Elk Meat vs Deer Meat: What’s the Difference?

Apart from hunting for the trophy, many hunters also hunt for food. Hunters consider many game animals “the best meat,” but two especially compete for the number one title.

Some hunters consider elk meat and deer meat similar, but others say they are two completely different types, like chicken and duck meat. There are two different animals, so it’s only natural that their meat would differ as well.

Elk Meat vs Deer Meat

Many people who never tried elk meat are curious about the biggest differences and similarities between those two types of game meat.

Although both elk and deer are ruminants and cousins, their meat, although similar on some level, would differ. 

It is also good to note that there are many species of deer, but the most commonly hunted in America are whitetail and mule deer.

Texture

Elk Meat vs Deer Meat

Some cuts of elk meat are more tender than others. Sirloin, medallions, backstrap, and tenderloin are the most tender. Flank and roast are a bit more firm and need a little more care while cooking.

The other cuts are tougher and probably best suited for ground meat and jerky.

The texture of deer meat is firm and smooth, although very similar to the elk meat cuts. There are traditional tender parts and tougher ones that need a little bit more work.

Taste

Regardless of whether you are eating a deer or elk meat, their taste would vary between species and between each deer and elk.

Many people claim that elk meat tastes somewhere between beef and venison. Considering they are all somewhat related and eat similar food, it makes sense. However, the deer that lives in swampland will taste different than the one that roams farmland. 

There are also other factors contributing to the taste of the meat:

  • the time of the year, 
  • sex of the animal,
  • age. 

A similar situation is with elk meat. There are a few species of elk, and they live in varied regions and eat different foods. An elk eating conifers or a lot of bark would have a little bit more bitter taste than one munching on broad-leafed plants and grasses. 

Also, a male elk harvested in autumn during rut would have a more intense taste than a winter one. It is due to the high level of testosterone in the blood.

To compare the same-sex specimens of the two species from a similar region and of similar age, we can say that elk meat would have a slightly better taste than deer meat. While deer meat is a treat in itself, elk is considered one of the best tasting wild meats. 

Elk meat has a little less “gamey” flavor and is decidedly leaner than deer meat. While less fat in elk meat makes cooking more challenging, it decidedly lowers the wild game taste. 

The common concept is that deer meat often tastes like it’s imbued with all the herbs and acorns the deer ate. Depending on the deer, the taste can sometimes be very intense and not to everyone’s taste. 

The elk meat eaters usually state that the meat is mild tasting but rich at the same time and rather sweeter than deer. It also has a less intense flavor, very similar to that of grass-fed beef.

As an interesting fact, for those who never get to hunt elk or deer and try their meat through this channel, there are deer and elk farms that raise and sell the animals for food.

The meat of free-range farmed animals would also differ from the game animals hunted in their natural environment. 

Farmed animals have a less intense and sweeter taste because of:

  • less stress,
  • no predator pressure,
  • a diet clean from the “bitter” foods like bark and conifers.

Nutrition

100 g portionELKDEER
Water74.4 g73.6 g
Energy 111 kcal120 kcal
Energy464 kJ502 kJ
Protein 23 g23 g
Total lipid (fat)1.45 g2.42 g
Ash1 g1.16 g
Calcium, Ca4 mg5 mg
Iron, Fe2.76 mg3.4 mg
Magnesium, Mg23 mg23 mg
Phosphorus, P161 mg202 mg
Potassium, K312 mg318 mg
Sodium, Na58 mg51 mg
Zinc, Zn2.4 mg2.09 mg
Copper, Cu0.12 mg0.253 mg
Manganese, Mn0.012 mg0.041 mg
Selenium, Se9.8 µg9.7 µg
Fatty acids, total1.19 g2.09 g
Cholesterol 55 mg85 mg
Leucine1.94 g1.95 g

Nutritionally elk and deer meat are rather similar. However, there are a few differences. For example, deer meat has more calories than elk meat while retaining the same protein level.

It is all down to the fat content, which is a little bit higher in deer meat. 

The reason behind less fat content in elk meat could be because elk typically inhabit more remote regions that are removed from farmland and have more challenging terrain to cover in search of food.

This means that they don’t usually have access to grain crops and have to “exercise” more.

Availability

There are approx. one million elk in North America. The number of tags sold between 2012 and 2017 in:

Colorado41 952
Wyoming25 562
Montana25 374
Idaho19 851
Oregon17 498
Utah17 062
Washington7 244

The tally hovered around 155 000, but because elk are very elusive and challenging to hunt animals, only 80 000 were harvested during the same period.

Other states carry OTC (over-the-counter) elk tags, and although the elk numbers are growing, and so are numbers of elk hunters, the availability of elk meat is still lower than deer meat.

In comparison, there are 25 million deer just in the U.S, and 327 000 deer tags were issued only in 2018 in just one state, Arkansas.

In that year, hunters harvested around 120 00 deer in that state alone. If we add up all the numbers from across the country, we could see that deer is a more accessible and more populated species of the two. 

However, as a smaller animal, the deer yields a little bit less meat after field dressing than an elk. On average, deer weighs around 108 lbs, and after field dressing, a hunter is left with about 52 lbs of venison. 

In comparison, this is elk yields of boneless meat in pounds:

AgeBullCow
Calf9288
2.5168152
6252178
10+270197

Nonetheless, even after considering the animal’s size and the meat it produces, the sheer number of harvested deer means that more people are consuming wild deer meat than wild elk.

Nowadays, you don’t have to be a hunter to taste deer and elk meat. Modern times can afford more commodities, and elk and deer meat are also available from other sources.

Because the law in America and Canada forbids the sale of wild game, elk and deer are successfully farmed for meat. 

The farms are not the most popular places yet, but by 2012 around 25 000 tons of red deer were bred on farms in North America.

The numbers are increasing every year since many non-hunters are switching to healthier diets. There are around 153 000 farmed elk in the U.S. and Canada combined. 

Although most of your average supermarkets and grocery stores usually don’t provide elk or deer meat for sale, many online stores sell the meat directly from farms.

Farmed venison is becoming more popular in the food industry, and restaurants offer more deer and elk. However, the elk meat is still a specialty item and so far is less popular and accessible than deer.

Use and Preparation

Elk Meat vs Deer Meat

Deer and elk meat are similar in texture to each other, but they differ in taste. It translates in different ways to preparation and usage in the kitchen.

Starting with aging the meat – it is not a requirement, but it can greatly improve the taste. For deer, one should dry-age it for 18 to 21 days to have the best-tasting venison.

On the other hand, elk should be dry-aged for no more than 14 days, although many people treat them in the same manner as deer, sometimes hanging them up to 21 days and simply cutting off the rind (dried out outer layer).

Because elk meat is more similar to beef than venison, you can substitute more beef recipes with elk meat than deer meat.

For people that are not familiar with the wild game taste, the elk would be an easier transition from beef to venison, with its more intense “forest” taste. 

On the other hand, venison would have its own recipes and spices because of its more unique taste. However, regardless of the recipe (which the Internet is full of), one can generally turn elk and deer meat into:

  • stew,
  • steaks,
  • burger patties,
  • sausages,
  • hot dogs.

Many cuts can be cooked in different ways, and elk and deer would make great Osso Bucco, Terrine, or slow-cooked meals. You can experiment with pan-frying, grilling, and roasting. 

The most important part is not to overcook your meat. Both elk and deer are tender and soft when cooked properly but turn tough and chewy if cooked for too long. 

The spices also play an important role in preparing both types of meat. For deer, one should use any of these spices:

  • allspice,
  • juniper berries, 
  • rosemary, 
  • bay,
  • sage, 
  • marjoram,
  • paprika,
  • mustard seeds,
  • salt,
  • fennel,
  • coriander,
  • cumin,
  • garlic.

As the milder tasting meat, elk doesn’t require any “fancy” seasoning. The less, in this case, is better. The standard salt and pepper should do the trick with a pinch of garlic powder. 

In both cases, everything depends on the recipe you have in mind, as different spice blends would work with different dishes.

Final Word

Deer and elk meat are two of the most popular and most desirable proteins in the hunting community. However, many hunters decidedly prefer the elusive elk over deer because of its milder taste. 

Although there is not much difference in the texture between elk and deer meat, the nutritional values point to elk being more healthy and less fatty than deer. They also differ in availability, with deer being more accessible for consumers than elk. 

In both cases, everything boils down to preparation and cooking because either can taste terrible in a badly executed recipe.

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