Slow Roasted Whole Deer - Argentina Asado Style - Helps Get a Party Cooking
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
There is an old saying that food always tastes better when it’s cooked and eaten outdoors. While classically-trained chefs in sophisticated kitchens may argue the point, there is something special about a perfectly grilled burger adorned with a thick slice of tomato and onion, or a fresh walleye fillet frying in a skillet along the rocky beach of a pristine, remote lake.
Maybe it’s outdoors cooking’s minimalist approach. Perhaps it connects us to something more primeval, a time when gnawing meat from bones cooked in caves represented safety and life sustained. Maybe it’s as simple as hanging out with good friends in the fresh air.
Spit for Style Points
On a waterfowl hunting expedition to Argentina a few years ago, experiencing the Argentines’ unique style of cooking over wood fires was a highlight of the trip. At restaurants, this style of cooking over a hard wood fire usually takes place indoors with a “parrilla” grill. Outdoors cooking is typically done over a fire pit and the meat spit asado can feature anything from birds to whole sides of beef.
This technique differs from a standard spit and rotisserie often seen at North American outdoor roast events. Meat, often a whole dressed carcass, is attached to a supporting cross-shaped spit that is angled over glowing hot pieces of split hardwoods. The spit can be easily reversed to place different points of the animal over the hottest coals. Results are delicious.
I always wanted to try this style of cooking, ideally slow roasting a whole deer, but not many stores sell Argentine-style asado spits. Working with a local welding and metal fabrication shop, we designed and constructed a dual-cross spit that can hold anything from a small deer to a 100-pound hog.
We’ve cooked several whole deer since. The first cooking test was a young white-tailed deer, slow roasted over oak in a three-sided brick fire pit. At its side on a grate over the coals was a whole 20-pound striped bass, wrapped in foil and steaming with white wine, butter and lemon.
We leaned the spit over a fire hot enough to sear the meat. A fresh chimichurri sauce (see recipe), brushed early and often, enhanced the flavor. You can also baste regularly with things such as apple cider mixed with a little apple butter. The venison will want to dry out. It takes some babysitting at the spit, but it’s worth it.
A meat thermometer placed in the thickest portion of the hind quarter tested doneness and advised when the spit should be flipped or rotated.
We also hosted Scott Leysath, of the Sporting Chef show on the Sportsmans Channel, for an asado party featuring a roasted whole deer. It made for a good episode. Scott later wrote about it for a Winchester website (https://whitetail.winchester.com/2016/how-to-make-venison-argentina-style)
An advantage of this style of cooking is that the meat gets a smoky nuance, but the smoke doesn’t completely permeate and overpower the juicy natural flavors.
The various sections of the meat cook at different rates. Cut out the backstraps and tenderloins first and dine on them while the front shoulders and hind quarters finish over the coals.
It wasn’t exactly Argentina, but still made for a great party.
Start with chilled, dry meat. Season with salt & pepper. Having the meat chilled lets the outside develop a nice charred sear. After cooking, remove from heat source and let meat rest for 10 minutes to distribute juices. Meat continues to cook even after it’s removed from the heat. For medium rare, remove from heat source when internal temperatures register 120 degrees; remove at 130 degrees for medium, keeping in mind, thinner sections on whole animal roasts likely will be well done. If grilling on racks or grates, oil them liberally before adding the meat.
Manage the coals. Let your bed of coals get to the desired heat and gently spread beneath your food. If the meal is a slow-roasted whole animal, have a feeder fire nearby you can use to gently shovel replacement coals as the cooking coals diminish. Don’t poke or rearrange hot hardwood coals too aggressively or you’ll send a shower of ashes upward into the roasting meat.
Keep it clean. Cover the outside and lid of nearby Dutch ovens bearing side dishes with foil for easier clean-up. Some people now use aluminum liners inside the Dutch ovens, but that negates the great taste associated with cooking in cast iron.
1.5 cups chopped fresh parsley leaves
8-12 chopped fresh garlic cloves
3 tablespoons minced onion
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
¼-cup distilled white or red wine vinegar
¾-cup olive oil (use something cheap for a basting sauce)
4 tablespoons of water
Combine and pulse a few times in blender or food processor. Don’t pulse so much that the parsley and garlic emulsify. Let it rest at least a couple hours in the refrigerator or cooler. Brush it over the meat while cooking. Save some for a dipping sauce, if desired.