As the grill crackled and flames licked the meat, Steve Owings checked each loin to be sure each piece turned out perfect.
"Honestly, if you don't tell anyone, they won't be able to tell the difference," said Owings, a Greenwood County sheriff's deputy, as the deer loins moved from grill to plate.
At the sheriff's office's 28th annual deer supper, venison was the main attraction, with several grills fired up to handle meat from more than 40 deer. Owings said that, while some people might hesitate to try deer, he finds it delicious and easy to work with.
"Deer can be considered a dry meat, since it's leaner than beef," he said. "The best burger I ever had in my life was deer meat mixed with sausage."
To compensate for the lack of fat in the meat, he said ground deer meat can be mixed with ground beef or sausage to add the fat needed in a burger. Three-quarters deer meat mixed with one-quarter sausage or beef can make a great patty, he said.
"It's just a delicious entree," he said. "I treat it the same as beef, it's just a little leaner."
Lt. Eddie Smith, who has organized the deer supper for years, said when grilling full deer loins, he lets them grill for about two hours at 280 degrees. The slower cooking keeps it from getting tough, he said.
The sheriff's office has a trick to mellow out the meat's gamy flavor before hosting the big dinner, said Lonnie Smith, commander of operations.
"One of the big things we do that makes ours good is we let it soak for a full week," he said. "We put the meat on ice and keep it cold, and when the ice melts we change the water out and put more ice."
Owings said he usually makes burgers with deer, but when he cooks deer steaks he normally pairs it with potatoes and vegetables, just like a beef steak.
"Ninety percent of people can't even tell the difference, taste-wise," he said.
Contact Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.
20 minutes, serves four to six
-- 1 1/2 pounds ground venison
-- 6 ounces bacon
-- Salt and pepper to taste
-- 4 large egg yolks
-- Worcestershire sauce to taste
-- 4 to 6 slices of preferred cheese
-- 4 to 6 buns
-- Coarsely ground mustard
-- Dill pickle slices
-- A handful of arugula
Put a grill or cast-iron skillet on high heat. In a bowl, combine the venison,, bacon, salt, pepper, egg yolks and Worcestershire sauce. Roll the mixture into 4 to 6 balls, forming them into 1 1/2 inch thick patties.
Brush the grill rack or skillet with oil, then grill the patties for about 5 minutes. Flip the patties, placing slices of cheese on each. Cook for about 3 more minutes for medium-rare to medium, or longer if desired. Serve the burgers on buns with the mustard, mayonnaise, pickles and arugula.
(Recipe courtesy of Leite's Culinaria, http://bit.ly/1Sk5MEL)