Long ago, Native Americans believed that eating the heart of a deer transferred the animal’s strength and courage directly to the hunter. Today, few of us bother to test that theory. Instead of keeping, cooking and eating one of the most delectable parts of the big-game animals we kill, we toss the heart in the gut pile with the rest of the offal and leave it for the coyotes.

deer heart

Many expect venison heart to be tough and unsavory, but proper preparation can turn this hard-working muscle into tender tidbits dinner guests will love.

And that’s a shame because venison heart is easy to clean, easy to prepare and delicious on the table. It’s loaded with B vitamins and protein, has little fat, and the flavor is very mild, despite common misconceptions. Some people don’t eat it because they expect a muscle that never stops working to be tough and unsavory. But when prepared properly, venison heart is as tender as a piece of loin.

Heart is best eaten fresh, not frozen, within a day or two of the kill. To clean, split the heart in half and remove all veins, arteries, valves and fat. Rinse in cold water to remove all clotted blood, then cut out any damaged portions. The heart of a whitetail deer will feed two people of modest appetite. The hearts of elk, antelope, moose and other hoofed game animals also are delicious.

Related: 5 Weird Wild Game Meats and How to Cook Them

Cooking methods can range from simple to sublime. Many cooks slice the meat thinly, roll it in seasoned flour and fry it fast and medium-rare. Venison heart also is delicious grilled, baked, broiled, slow-cooked or prepared in combination with other foods. The results are best if you cook the meat medium-rare to medium. If you cook it until it’s well done, heart tends to get tough.

Here ‘s a killer recipe to get you started:

Venison Heart Teriyaki

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 venison heart, cut in 1/2-inch slices

Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. In a large skillet, heat the butter, teriyaki sauce and oil over medium heat.
  2. Add diced onions and cook until tender.
  3. Place slices of heart in the pan and cook 2 minutes on each side. (Don’t overcook.)
  4. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve with a side salad as pictured above and enjoy!