Enjoy these easy baked venison meatballs with your favorite sauce and pasta for a hearty, comforting meal. They’re tender and meaty without any gamey taste. A crowd-pleasing way to enjoy ground venison!
Spaghetti and meatballs for Sunday dinner was a constant in my life growing up.
Some of my best childhood memories surround those meals at my grandparents’ house and elicit a sense of nostalgia like none other when I think back to them.
Grandma’s meatballs used the classic meatball blend: pork, veal and beef.
But today, I’m bringing a wild game spin to Sunday dinner with these delicious venison meatballs.
As I’ve gotten more and more into game meats like woodcock, venison and elk with recipes like this Instant Pot venison roast and grilled venison backstrap, I knew I needed to tackle a meatball recipe using ground venison soon too.
The holdup was the leanness of venison meat and how to leverage that in a meatball to still get a tender, juicy outcome.
I thought about adding a fat like ghee to the meatballs, just like I do in these juicy elk burgers, another very lean wild game meat.
But ultimately, the answer took me back to the meatballs of my childhood and the concept of blending meats for the most tender meatball possible.
As you’ll see below, I decided to use a blend of both ground venison and ground pork.
Ground pork adds the fat to the meatballs that venison lacks. But since we’re using a smaller amount, the venison still shines through as the dominant meat.
The result is a perfectly balanced meaty, tender and juicy meatball. All the desired characteristics of the classic just with venison instead!
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE VENISON MEATBALLS
These are the ingredients you’ll need to make the meatballs:
- ground venison
- ground pork
- extra virgin olive oil
- red onion
- balsamic vinegar
- oat flour
- salt & pepper
NOTES ON A FEW INGREDIENTS:
- RED ONION – you can definitely swap out a yellow onion for red if needed.
- EGG – if you don’t eat eggs (like me), you can use a flax egg in its place. I’ve done this and the meatballs turn out identical to using a real egg. For the purpose of this recipe 1 flax egg = 2T ground flax + 2 1/2T warm water. Let it sit until thickened/gelled before using.
- OAT FLOUR – I chose to use this as a binder to keep the venison meatballs gluten-free. You can swap out breadcrumbs (gf or regular) if preferred. Or, if you don’t eat grains and want a paleo version of venison meatballs, use almond flour.
- HERBS – the blend of herbs (see the recipe card below for details) is basically a homemade Italian seasoning. If you prefer to just use Italian seasoning for convenience, go ahead and do that. You’ll want to use about 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons total of Italian seasoning.
- BALSAMIC VINEGAR – you may be wondering why this ingredient is in here. Let me tell you why – a splash of acid from vinegar balances the flavor from the meat perfectly. This is the secret ingredient against any “gamey” taste you may associate with deer meat. Don’t skip this one!
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST VENISON MEATBALLS
Start by pre-heating the oven to 375°F and grabbing a baking sheet.
Sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until starting to soften. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar to the skillet and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
TIP – Do not skip the sauté step and add raw onions and garlic to the meatballs. They’ll be incredibly pungent with onion and garlic flavor if you don’t precook them before adding to the meatball mixture. I’ve done this before with burgers out of laziness and regretted it every bite.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, place the ground venison and pork into a mixing bowl with the egg and oat flour.
Add the onion mixture to the bowl and use your hands to work everything together until thoroughly combined.
Roll the meatball mix into balls using slightly wet hands (I use a medium sized cookie scoop for consistently sized meatballs) and place on the baking sheet.
Bake the venison meatballs for 22-25 minutes until cooked through and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and either use as desired or let cool completely to freeze for later.
BAKING VS. BROWNING AND SIMMERING MEATBALLS
I grew up thinking meatballs had to be formed, browned in a skillet and then cooked by simmering in sauce.
Truly, I had no idea until adulthood you could just bake them instead.
I chose the baking approach for these venison meatballs for one reason: it’s just way easier.
Browning and simmering does have its pluses. Mostly, the browning creates a lovely “crispy” golden brown exterior much like searing any roast before cooking it.
That exterior crust comes at cost though and that cost is a splattered mess around your stove top akin to cooking bacon.
Baking the meatballs is just so much simpler. It’s a one step process as opposed to two, it’s less cleanup and it takes less time.
Win, win, win.
People also fry meatballs but I won’t even go there. Frying should be reserved for things like crispy potato strips, not meatballs.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MAKING BAKED VENISON MEATBALLS
WHY DO YOU PUT BREADCRUMBS IN MEATBALLS?
Although this recipe uses oat flour instead of breadcrumbs, the concept is the same.
Breadcrumbs are used to keep moisture in the meatball. The use of breadcrumbs or flour helps absorb the juices (fat) of the meat as it cooks and keep them inside the meatball versus seeping out.
WHY DO YOU USE EGGS IN MEATBALLS?
A common misconception is that eggs, like breadcrumbs, add moisture to a meatballs.
As this article states, eggs are in fact not for moisture but rather to act as a binder to all all the meatball components together.
A flax egg does the same thing so no matter which you choose (real egg or flax egg) both are binders.
SHOULD I PUT MILK IN MY MEATBALLS?
Some meatball recipes call for a splash of milk. I’m pretty sure my grandma did this with hers.
I don’t find it necessary for these venison meatballs (or other meatball recipes I make like these turkey zucchini meatballs stuffed with cheddar cheese) but a splash of milk is sometimes used for added moisture.
CAN I MAKE THESE WITHOUT THE PORK?
As I explained above, the use of ground pork along with the ground venison in this recipe is for the added fat content.
You can definitely make these all venison meatballs and omit the pork but the meatballs will be a little drier. If you’re used to eating deer meat, this may not bother you.
If you’re new to venison meat, I suggest mixing with the ground pork for a more familiar meatball texture.
Regardless, they’ll still be incredibly flavorful either way!
Venison stroganoff is a great easy recipe that uses just ground venison if you prefer not to mix meats.
HOW TO FREEZE VENISON MEATBALLS
What I love about this recipe is how easy it is to freeze the deer meatballs after they bake.
Simply let the meatballs cool completely once they come out of the oven then place them on a (clean) baking sheet in a single row and freeze.
Once frozen, you can transfer them into a freezer safe silicone bag or glass container and save for another time.
Thaw the meatballs under refrigeration overnight.
Making a big batch of these (you can easily double or triple this recipe) and freezing a portion is a great way to meal prep.
VENISON MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI
You can serve the cooked meatballs however you like but for a classic approach I love warming some marinara sauce in a skillet (here’s an easy 20 minute tomato sauce recipe) and then tossing the cooked meatballs in the sauce once they come out of the oven.
Serve with your favorite pasta and you’ve got a simple spaghetti and meatball dinner with a venison twist!
But any noodle or short pasta will work. We usually had linguine or farfalle for our Sunday dinners.
Farfalle also holds a nostalgic place in my heart for a dish I used to order at our favorite pizza + pasta place after soccer practice – farfalle with peas and proscuitto.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH VENISON MEATBALLS
If a spaghetti and meatball dinner needs something green to go along with it for you, here are some ideas to serve alongside:
Sautéed greens – this blend of Swiss chard and beet greens is one of my favorite simple side dishes. It’s like the baked potato of the green vegetable world. It goes with almost anything, venison meatballs included.
If you just have Swiss chard on hand, try this simple sautéed Swiss chard instead.
Kohlrabi greens are another option although not nearly as common to find in the grocery store.
A simple salad is always an easy choice too. I like mizuna lettuce for something a little unique but still simple. And this baby kale salad is also a solid choice (I’d omit the chickpeas and apples and just do the kale).
These meatballs are a great way to use up ground venison either from hunting season or just an overzealous grocery store/online purchase (my favorite online company for venison is Force of Nature – no affiliation, I just like them).
And as we head into colder months, this is a recipe that will definitely be making frequent appearances for that cozy comfort food vibe I often crave, usually on a nostalgic Sunday afternoon.
Looking for a lower-carb meatball without any oat flour or breadcrumbs? These keto meatballs are a great recipe to check out!
MORE RECIPES LIKE THIS:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small red onion, diced (about 1 cup )
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 1 pound ground venison
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 egg, or flax egg
- 1/4 cup oat flour, *see note
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Add olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add onion to the pan and cook until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and cook an additional 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool for a couple of minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the remaining ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled onion mixture and using clean hands mix together until thoroughly combined.
- Using a medium cookie scoop, roll the mixture into balls and place on the baking sheet.
- Bake for 22-25 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through and golden brown.
- Use as desired or freeze for use at a later date.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.