When it comes to comfort food, meatloaf is at the top of the list of well-known comfort foods. Not only is it good for you, it tastes great and is a great way to stretch your grocery dollars. At Kowalski Mountain, we have an abundance of venison, naturally, we make our meatloaf with this lean alternative to ground beef. Meatloaf can be made with so many variations to please any palette. This tangy recipe is the best venison meatloaf recipe in my meatloaf arsenal!
History of Meatloaf
Meatloaf has been around for centuries in the form of chopped meat. It was a great way to stretch available meat sources and use excess vegetables before they spoiled. Americans have embraced meatloaf since the 1800s using any type of finely chopped meat to create a hearty casserole that they ate for breakfast rather than dinner. Meatloaf was a common way to use leftovers. Any hodge podge of ingredients was used to stretch the family’s meat stores.
Meatloaf as we know it, really became a mainstay meal when meat processing became an industrialized process. Ground meat was a great way to use the abundant scraps produced by the meat packing industry. During the Depression, the availability of meat grinders was common, making meatloaf a pivotal meal that allowed home cooks to stretch their limited meat resources.
Cooking with Ground Venison
Venison is generally the term used to reference deer meat. Venison comes from the Latin word venari which means to “hunt” or “pursue”. Technically venison includes meat from all members of the deer family, including elk, caribous, and antelope. Venison is extremely lean meat. Personally, we don’t care for the flavor of the deer fat. Therefore we remove all that we can.
Cooking with ground deer meat can come with its challenges because it’s so lean. To remedy this, we add a fat blend to our ground. If you have your meat processed by a butcher, they likely add fat to your ground meat as well. To know for sure, check with your butcher regarding how they process ground venison.
Here at Kowalski Mountain, we process all of our own meat from field to fork. When we process our ground venison we add 20% fat to the meat as we grind. We use beef fat most of the time, but pork fat is also a good alternative. If you process your own animals, you can save the excess fat for other butchering projects, or ask your butcher to save it. Simply freeze the fat in usable chunks that fit through our electric meat grinder. We weigh our meat and add the appropriate amount of fat to the meat and mix it as we grind.
If you don’t add fat to your ground venison, you may find things like venison burgers, meat loaf, and meatballs are very dense and dry. They may not even stay together well. You can add a bit of fat to your recipe by adding a few slices of raw bacon cut into small pieces and mixing into the venison mixture.
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Venison Marsala Pictured to the Left
The Best Venison Meatloaf Recipe
Believe it or not, I have not been a fan of meatloaf for most of my life. Most classic meatloaf recipes cover the top of the meatloaf with a ketchup mixture. Despite the number of “best meatloaf” recipes I have tried, I’ve found few that I care for. I’ve tried so many variations, some with BBQ sauce, some with a pizza flare (I actually liked this one). Some were sweet like the popular brown sugar meatloaf. However, my favorite recipe includes a tangy glaze with just a bit of sweetness that the whole family loves!
Meatloaf Ingredients you’ll need for this recipe
Steps to Success: Mixing the Perfect Meatloaf
In a large bowl, break the 2 pounds of meat apart with a spatula. Dice the medium raw onion finely and sprinkle over the top. Sprinkle the salt and pepper. Finally, add the breadcrumbs. Mix gently just until combined.
If using fresh eggs, break each egg individually in a small bowl, and add to mix. Pour the tomato sauce over the mixture. Mix tomato sauce and eggs into the meatloaf until combined. You can use a spatula, but mixing with your hands may be more efficient.
Handy Tip: Lining your loaf pan with parchment paper?
Tear an appropriate size piece of parchment paper and crumple it up into a ball. Gently, uncrumple the parchment paper. The crumpled paper will better fit into your pan, fitting the contours of the pan better than previously. Give it a try!
Shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape. If you choose, line the loaf pan with parchment paper, and place it in the prepared pan. If I am not freezing the meatloaf, I don’t usually use parchment paper, simply placing venison meatloaf into an ungreased loaf pan. Before baking, I like to make a ditch down the center of my meatloaf. It’s just a slight indentation down the center that forces the sauce to the center of the meatloaf, not down the edges.
Place the meatloaf into a preheated oven at 350° on the center rack. Bake for 40 minutes. In the meantime, mix the tangy sauce. Add mustard, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Mix well. Before pouring the mixture over the top, use a fork to pierce random holes over the surface of the meatloaf. Pour sauce over the top of the meatloaf. Return the meatloaf to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Meatloaf should be baked until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°. Allow meatloaf to stand for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
Since Philip and I are empty nesters, I make this recipe into two meatloaves. See the Tips and Tricks below for my freezing tips. If making a smaller meatloaf, you can reduce the mustard sauce by half if you like, though I never do! Cooking time may vary making a smaller meatloaf.
- 2 pounds of ground venison
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- In a large bowl, break the 2 pounds of meat apart with a spatula.
- Dice the medium raw onion finely and sprinkle over the top.
- Sprinkle the salt and pepper.
- Add the breadcrumbs and gently mix until blended.
- Add eggs and tomato sauce to the mixture. Mix tomato sauce and eggs into the meatloaf until combined.
- Shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape.
- Make a ditch down the center of my meatloaf. (A slight indentation down the center that forces the sauce to the center of the meatloaf)
- Place the meatloaf into a preheated oven at 350° on the center rack.
- Bake for 40 minutes.
- Mix the sauce. Add mustard, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar to a small bowl. Mix well.
- Before pouring the mixture over the top, use a fork to pierce random holes over the surface of the meatloaf. Pour sauce over the top of the meatloaf.
- Return the meatloaf to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. It should reach an internal temperature of 160°.
- Allow meatloaf to stand for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
If you choose to divide this recipe in half, I have adjusted the cooking time as follows. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°. Add the sauce and cook for up to an additional 30 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 160°. I checked mine 20 minutes in but needed the full 30 minutes.
Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Venison Meatloaf
- Since most butchers and home processors package their ground venison in 1 or 2-pound packages, this recipe makes a 2-pound meatloaf to best use available packages.
- Don’t have Italian bread crumbs? Make your own! Use day-old bread, toasted and crushed in the food processor to equal 1 cup (or use plain breadcrumbs.) Add 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Nothing is worse than an overcooked dry meatloaf!
- Recipe too large for your family? This recipe freezes beautifully. Line your loaf pan with parchment paper. Add meatloaf, making a ditch down the middle. Freeze uncooked meatloaf. Once the meatloaf is frozen, use the parchment paper to remove the frozen meatloaf from the loaf pan. Put into a freezer bag until needed. When ready to use, return the frozen meatloaf to the loaf pan and defrost it in the appropriate meatloaf pan. Bake as normal.
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The Perfect Sides
Personally, mashed potatoes are the ultimate side dish to complement meatloaf! Fresh green beans are a great complementary side. Green beans can be roasted or cooked on the stove top. Add a dollop of butter and a little garlic salt.
Leftover venison meatloaf should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Many people like to make meatloaf sandwiches with leftover meatloaf. Heat sliced meatloaf in a skillet until heated through. Serve toasted.
Did you make this recipe?
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.