8 Rules for Great Venison Burgers from a Professional Chef

May 22, 2024 By: Evan Barrett

Call me old-fashioned, but I love a good burger. Maybe it’s the diversity of toppings and cooking techniques. Maybe it comes from my love of sandwiches. Regardless, I can tell you I could eat a burger every day and never get sick of it – especially venison burgers.

I hope I can bring something new to your venison burger game by sharing my eight rules, as a professional chef, for great grill burgers. In an earlier article, I shared how to make Oklahoma-style venison smashburgers. “Grill burgers” is my name for traditional burgers, though you don’t have to grill them. Let’s talk some basics and then get into my rules for elevating the typical venison burger to world-class.

Basic Tips for Venison Burgers

As I explained in the article on smashburgers, you should double-grind venison for smashburgers, but grill burgers need a coarse single-grind. Adding fat is not necessary to make grill burgers from ground venison. The patties will hold together if you use a coarse grind and minimal handling. But if you want to add fat, use 20% fat, or one pound of fat to four pounds of venison.

Grill burgers are thicker, coarsely ground burgers that are thick enough to take an internal temperature. We’re talking 6- to 8-oz. patties. You can cook burgers like this on a grill, griddle, pan or other surface. They should be treated more like venison backstrap, meaning that I like to get a sear on them and then finish them using indirect heat or lower heat. 

Here’s the trick to a great grill burger: handle the meat as little as possible. Famous butcher influencers will show the meat coming right from the grinder and being formed into a patty with very little effort. This keeps the integrity of the meat intact, which allows for a natural, even transfer of heat, cooking the burger internally similar to a steak.

First and foremost, you’ve got to cook the burger correctly. Then, think about the applicability of eating the burger. If all the toppings slide out, or if the sandwich turns to a juicy mess on the plate, your guests won’t enjoy them as much. Here are my grill-burger rules to ensure great venison burgers.

venison burgers
Cook your venison burgers correctly, but also build them so you and your guests enjoy them. A messy, sloppy burger that falls apart on the plate won’t be enjoyable.

Cook Venison Burgers to Medium

I cook venison burgers to an internal, finished temp of about 130°F. This is the temperature after resting, and 130° is medium. The reason for medium is I find that it has melted the fats, creating a juicy burger that won’t be a sloppy mess. I love a medium-rare burger, but once you get into it, it starts releasing all the juices and you’ve got a small pond on your plate. I find that medium gives me all the flavor and texture while keeping my plate a little less messy.

Use a Digital Thermometer

To hit a specific internal temperature, you’ll want to use an instant-read digital thermometer. You’ll also want to pull the venison burgers 5 to 10° before the desired internal temperature and rest them. If I’m targeting 130°, I’ll pull them at 120 to 125° and let them rest for 5 to 10 minutes before putting them on the bun (if you rest them on the bun, they’ll make the bun soggy).

Flip More Than Once

I’ll start with a hot side of the grill, put a little oil on the burger or grill grates to help with sticking, place the burger and leave it alone until it starts to naturally release. Then I’ll flip to the other side and do the same. Depending on the thickness of the patty and the temperature of the grill, I’ll flip back and forth one more time each to even out the cooking. I try to be gentle and let the burger tell me when it’s ready to be flipped.

Don’t Press Venison Burgers

Unless you’re making smashburgers, don’t press on the patties. Your burger will cook on its own. The heat will transfer and move throughout the interior of the burger. If you press on it while cooking, you’ll lose all the fat and juice cooking the burger. You’ll be left with a hockey puck.

Burger sauce is simply a blend of all the condiments and toppings you like to use on your burgers – ketchup, mayo, mustard, pickles, onions and more. The blended sauce makes it easier to evenly distribute toppings and keep burgers manageable.

Use Burger Sauce

I make a house sauce that’s a lot like thousand island. Ingredients include mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles and onions. I would likely have all those on my burger anyway, so this way I get to evenly distribute it without using too much of my overall topping capacity. If you like certain toppings on your burger, and you think you could blend them with a sauce you plan to put on it, go for it!

Toast Your Buns

Bread choice makes a difference. There are all kinds of buns or breads you can use. Potato buns are great, but I’m not too picky. I pull out some of the breading from the top bun to help hold the toppings. I also toast my buns so they take and hold sauce a little better. Typically I toast them right on whatever cooking surface I’m using to cook the burger, so it’s easy.

Have Fun With Toppings

Within reason, of course. Again, it doesn’t matter how creative a burger is if you can’t eat it. Sometimes less is more, or modify the toppings to help them fit. One example was the sauce, another would be chopping. 

Lettuce, for example, will always be better on a burger chopped, you just don’t want to do it until the last minute or it will brown. I find onions or tomatoes work better chopped. Sometimes I’ll make a “salad” or “relish” that has all the toppings I want, blended in a bowl and seasoned, making it easy to top a burger. Again, read your audience and make it so they can actually enjoy the burger, not fight with it.

venison burgers
Have fun with toppings, within reason. It doesn’t matter how creative a burger is if you can’t eat it.

Cheese is Optional

I put cheese on my venison burgers most of the time, but it’s always on theme. It doesn’t always have to be a melting cheese, although most of the ones I use are. Also think about whether slicing or shredding will be the best application for the cheese. 

Venison burgers are so good the way they are, they don’t need cheese, and that’s fine too! If I’m having bacon and a fried egg, I don’t need cheese because I’ve got a lot of slippery toppings loaded with fat, and the cheese may be more of a burden than it’s worth. Cheese is a preferred topping but still just a topping, so it needs to fit your vision.

Make burgers, but please take the time to make them excellent. It’s one of the most simple but rewarding applications of wild game. You’ve taken the time to harvest and process your wild game for excellent table fare, and now you’ve read this, so clearly you’re interested in seeing how good your burgers can be. I promise you’ll never look back!

About Evan Barrett:

Evan Barrett of Michigan is a new hunter and NDA member who killed his first deer at an NDA Field to Fork hunt in 2021. He’s also a professional chef and sommelier.