Being my first adventure into ‘smoking’ meat my expectations were low when I threw this venison neck onto my kettle grill. This entire process was a learning experience and a huge experiment. I put smoking in quotation marks because I’m not 100% sure this technically counts as a proper smoking. Someone clue me in and tell me what to call this after reading what I did! Spoiler alert: whatever the process actually is I would say it turned out amazing and I would never hesitate to repeat the process on another neck!
PROCESS – IN A NUTSHELL
- Pull roast from fridge for 30 min or so to bring closer to room temp
- Cover roast with olive oil and dust with seasonings
- Place pan of water on grill & start a charcoal snake with bits of hickory interspersed, get grill to 200°
- Place meat on grill above water, place the lid on the grill
- Every 30 minutes, check meat temps, rotate & spray with apple cider vinegar
- Wrap in foil if meat starts to look dry or if temps stall out
- Pull meat at 200°, time to hit 200° may vary for you, but took me ±6 hours (details below)
- Let rest for 10 min, pull apart & devour
PROCESS – FULL ON COMMENTARY
Setup: First of all I pulled my neck roast out of the fridge to come closer to room temp. I knew I wanted to go low & slow with the neck to break down the connective tissue and help tenderize the otherwise tough cut of meat, I also did not want the neck to dry out. Venison roasts, being extremely low in fat, typically calls for a crock pot or dutch oven vs a kettle grill, anything to keep juices from evaporating and escaping. Upon chatting with some of my BBQ expert friends they recommended a pan of water under the meat and a snake, or fuse of charcoal (Lighting one end of a string or circle of charcoal and letting the burning charcoal light the unlit pieces next to it). Turns out I didn’t have a disposable tray to put my water in, just these cans, so we went a little redneck on the process.
The ‘smoking’ part of the process came from adding a few pieces of hickory to the charcoal snake. I’m sure the Rockwood would have added some awesome flavor by itself, but a little extra smoke was welcome. I’ve heard you can add too much smoke, so I need to do more experimenting to confirm this myself. In this case a handful of hickory on top of the Rockwood was not too much.
After setting up I lit the snake and targeted a grill temp of 200°. To help with this I threw in an oven thermometer to keep tabs on my overall grill temp. While the grill was coming up to temp I tied the loose bits of neck (from cutting out the esophagus) to keep things neat & tidy on the grill and to keep the loose bits from burning. I then lightly covered with olive oil, dusted the roast with some Montana Mex Jalapeño Trio & black pepper and set it over my redneck water tub on the grill.
After 30 minutes I went out to check on the roast. This was a time chosen at random to make sure my grill temp was holding under 200° and the roast was not drying out. Everything was looking great! Grill temp was holding solid and the meat was looking great. A quick check with my instant read thermometer revealed the meat was around 60°. At this point I rotated the roast, sprayed generously with apple cider vinegar, replaced the grill lid and let it hang out for another 30 minutes. I repeated this process for 2 hours, spraying with apple cider vinegar and rotating each check.
Full disclosure, I did forget to record the roast temps each check, so I do not have those findings to report.. The grill did however stay at a constant 200° the entire process up until this tweak. At the 3 hour mark (due to family coming over for lunch) I decided to wrap the roast up in foil after a good douse in apple cider vinegar and add some more charcoal to the grill so I could use the kettle / rockwood setup to cook a couple backstraps for us. After 30 minutes or so to heat up the grill and to cook the backstraps to medium rare at a high heat I redistributed the charcoal and removed some to maintain my 200° low & slow cook. At this point I ate lunch with my family and hung out for a while chatting and playing card games.
At the 6 hour mark (dessert time) after a few grill temp checks, but not unwrapping the roast I did an instant read meat temp check and found my roast was at the 200° ideal generic temp for smoked meats according to a friend (correct me below if you disagree!).
At this point I decided to unwrap the roast to check moisture level, extremely nervous that it would be all dried out. To my shock and excitement the roast was sitting in a pool of juice! However, I wasn’t out of the woods. I was slightly concerned that all the moisture was inside the foil and nothing in the meat.. The real moment of truth came when I went to pull the roast apart to serve to my family as a savory dessert alternative.
We have success! While the meat wasn’t quite and juicy as you would find it coming from a crockpot full of liquid, it was not at all dry. The roast pulled apart with ease and left bones that were virtually 100% clean. For an added boost of flavor and moisture I dunked a few pieces in Montana Mex’s Habanero Sauce and was not disappointed.
I will admittedly say that while this process might not be the best for a neck roast, I would do it again with zero hesitation. The smoky flavor from the Rockwood/Hickory combo was phenomenal, and worth every bit of moisture advantage that a crockpot might give you. I might play around with the grill temp or wrap it later to help get a bit more of the fat rendered out. It’s a delicate balance of keeping the roast from drying out and removing some of the inner fats that would typically get pulled into the liquid of a crock pot. Venison fat has some unique qualities and flavors that are off putting to some people. Personally I do not mind the taste of a little venison fat, but if its not ripping hot it will leave a bit of a waxy film in your mouth that I am not a fan of at all. While I did not experience a lot of the waxy fat residue a few bites towards the end of my savory dessert did leave a small amount behind, enough to notice but not enough to deter. Maybe it was just to that cool point from sitting out, taking photos and picking at it vs eating it as a main course. I will admit I was missing the potatoes, carrots and onion that typically accompanies this roast in my house, but if this were a main course imaging grilled those potatoes carrots and onion! I have more necks in my freezer and will absolutely explore this option in a future go around.
All in all I give this a wildly enthusiastic 2 thumbs up and highly recommend giving it a go! For me it was a chance to get out of my ‘kitchen comfort zone’ and try something different with a cut of meat I historically only ever do the one way. Please let me know what you do with your neck roasts and if you have another method I should try out!