Deer ribs often end up in the discard pit, along with tongues, livers and neck pieces, because they're not a prized cut and state hunting laws only allow hunters to process two backstraps, two hindquarters and two forequarters on-site. But if you know how to treat this enormous cut of meat, you'll find it doesn't differ much from other ribs. Deer ribs have a lot of connective tissue, like beef and pork ribs, and you can cook them the same. Unlike pork and beef, though, deer ribs don't have much fat, so brining and marinating are needed for moisture and tenderness.
Grill-Smoking the Ribs
Trim the deer ribs of any loose, hanging fat and cut away as much connective tissue as you can. Turn the ribs over and score the underside of the rack between the bones with a kitchen knife, just deep enough to cut through the sheath of cartilage.
Mix together a basic brine and bring it to a boil on the stove before chilling it in the refrigerator until it reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit. One-half cup each kosher salt and sugar to 2 quarts of water constitutes a basic brine, but you can add whole spices and fresh herbs if desired.
Submerge the deer ribs in the cold brine in a food storage container and store it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Soak about 1/2 pound of hardwood chips in water for two hours.
Remove the deer ribs from the brine and rinse them with water. The brine has already fulfilled its purpose, and concentrates during cooking if you don't rinse it.
Pat the deer ribs dry with paper towels and let them reach room temperature in a shallow dish, about 30 minutes. Season the ribs to taste.
Set up the grill for indirect heat. If you have a gas grill, set the burners on one side to medium-high and place an aluminum drip pan half-full of water on the unlit burners. Position a metal woodchip-smoker box full of the soaked woodchips on the lit burners and close the lid and shut all the vents.
If you have a charcoal grill, ignite a chimney starter full of charcoal and empty half of them on the far left and far right sides of the charcoal tray. Place an aluminum drip pan half-full of water in the center of the coals. Sprinkle the coals with the soaked woodchips and close the lid. Close all the vents on the grill.
Check the temperature of the grill after about 15 minutes. If your grill doesn't have a temperature gauge on the lid, attach a clip-on grill thermometer to the edge of the grill grate. If the temperature on the gas grill is above 250 degrees Fahrenheit, open the damper about one-fourth of the way on the bottom. If using a gas grill, lower the heat of the burners until the grill stays between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the deer ribs meat-side up in the center of the grill. Grill-smoke the deer ribs until you can easily pull a rib bone off the rack, or about three or four hours. Replenish the coals every 20 to 30 minutes, and check the water once an hour and refill as needed to keep it about half-full of water.
Cover the deer ribs loosely with aluminum foil and rest them on a plate for 30 to 45 minutes after you take them off the grill.
Braising the Ribs
Trim the deer ribs of any extra fat and remove as much connective tissue as you can. Turn the ribs over and score the underside of the rack between the bones with a kitchen knife, just deep enough to slice through the sheath of cartilage.
Marinate the deer ribs in buttermilk for two hours in the refrigerator. Remove the ribs and let them reach room temperature.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saute pan on the stove over medium heat. Add chopped aromatic ingredients to the pan and saute until golden brown and caramelized. Use mirepoix as the base, and add other vegetables, such as garlic, to taste. Mirepoix comprises one part each rough-chopped celery and carrots to two parts rough-chopped onions.
Add a tablespoon of tomato paste to the vegetables. A pincage, or tomato paste cooked with mirepoix, adds rich flavors to a braise and combines with the moist heat to help tenderize the ribs.
Stir the pincage continuously with a wooden spoon until the tomato paste darkens. Pour a few tablespoons of cold stock or broth in the saute pan and scrape the bottom of the pan with fervor.
Scrape the pincage and any liquid into a baking dish large enough to lay the ribs flat. You might half to cut the rack in half to fit in the dish. Heat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Season the deer ribs to taste and place them on top of the vegetables in the dish. Pour enough stock or broth to nearly submerge the deer ribs and cover the dish with aluminum foil.
Place the deer ribs in the oven and braise them until you can pull a bone away easily, about two hours. Check the braising liquid each hour and add more as needed to keep the deer ribs covered by half.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.