Keto as a Way of Life
Venison Tenderloin & Bacon Skewers
Venison tenderloin is like the butter of meat. Well, except it has no fat in it really… or dairy. And you don’t have to process it.
Ok, so the only thing venison tenderloin has in common with butter is that it’s crazy tender and melts in your mouth. You have to give it some TLC though, so let me tell you how I provided that for these beautifully skewered bites of goodness.
Step 1: Get the Meat
First, I acquired some venison tenderloin from a hunter; in this case, my dad. It doesn’t really matter which hunter you beg to kill you a deer (not that I begged my dad… much) as long as he (or ‘she’ because we know plenty of ladies who love to hunt!) doesn’t mind you absconding with their kill.
I’ve heard rumors that there are grub markets or even co ops where you can get venison as well. Never having bought it myself, I can’t really speak to the availability or quality of store bought venison at this time.
NOTE: This recipe works well for beef tenderloin as well. When I don’t have access to venison, I just use beef tenderloin instead.
And we like to source our beef from Porter Road. It’s a local meat supplier here in Nashville; non GMO, pasture raised, grass fed… all the goodness. They do it right.
They ship everywhere and they even have a subscription box service now. Check ’em out!
Step 2: Deal with the Fat
The great thing about Venison for Keto is that you’re practically guaranteed the meat will be free range and fed on all the natural things deer love to eat. The downside is that texture and flavor of deer fat is unfavorable.
Eating venison fat is sort of like chewing on a paraffin candle that’s been dipped in shoe polish. Luckily, deer really don’t have much fat on them.
The troubling part about that is that the meat can dry out like boot leather, especially with a slow cooking method like smoking. If you don’t want to end up with a piece of meat that tastes like a freshly polished boot, make sure you cut away as much of the fat as possible and replace it with fat that tastes better.
And of course I mean bacon!
I got my tenderloin already trimmed and sliced, but it’s fairly easy to trim your own. Even still, I like to inspect it to make sure the butcher did a thorough job. No insult intended (he seems like a great guy) but I take my meat seriously!
While you’re trimming the fat, it’s a good time to cut the tenderloin into skewerable sizes – I like roughly 1 x 1 x 1/4 inch.
Keeping them all the same size will ensure they cook evenly.
Step 3: Season and Flavoring
A lot of people don’t care for the gamey flavor of venison. Much of that flavor is in the myoglobin that’s still in the meat as well as the fat.
Side Note: Myoglobin is a red-colored protein that carries oxygen through muscles. It’s what gives meat its red hue, but it is not actually blood. Now you know.
If you’ve done your job in removing the fat, then your next step it to remove some of the myoglobin.
The easiest way to do that is with a simple saltwater brine for a couple hours (if you go longer than that, you could end up with too-salty meat).
I prefer a brine over a marinade, especially for tenderloin, for a few reasons.
- A brine helps remove excess myoglobin that we don’t want.
- It keeps the meat from getting too tough or mushy. Depending on the marinade, I’ve seen both of these happen (just never at the same time)
- Marinades are mostly meant for tenderizing meat, and tenderloin doesn’t require tenderization. It’s already tender. I mean, it’s right there in the name.
- It helps the meat retain moisture.
- It gets deeper into the meat than a marinade, so it flavors it more evenly all the way through.
Making the Brine
I know I said “simple” saltwater brine, which is typically 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per quart of water.
While you’re at it, you may as well impart some extra flavor to the meat. For example, you can throw in some bay leaves, coarse black pepper, some thyme, various styles of chili pepper – sky’s the limit!
I know there are purists who are reading this thinking it’s a sin to flavor red meat with anything other than salt and pepper. I admit, I lean that way too, but sometimes it’s fun to change things up a bit.
Don’t be so uptight, you Texan you! 😉
Step 4: Wash and Skewer
Remove the tenderloin from the brine and give the meat a good wash. If you skip this step, some or all of those pieces will be too salty.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. This is an important step. Meat will not brown until most of the moisture is gone from its surface. If it spends too much time on the heat getting rid of its moisture, the inside will overcook before the outside is nice and brown.
This is a good time to add back some seasoning like fresh cracked black pepper, a sprinkle of onion or garlic powder or even some herbs if you prefer. If you flavored up your brine, however, go easy on the spices at this step or you can over do it.
Now we skewer!
Slip the end of your bacon onto the skewer, then a piece of tenderloin. Careful not to slide the tenderloin down very far on your skewer, though, because (if you want this neat wrapped effect I have in the picture) you’ll want to bring the bacon back over the top of the tenderloin and over the skewer again.
Add another piece of tenderloin and repeat the process until you run out of room on the skewer.
Be sure to leave a little room between each piece of tenderloin for even cooking.
Step 5: Smoke ’em if You Got ’em!
There are a lot of opinions here.
Some people say that it’s a sin to smoke a cut of meat that’s so lean because it’ll dry out. You need a fast-cooking method like searing.
Others will say that if you only cook it to 140 degrees F, then it won’t dry out, but there are those who are only comfortable eating venison after cooking to 160 degrees F.
I decided to split the difference.
With my smoker fired up to 300 degrees, I lightly swabbed the grill grate with a little olive oil and put these skewers on there for 20 minutes.
After turning them over once and letting them go for another 20 minutes, they were done.
The 40 minute cook time brought the internal temperature up to 150 degrees F, so I was confident that the bacon reached its required 145 degrees F (also, it looked golden brown and delicious!).
Ok, so this was ALMOST like grilling them, but that’s ok. They picked up a good bit of smoky flavor from the hickory pellets I used.
Traeger Pellet Grill
The smoker/grill I use is the Traeger Texas Elite 34 pellet grill. I can’t tell you enough how much we love this bad boy!
I've cooked everything from cake to ribs on mine. Yes... I said cake! (keto cake, of course)
It makes smoking meats easy, and gets hot enough to grill as well. It's been well worth every penny for us.
You NEED one of these in your backyard.
NOTE: All smokers and grills vary, so I recommend you start checking the temperature on these every 5 minutes or so after you flip them the first time. When they hit 150F, pull ’em!
The temperature will creep up another 5 or so degrees after they come off the grill.
Remove the guesswork altgether by using a probe thermometer like the one I use.
This bluetooth digital meat thermometer by Solis completely changed my smoking/grilling game.
I no longer cook meat by time, but by temperature. You can set alerts when one of the 6 probes reaches specific temps or temperature ranges. Since it connects to an app on your phone via bluetooth, you can even put on a 6 hour brisket and go take a nap! The alarm will let you know when the meat hits the right temp.
That takes a lot of guesswork out of longer cooks.
Meat turns out perfect every time!
Step 6: Dig In!
This is my favorite step!
The bacon kept the tenderloin pieces nice and moist. Each little bite-sized chunk was perfectly seasoned and tender with that amazing smoke flavor.
I had hoped to have some leftovers for lunch the following day, but these were so good, they never made it that far. I’m not saying who did it, but the few that were left /may/ have turned into a bedtime snack.
These venison tenderloin skewers pair well with a darker beer (no, that’s not keto!), a red wine or a big glass of tea! They pair best with a lovely wife who thinks you’re a Grill Hero when you bring these into the house for dinner!
Thanks for Reading
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Venison Tenderloin & Bacon Skewers
Trim meat of all fat and cut into 1 x 1 x 1/4 inch chunks
Brine meat in water and kosher salt (with options to add additional herbs/spices as you see fit) for 1-2 hours
Rinse meat thoroughly and pat dry
Season with cracked black pepper
Apply to skewers with bacon
Smoke/grill at 300 degrees F for 40 minutes, flipping once.
Note: You can bake these in your oven. Use the same temps and cooking time. To add smoke flavor, you can lightly brush meat with a small amount of liquid smoke.
When internal temp reaches 150 degrees F, pull them
Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving
The macros are estimations based on using 20oz of venison for this recipe and splitting these into 3 servings.
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