Barbecue smoked venison ribs cooked low and slow over hickory wood. Rich in flavor, and perfectly blended with a BBQ dry rub and easy brine recipe. These are the perfect, tender, fall-off-the-bone venison spare ribs.
Venison might be a slightly more unusual type of meat, but it’s for more than just deer hunters to enjoy! The game meat packs in plenty of flavor, and offer a delicious alternative to regular beef short ribs or pork.
If you haven’t tried game meat before, venison is a great place to start. It’s low in fat and fairly cheap to buy, making it an easy place to start.
What is venison?
The definition of venison has changed over time, and used to include almost all game animal, including smoked duck, bison, and moose. Now the term has narrowed to mean deer or elk, as well as antelope in South Africa. For the purposes of this recipe, we’ll be focusing on deer.
Venison meat is available in a variety of cuts, just like beef. Ribs, sirloin, tenderloin, roast. It can come minced or cured for jerky, sometimes even sausages! However the best cuts come from shoulders, hams, and tenderloin.
The meat has a rich flavor that’s stronger than beef or pork, but is actually more mild than other game meats. Some people prefer venison to beef because it’s leaner, while still loaded with protein.
How to prepare venison for smoking
Barbecue is all in the prep. Here are the steps you need to take to ensure you end up with perfect smoked venison ribs!
Remove the membrane and trim the fat
Unlike other cuts of red meat, venison doesn’t work particularly well with too much fat. For the best results, you need to trim as much excess fat as possible.
This starts with removing the membrane. Just like with beef or pork ribs, a rack of venison comes with a layer of membrane or silver skin on top of it. Your butcher may have removed this already, but if not then it’s time we got to work.
Use a butter knife to get under a corner of the membrane. Use a dry paper towel to get some purchase, and slowly peel the skin away. Ideally, this will come away in one piece, but if it tears don’t panic. Simply try again until the entire membrane has come off.
If you have ever removed the membrane from a pork or beef rack, you should be familiar with the process. If not, be sure to check out my full guide to removing the membrane from ribs.
After this, using a sharp knife to trim off any other spots of excess fat. You should be left with a clean rack of venison ribs with very little to no visible fat on it.
Create an overnight brine
This step isn’t always needed, and a lot of people skip it. However because venison is so lean, I like to do it to try make my ribs as tender as possible. Brining requires doing it overnight, so if you are short of time (or patience) then feel free to skip it.
To create the brine, you will need a brining bucket and the following ingredients:
- 1 gallon water
- ½ cup of sea salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 1 cup of soy sauce
- 1 cup of molasses
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp rosemary
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Simply combine the ingredients in the bucket or large container, make sure the sugar and salt dissolve well.
Insert your meat in the solution, making sure that the entire spare rib rack is submerged. Transfer the bucket to the refrigerator and leave overnight. The salt should help tenderize the meat while also locking in moisture when it comes to cooking it.
After brining, remove the ribs from the bucket and use dry paper towel to pat dry and remove any excess brine solution. Transfer the meat to a drying rack to leave to dry naturally for 30 minutes while you prepare the smoker and BBQ rub.
Best wood for smoking venison
The best smoking wood for venison is oak, hickory, or mesquite. These hardwoods burn slowly while infusing the meat with deep, earthy flavors. They should match well with the rich taste of the meat and our sugary BBQ rub. If you would like a touch more sweetness, try mixing in some apple wood with hickory or oak.
Pro tip: Avoid soaking your wood chips. For a short smoke like this (under 2 hours), it’s not needed. At the best of times, I find it imparts too much steam anyway, but is especially redundant here for a less demanding cut of meat like ribs.
How to smoke venison ribs
For the best results, set up your smoker for indirect cooking. If you are using a charcoal grill, set up your coals for 2-zone indirect grilling. If you’re unfamiliar with the technique, check out my full guide on indirect grilling. It’s the best way to cook low and slow, ensuring that your venison ribs are beautifully tender and moist when cooked.
Heat up your smoker or grill to a cooking temperature of 225°F (107°C). This is our usual default heat setting when cooking meat low and slow. Open up the vents to feed your flames with oxygen, and use a smoker thermometer to accurately monitor temperatures.
Make the dry rub
We’re going to make a simple dry rub with a little bit of spice to complement the rich flavors of the meat. It only takes a few seconds to make, and will make all the difference to your final cut of meat. You will need:
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 2 tbsp of paprika
- 2 tbsp of garlic powder
- 2 tbsp of black pepper
- 2 tbsp of onion powder
- 1 tbsp of cumin
- 1 tbsp of cilantro
- 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper
Simply mix the ingredients in a small bowl, and apply generously to the venison ribs. Apply to all sides and try to work into any bumps on the rack. Easy!
Once your smoker or grill has reached 225°F (or 107°C), transfer the ribs to the cooking grates. Close the lid or door, and leave to cook. Keep a close eye on cooking temperatures, but do try not to disturb the chamber too much. This will risk the smoker losing heat, which could cause problems.
If you experience any drops or surges in heat, adjust your vents accordingly.
Smoke for 1 ½ hour to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 140°F (60°C). Ultimately the meat temperature is most important.
When done, remove ribs from smoker and leave to rest wrapped in foil for 10-15 minutes for the best results.