Try this just once and you’ll never again bother with the cutting and trimming needed to break a shoulder down into separate cuts.

I consider every undamaged shoulder a prized piece of meat, and they all get cooked whole. If there is broadhead damage consider using it whole if the damaged meat can be completely trimmed away first. But if it is bullet damage, especially to bone, don’t use that shoulder whole.

This video was taken with a very old cell phone and doesn’t make the meat look as good as it does in real life. I used it anyway because it shows the texture well and how the bones pull free.
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Braised Venison Shoulder Yum
This simple recipe is easily adapted to a variety of flavoring styles (Mexican, Greek, bbq, etc).

It's important to dry-brine the meat, which means salt and wrap it the night before cooking. Standard amount is ≈ 1/2 tsp kosher salt per pound of meat, but I normally go a little heavier. If using a salted rub just coat the meat nicely and you should be fine. If using an unsalted rub you'll add that next day.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Adaptable
Servings
shoulder
Ingredients
  • 1 whole Shoulder — Well trimmed, all shot damage removed. If there's room toss in a couple of shanks or heels too.
  • Some Rub — Your favorite rub. BBQ, Mexican or ?. Cavenders Greek is great.
  • Some salt — Only if using unsalted rub. About 1/2 tsp kosher salt per lb. of meat.
  • Some olive oil — Just enough to moisten the meat and veggies during the 400°F cooking step.
  • Some braising liquid — stock, beer, apple juice or ?, enough for 1" depth. A quart or two is normally plenty.
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
Mirepoix
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Adaptable
Servings
shoulder
Ingredients
  • 1 whole Shoulder — Well trimmed, all shot damage removed. If there's room toss in a couple of shanks or heels too.
  • Some Rub — Your favorite rub. BBQ, Mexican or ?. Cavenders Greek is great.
  • Some salt — Only if using unsalted rub. About 1/2 tsp kosher salt per lb. of meat.
  • Some olive oil — Just enough to moisten the meat and veggies during the 400°F cooking step.
  • Some braising liquid — stock, beer, apple juice or ?, enough for 1" depth. A quart or two is normally plenty.
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch
Mirepoix
Instructions
— Prep & Browning
  1. Trim shoulder, aggressively removing any shot damaged areas. If dry-brining (see description above) coat meat surface with kosher salt. Otherwise apply a coat of olive oil and apply salted rub liberally—don't be shy.
  2. Wrap in cellophane and refrigerate overnight in something to hold leaks.
  3. Preheat oven to 400­°F
  4. If you dry-brined the shoulder, wipe some olive oil on the shoulder and apply a liberal coating of salt-free rub. Again, don't be shy.
  5. Place the shoulder directly on the bottom of a greased roasting pan.
    If the whole shoulder won't fit, separate the shank by working a knife through the joint. No need to be fussy about it, you'll soon be pulling the meat off the bones anyway.
  6. Drizzle a little olive oil over the the mirepoix (onion/carrot/celery), then arrange it around the shoulder in the pan.
  7. Place in oven uncovered. Check and turn occasionally until nicely browned on both sides (an hour or so).
— Braise
  1. Lower oven to 200­°F.
  2. Add braising liquid to about 1 inch depth, or about halfway up the meat.
    No need to be precise, but two things you should NOT do: completely cover the meat, or run out of liquid while cooking.
  3. Cover pan tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and return to oven.
  4. After 2 hours raise oven to 250­°F
  5. Check every hour or so to see if more liquid is needed. Also check the meat consistency. When it is fall­-off-­the-­bone tender, it's done. The bones should easily pull free and clean (see the video above). It should take about 5-­8 hours depending on the size and/or age of the deer. If using domestic rather than wild meat the cooking time may be shorter.
  6. Remove the bones, which should freely pull away clean. Cover the meat in foil and set aside.
— Make the gravy!
  1. The braising liquid is now supercharged with great meaty flavor. Making a sauce is a great idea with any braised meat—but doubly so with a lean game meat. Strain the liquid. I "rescue" the mushrooms for a scooby snack or to add to a side dish. The rest of the mirepoix has done it's job and can be tossed.
  2. Ladle off any visible fat. Mix well 1 tbsp cornstarch with 1 tbsp. cold water to make a thin, pourable paste. Slowly whisk into the braising liquid. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened a bit.
  3. Season sauce to taste (it will have lots of your rub in it already) and either serve on the side, or pour over pulled meat and lightly toss. If necessary return meat to oven covered, to bring it back up to serving temp.
  4. An alternative to making sauce is to save and freeze the strained and de-fatted braising liquid. Use it to braise your next venison shoulder. The flavors will intensify with every generation. But freeze it right away—it's highly perishable.

    If you aren't making the sauce, consider adding a little fat (lard might be best) to coat the current batch of pulled venison before you toss.
— Serve
  1. Best kept hot and served right away. It refrigerates and freezes fine, but venison can be dry when reheated and may benefit from some liquid or fat tossed in.
Recipe Notes

The best stock for braising liquid would be venison or beef. Home made is best.  If you don't have that much stock handy, "Better Than Boullion" base (beef or pork or vegetable) is a fine substitute. It's cheap and good and, yes, way better than bouillon.  Most grocery stores have it in the soup aisle. The recipe is also perfect for shanks and heels from the hindquarters—tough cuts with LOTS of connective tissue.  They are transformed from a grinder-clogging annoyance into a lip-smacking treat.  I freeze them whole (no fussy trimming - yay!) and toss a couple in with the shoulder if there's room.

View online at KillerNoms.com/shoulder

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