Venison Sauerbraten

My father has been begging Hank Shaw for a venison recipe for months now, and Hank has delivered. It’s outstanding! Not gamey at all, just a deeply flavorful pot roast. ~Elise

As some of you know, I am a hunter. With a few exceptions, I have not bought meat for the home in five years – everything we eat we’ve either hunted or fished for ourselves. So I spend a lot of time adjusting traditional recipes to suit wild game. Luckily it turns out that sauerbraten, a classic German pot roast, was, apparently, originally designed for venison.

Sauerbraten comes in as many varieties as there are cooks. I’ve seen all sorts of variations on the sauce, on the cut of meat, on the cooking temperature. At its core, however, sauerbraten involves a large piece of meat that has been marinated and slowly cooked in a vinegar-based marinade, which is then turned into a sauce.

My use of ginger snaps in the sauce comes from the sauerbraten I ate as a child at a New York restaurant called Luchows, which was a bastion of German cooking in the NYC area until it closed in 1982. They used ginger snaps in their sauce, and I loved it. Still do.

A word on the marinade. You must boil the marinade before using it for two reasons: First, to burn off much of the alcohol in the wine – if you don’t, the meat gets a weird metallic taste – and second, the heat extracts more flavor from all the spices you put in it. Let the marinade cool completely before submerging the venison.

Oh, and use an inexpensive wine you might think about drinking on a Wednesday night; nothing fancy. Can you use something other than wine? Yes, but then it is not a sauerbraten. It is a pot roast. Still good, though.

I offer several variants on how to cook the venison here, which mostly involve temperature and time. Ideally you cook the venison very slowly over a very long period. This keeps the meat pink and preserves more of the juices. But if you don’t
have all day to cook it, you can go up to 300 degrees, which will turn the venison gray, but it will still be tender. Sauerbraten is all about the sauce, anyway.

Venison Sauerbraten Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 days
  • Cook time: 5 hours
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

You can of course use beef for this recipe; brisket or a chuck roast would be good, and you could also use London broil or tri-tip.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pound roast of venison (or beef chuck)
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp juniper berries
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 6-8 cloves
  • 3-5 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup melted butter or olive oil
  • 8 ginger snap cookies
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • Salt

Method

1 Bring marinade ingredients -- wine, vinegar, water, peppercorns, juniper, mustard, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, celery, carrots and onion -- to a boil and turn off the heat. Allow to cool. Submerge the venison in the marinade and let it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and up to 5 days. Three days is a good length of time. When you are ready to cook, take the roast out of the marinade and salt it well. Set it aside for 15-20 minutes or so.

2 Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Actually, 225 is a better temperature, but the roast can take up to 8 hours to properly cook then; this is what I do at home on weekends. At 275 degrees, the roast will probably take about 5 hours to cook. You can go up to 300 degrees – a typical venison roast will be ready in 3 1/2 hours at this temperature – but you will get gray, not pink, meat. It will still taste good, though.

3 Now you have an optional step: You can, if you choose, brown the venison in butter or oil. I chose not to because if you then simmer the venison at a low enough temperature, it will remain pink all the way through. If you brown the outside, you will get a gray ring around the edge of the venison when you cut into it. Either way is fine.

4 Pour the marinade into a pot and bring it to a boil. Pour it into a Dutch oven or other lidded pot and place the venison inside. Cover and put in the oven. If the venison is not submerged by the marinade, turn the roast over every hour. This is also a good way to test for doneness – you want the roast to almost be falling apart. When the roast is done, take it out of the pot and coat it with some of the 1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter. Reserve the rest of the oil or butter for later. Wrap it in foil.

5 Now you make the sauerbraten sauce – and sauerbraten is all about the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl. Take the 8 ginger snap cookies and pulverize them in a blender. You want it to look like a rough meal or coarse flour.

6 In a medium-sized pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. When it is frothing and totally melted, whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Cook until it is the color of coffee-and-cream, stirring often. Slowly whisk in the cooking liquid, one cup at a time. The mixture will turn to clay at first, then loosen into a silky sauce. Taste for salt – it will probably need it – and add enough to your taste.

7 Whisk in 4 tablespoons of the pulverized ginger snaps. They will not dissolve completely at first, but keep stirring and they will disappear. Taste the sauce. Add another tablespoon of ginger snaps if you want, or add a tablespoon of sugar. The sauce should taste sour, warm (a pumpkin pie sort of spicy warm) and a little zippy and sweet.

8 To serve, slice the roast into 1/4 inch thick slices. Venison can be dry – it has zero fat – so one trick I do is to coat each slice in melted butter before I serve it. You’ll need about 1/2 stick melted to do this trick. Serve with lots of sauce, some braised onions, and either mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or spaetzle. A hearty red wine would be an ideal match here, as would a dark, malty beer.

Links:

More Venison Recipes - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Beef Sauerbraten with Raisins - from Steffen's Dinners
Beef Sauerbraten, made without wine - from The Paupered Chef

27 Comments

  1. Denise Michaels - Adventurous Foodie

    I didn’t come from a family of hunters – but back when I was a kid I remember a neighbor brought over a venison roast to my Mom and she made it one Sunday for dinner. It was the most delicious thing ever. Using a classic German Sauerbraten recipe is a great idea. Truth is the Bavarian forests in Germany are filled with deer – so this probably is as close if not closer to the original than using a beef roast from the grocery store.

  2. Susan

    Husband is a hunter too and we’ve had many venison pot roasts, but sauerbraten would have been the perfect way to prepare them. The gingersnapped sauce is so good with beef, but I can imagine it’s even a better flavor for deer. Thanks for this, Hank.

  3. Lyndsay

    What a gprgeous recipe. I’m intrigued by the ginger snaps. I’ve also never cooked with juniper berries before. Are they difficult to find?

    You can find juniper berries in larger supermarkets. I know Whole Foods carries them. ~Hank

  4. Tabitha @ From Single to Married

    It’s been years and years since I’ve had venison but we used to have it all the time growing up as I lived in the South and hunting was a popular way to get meat. I’ll be honest – I wouldn’t know where to get venison now that I live in the city. But it still looks like a good recipe :)

  5. Debbie

    My husband grew up in Germany so I cook all kinds of German dishes. I always put gingersnaps in the gravy, it makes it delicious!

  6. Joanne @ SlidingIntoOld.com

    This brought back wonderful memories! My favorite childhood (and adult!) meal was venison sauerbraten. Mom’s venison ended up more shredded in the sauce, instead of solid slices, but she used ginger snaps like this recipe, and it was so very good. Dad passed five years ago, so no more venison for us. He got his last deer at the age of 80.

  7. Casscoop

    The Berghoff in Chicago, serves sauerbauten with crisp, light potatoe pancakes. Another idea for a side and wonderful with the sauce. Thanks for the recipe. We’ve plenty of Nebraska vension in the freezer.

  8. EDCinci

    I was lucky enough to find a copy of Mitchell’s 1956 cookbook on Luchow’s in Idaho a few years ago. This recipe looks great. I need to get home and compare with the Luchow’s version.Many thanks.

  9. Rhonda

    This recipe is so timely. My hubby had a successful hunt yesterday so we’ll be getting our freezer stocked with venision. After living in Germany for 4 years I developed a taste for sauerbraten and this recipe sounds just like what I had in Germany. Thanks.

  10. Gregory

    This looks to be a great recipe … thank you! A question: can this dish be made in a slow cooker and, if so, what length of time, and temperature, would you recommend?

    I am certain it can be cooked in a slow cooker, but I never use them, so I have no idea about specifics. Sorry! ~Hank

  11. Laurel

    Looks great, but need a source for venison! No hunters in my house! Plenty of deer in my backyard, but not the buying kind. Most places charge an arm and a leg for shipping!

    True enough. My first suggestion would be to try to find a bison roast, as it would be pretty similar. Beef is also fine. ~Hank

  12. Renee

    Neither venison nor juniper berries are readily accessible here, but I will definitely make this using beef and maybe some rosemary. It sounds like a great sauerbraten.

  13. emily

    Actually, I don’t believe that wine is a requirement for sauerbraten. You’ll find that in some parts of Germany buttermilk is used as a marinade instead. Like you said, there’s a lot of variety in this dish. But what cannot be left out is the vinegar! My husband remembers his grandmother (who made deliveries for the German army during WWII–very interesting history there) making saurbraten by soaking a roast in a buttermilk mixture for days before cooking, and then cooking it all day. She’s still alive and well, but I haven’t had her sauerbraten in years. I’m lazy and use the Knorr seasoning with a generous amount of red wine vinegar, bay leaves, and onion, then thicken it with sour cream. I’ve not tried the ginger snaps, but it sounds delicious! I’m not a fan of venison so I imagine they used the seasonings that make a traditional sauerbraten to mask the wild/gamey flavor of the meat. ;) I’ll have to check out your other German recipes. Thanks!

  14. allen

    Is there a crockpot version? Just so you don’t have to hang around all day.

    I don’t normally cook with a crockpot, so i don’t really know. If you try it, let us know so we can help others who want to use one. Thanks! ~Hank

  15. Michele

    I too rarely buy meat for our household. My oldest son bagged his first deer this season so we are stocked and hoping for more. (proud mommy moment – biggest doe of the season so far!) Would a loin work here or should I specifically request a roast at the processors next time?

    I’d never use a loin here – backstraps are too precious for this sort of long, slow cooking. Back leg roasts are best for sauerbraten. ~Hank

  16. Christopher Jennings

    Great to see a hunter giving back some of his knowledge. Was in Missouri this weekend, for ducks. Though a couple fellas at camp were there for bucks. Bow season ended and rifle season was begining. A gent bagged an 11 pointer, stripped it right there. What a great experience to see the whole process from start to finish. So much great meat on that animal…We cleaned out birds(all puddlers), marinated them for an hour with soy, honey, ginger, garlic and a few other ingredietns…sliced and put out for pickin. Didnt last 10 minutes. I do some gunning on Long Island sound as well…only divers(broad bill, buffles, old squaw(long tails)) Anyhow, their diet is brutal(crustations, seaweed, slime and grime. I dont mind some gamey taste, but this bird can be tough to cook. Any advice? God Bless ya and God Bless America. Keep Sippin.

    Sea ducks? That’s a hard one. I’d skin them, as most of the fishy flavor is in the skin and fat… ~Hank

  17. Susan

    Perfect! When our elk came back from the butcher last week there was a roast in the batch and I’m just never sure what to do with roasts. We will be trying this recipe out this week. We have been transitioning the last few years into not purchasing meat at the store – if we had chickens we’d pretty much be set!

  18. Sarah

    Thank you for this! We had it last night, and it was delicious. I marinated beef chuck for three days, and followed the recipe entirely except for the venison. Loved it.

  19. jim

    I have made this recipe once with great success. I was preparing a second roast to cook this last weekend, but plans changed. This may be a little stupid, but what maximum length of time can you leave it in the marinade with no change in results? I have plans to use it after 7 days — does this pose any problem? Thank you .Jim

    Great question. I have no idea what the answer is. Your guess is as good as mine. ~Elise

  20. jim

    I have made this recipe once with great success. I was preparing a second roast to cook this last weekend, but plans changed. This may be alittle stupid, but what maximum length of time can you leave it in the marinade with no change in results? I have plans to use it after 7 days — does this pose any problem? Thank you .Jim

    It seems a little long, but I’ve gone 5 days with no problem. If I were you I’d make it. Let us know how it turns out! ~Hank

  21. jim austin

    On 1220, I posted a comment inquiring about length of time one may leave the venison roast in the marinade wout problems. As it worked out, I cooked it on the 8th day after putting it
    in the marinade, and it was again excellent. Now my final question deals with the sauce.After cooking for about 8 hours, there were still many cups of liquid left after straining. I made a decent sauce, but would like a little advice on how much of the liquid to use with the other ingredients listed to achieve maximum results.My sauce did not turn out as you described or pictured it.It was a bit thin and tended more toward a gray than a brown.I of course fooled around a bit, but could not achieve a sauce that was really right. A little more detailed help here would be greatly appreciated.We also hunt and fish for most of what we eat from squirrel to bluefin tuna . Our most recent, unexpected, and fantastic recipe was for concord grape pie! As good as, but slightly different than, the best cherry pie you have ever had. I hope this is not too long — thanks, Jim

  22. Cindy

    This dish turned out even better than I had hoped! The sauce is extraordinary. I highly recommend making homemade spaetzle to go with this (it’s very easy and so worth it!). I used a leg of venison, which only took 2 days to thaw in the fridge (a miracle). When I was trimming up the leg, I had intended to make stews, so some of my pieces in this dish were smaller than I would have done otherwise. I let the meat marinate for 3 days, cooked it on high in the Crock Pot for 6 hours–a little longer than necessary, I think, but I was away from the house. I think you could cook it on low for 7 to 8 hours or high for 4 or 5 and have nice, tender meat. It all depends on the size of the roast (or chunks of meat, in my case). When I went to cut the meat, it basically shredded but was still delicious. The few thinner pieces of meat (1/2 to 3/4″ thick) I cooked had a stronger flavor, which was fine, but I liked the larger pieces better.
    Thank you, Hank! This is one of the best venison dishes I’ve ever had.

  23. Rev. D. Joe Dunlap, Peoria IL

    I enjoyed venison sauerbraten during years living in WI ~ luscious! Thanks for this recipe; hope I may prepare it for my deer-hunter buddies (I don’t hunt critters). ONE CAUTION: I suggest using only NON-REACTIVE pots for marinating & cooking, such as stainless steel or heavy enamel ware or stove & oven safe glass: No aluminum, no bare cast iron.

  24. Tom

    how much red wine? how many cups? will merlot be good? Thanks,
    Tom

    A bottle of wine is 3 1/4 cups. And yep, merlot would work just fine! ~Hank

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