Cooking from the Bar Cart: Bourbon Backstrap with Pecan-Herb Crust

Venison loin gets a maple old-fashioned treatment in this spirited marinade


Combining bourbon’s oaky notes and the sweetness of maple syrup is the winning formula behind this cocktail-inspired infusion for venison backstrap. Tempered with a dash of citrusy bitterness from Angostura, the marinade makes wild game and dark meats sing. Woodsy, resinous rosemary is also a fitting addition here, though you can easily substitute other hardy herbs like thyme, oregano, or winter savory—or a medley.

Don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. Consider this recipe an easy two-step rather than a complex line dance. Simply toss the marinade ingredients in a gallon-size freezer bag with the loin and let the magic happen in the fridge. As for the savory pecan crust, a few pulses in a food processor are all it takes to create the coarse crumbs that get spackled to the meat with a slather of Dijon mustard. You could use breadcrumbs alone, but the pecans add richness, texture, and that distinctive nutty flavor, which works beautifully with the other ingredients.   

Marinating with alcohol is a terrific way to infuse a protein with lots of flavor, but timing is key. Marinating too long can change the texture of the meat in an unpleasing way. So if you’re marinating overnight, be sure to remove the meat from the marinade in the morning, pat it dry thoroughly, and leave it uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator. It can air dry until you’re ready to bring it to room temperature for cooking. Creating a really dry exterior helps the coating cling to the meat. 

This roast loin is delicious sliced into medallions and served just the way it comes out of the oven. Or try it topped with an easy herb-and-citrus gremolata (recipe follows) for a pop of color and flavorful tang.

See other recipes in our Cooking from the Bar Cart series.


  • Bourbon Backstrap with Pecan-Herb Crust (Yield: 4 to 6 servings)

    • 1 (2-lb.) venison loin, trimmed

  • For the marinade:

    • ¼ cup bourbon

    • ¼ cup maple syrup

    • ¼ cup canola oil

    • ¼ cup soy sauce

    • 1 tbsp. minced garlic

    • 1 tsp. minced rosemary

    • 2 tsp. Angostura orange bitters

  • For the pecan-herb crust:

    • ½ cup toasted pecan halves

    • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs

    • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

    • 1 tbsp. minced parsley

    • 1 tbsp. minced rosemary

    • ½ tsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 3 tbsp. melted butter

    • 3 tbsp. Dijon mustard

  • To finish:

    • Gremolata, if desired (recipe follows)


  1. Marinate the venison by mixing together the marinade ingredients in a gallon-sized resealable bag. Add the venison loin, remove the air from the bag, and seal. Marinate the venison in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Remove the venison from the marinade and pat it dry thoroughly with paper towels. Allow the meat to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before roasting.

  3. While the oven preheats, prepare the pecan-herb crust. Combine the pecan halves, panko, Parmesan, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until coarsely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse a few times more to distribute. Spread the crumbs on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap cut to the length of the loin.

  4. Coat the meat on all sides with the Dijon mustard and place it on top of the crumbs. Lift the sides of the parchment or plastic wrap to cover the meat with the crumbs, pressing to adhere. Transfer the crumb-covered backstrap to a rack set over a baking sheet and roast to an internal temperature of 130° to 135°F for medium-rare, 15 to 20 minutes. (For a golden-brown crust, pop the loin under the broiler for the last 2 minutes of cooking.)

  5. Remove the meat from the oven and tent it loosely with foil for 10 minutes to keep it warm while it rests and the juices settle. Slice the loin into medallions and serve with gremolata, if desired.

  6. For the gremolata: Combine the finely chopped leaves of 1 bunch parsley with 2 minced garlic cloves and the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 clementine. Add ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt. Makes about 1 cup.

Katherine Cobbs is a cookbook author and editor. Her recent books are Pantry Cocktails (2021), Tequila & Tacos (2020), and Cookies & Cocktails (2019) published by Simon & Schuster. She also developed recipes for Garden & Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook – Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories.