With experience in fine dining kitchens as well as kitchens like the family-owned Greenfield Restaurant in Lancaster, the executive chef of events at TFB Catering in Lititz has made cooking his life.
However, Rafe Hottenstein also loves the outdoors. In the corner of his work kitchen in Lititz, you can usually find his camo Crocs and a First Lite camo “Bear Grease” ball cap. As a new father, he prioritizes time with his young family. But he still carves out time to pursue pheasants, wild turkey and, of course, deer.
So, what does a trained chef like Hottenstein, who makes inspired dishes for work, make when he’s not working? Turns out he cooks dishes just as elevated at home, too. If you’ve got the desire to step up your venison game for the dinner table, here is how Hottenstein prepares deer from his hunts, including a few of his favorite recipes — and what keeps him going back for seconds.
Want to learn more about preparing veison? See our guide to different types of cuts here.
What do you like about wild venison as an ingredient?
It’s obviously fun to hunt, be outdoors and enjoy nature, but I especially like killing and processing my own deer. I like to provide for my family and have readily available meat throughout the year. When you cook venison or game meat that you killed yourself, you have a story to tell every time you eat meat that makes a meal 100 times tastier.
Venison dishes also give a “wow” factor, meaning it takes a humble meatball, meatloaf or burger and puts a fun twist or spin on it. It turns spaghetti into a delicious hearty venison Bolognese or meat burger turns into venison smash burgers.
It’s also incredibly versatile. The entire deer can be used from neck to ribs to shanks and heart. You can make sausage that you can eat for breakfast, tacos that you can eat for lunch with venison bologna sandwiches or a hearty stew that you can have for dinner.
What is your favorite venison dish to prepare?
The koobideh, or “meat on a skewer,” is a tough one to beat. It’s so much fun to make, and magic always happens when you put meat on a stick. Another one that is a family favorite is venison smash burgers. Another dish that I can think of is our friend Tony made a braised venison neck at archery camp a few weeks back that was unreal. The neck meat isn’t just for grinding — it’s definitely a great braising cut. Never underestimate the power of braised venison over top of good mashed potatoes. Also, don’t leave the heart in the gut pile. Respect the animal, take it home, grill it and make tacos.
What advice would you give home cooks working with venison?
Do what you know and don’t be afraid. If you like roasting vegetables, roast them and serve with venison steaks. If you like making pizzas, turn the grind into venison meatballs and put them on a pizza. Use your favorite barbecue seasoning, use your grill, use your oven, use your cast iron. If you hunted it and killed it, it will taste delicious.
MISSISSIPPI POT ROAST
By Rafe Hottenstein.
Cut of meat used: shoulders, shank or neck.
- 1/2 lb butter
- 4 to 5 lbs shoulder roast
- 1 pack dry beef au jus mix
- 1 pack of dry ranch mix
- 1 small jar pepperoncini
My mouth is watering just thinking about the flavor of this recipe. Over some delicious mashed potatoes, this is a great one-pot meal, or, my personal favorite, you can make these into sliders with some potato buns and pepper jack cheese.
The recipe and technique is simple: Add all the ingredients into your slow cooker and let it cook until it’s tender and enjoy. You can shred the meat as finely as you’d like or leave it in large chunks. If you want to go the extra mile before cooking, you can season the meat with your favorite barbecue spice, sear it on the stove and get some nice color, then put it in the pot with the rest of the ingredients.
SOUS VIDE AND GRILLED BACK STRAPS
By Rafe Hottenstein.
Cut of meat used: loin (back straps), or tenderloin or steaks.
This technique uses a “sous vide machine” or a “circulator,” which sounds fancy. They are both the same thing — nothing more than a wand that sits in water and regulates the temperature of the water as it moves the water around, thus the “circulator”.
I like to season the meat with salt and pepper and place the loins into a bag with some fresh herbs. Thyme, rosemary, oregano — anything that grows in the garden. I put a couple of knobs of butter in the bag, as well, just to help the flavor. I circulate the meat for 2 hours at 129 F. Meanwhile, I have my Big Green Egg ceramic grill heating up to grilling temperature. (Any traditional grill would work.) I have also seared the meat in a cast-iron when it’s raining and I can’t grill outside.
When the back straps are done circulating, I take them out, and place them on a tray for final seasoning. This is where I like to have some fun and use my favorite barbecue rub. There are a ton of great ones out there, and they are so good on these loins. I put a nice layer of rub around the outside of the meat and grill them until there are nice grill marks and char on the outside.
By Rafe Hottenstein.
Cut of meat used: grind or sausage.
This recipe becomes quite a showstopper if you have long metal skewers that you can lay on the grill. It’s easy to make, too.
- 2 lbs ground veison (with 20% fat added in)
- 1/2 yellow onion, minced, and water drained
- 2 large cloves garlic, microplaned
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley
- 2 tablespoons turmeric
- 2 tablespoons of garam masala
- 1 tablespoon fenugreek
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sumac
- 1 egg
- Long metal skewers for grilling
- Garlic Naan
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the venison, onion, garlic, all the herbs and spices, and egg. Mix thoroughly until it is sticky and can be formed.
2. Preheat your charcoal grill. Using your hands, put a large ball of mix on the metal skewer and form it evenly up and down so it’s a long tube.
3. Grill the skewers until the meat is charred and cooked through. Heat up the naan bread and slather it with hummus. Place the sausage on top, slather with tzatziki and enjoy!