Smoked venison kidneys are not only one of the best ways I've had kidneys (steak and kidney pie is my other standby) but it's one of the best recipes for offal and organ meats in my repertoire, period. If you've had kidneys are didn't care for them in the past, or if you're new to cooking kidneys and want something that everyone will eat, I can guarantee you this is a great place to start.
Besides the trotters/feet and gut bag, kidneys are right up there with the most discarded parts of venison, and I get it. Even after my years of nose-to tail and whole-animal cooking and tutelage in professional restaurants, kidneys were still a mystery to me until I started harvesting my own animals.
"If smoked testicles are like a hot dog, smoked kidneys are the fancy bologna of smoked organ meats."
Kidneys are wobbly, wiggly bits, and, if you've ever held one warm, fresh from a creature, you'll know they have a certain aroma that is probably about as close to smelling fresh animal piss as most people will ever come. Delicious, I know—just being real with you. Hot dog and sausage casings used to be full of shit, too.
The funny thing is, now, after a couple years of eating and (gasp!) enjoying kidneys from venison and lamb I butcher, I can tell you, without a doubt, that kidneys are one of the best pieces of offal there is to be had. If you like liver, even if you don't like liver, you will like kidneys. In fact, I definitely prefer kidneys to liver, given the choice. Kidneys have a couple benefits, but there's a big one that stands out to me.
It's tough to overcook kidneys
Unlike liver, venison kidneys are really hard to overcook. Really hard. The timeline of the smoked venison kidney recipe here I'm sharing might catch you off guard--you cook them for 1.5 hours. If you cooked liver like that, even at a low temp, it's going to be a tough, crumbly, livery affair. For reference, most of the time I cook liver it's either hot and fast, or manipulated in some way like pate or my venison liver and bacon dumplings.
Soaking and brining to calm the flavor
Soaking and then brining to calm the flavor is really the secret here, and it's one that I borrowed from another recipe of mine for offal: smoked testicles. Personally, I find testicles to have an even stronger flavor than kidneys. Kidneys have the flavor of iron you'd associate with liver, but testicles are another thing entirely, especially from lamb that I usually cook with.
Magically, brining and smoking the ol'rocky mountain oyster transformed them into something much more delicious than I expected, and a nice cheeseplate nibble you could feed to the pickiest 7 year old you know. I had a hunch brining and smoking would be a good treatment for testicles, but I was honestly shocked at how mild they came out. If you didn't know that they were, you'd think they were some kind of hot dog or a piece of charcuterie.
Since the testicles were so good smoked, I tried the same method with a tiny adjustment for the sweetness of liver/kidney. If smoked testicles are like a hot dog, smoked kidneys are the fancy bologna of smoked organ meats—the flavor and texture are eerily reminiscent of each other, if bologna was crossed with braunschweiger.
Ideas for using
Charcuterie and snack plates
Smoked kidneys will be a great conversation piece for a holiday cheese or charcuterie plate, just slice them thin and have a little hot mustard and crackers ready.
Salads, pasta, sandwiches and more
While smoked testicles are very soft and supple, kidneys will be more firm, which means they can be cut into slices or slivers and added to things. Imagine thin, smoky slivers tossed in a salad with dried fruit and nuts, stirred into carbonara with bacon at the last minute, or nestled into a sandwich of other cold cuts with a nice slice of provalone and some pickled peppers. I'm sure there's plenty you can find to do with them.
Bonus: smoked kidneys are a great dog treat
Sometimes if I have a lot of them, I might smoke kidneys for a good, natural dog treat/supplement. If you want to try that, you'll want to skip brining them since too much salt isn't good for your pooch. Other than that, the recipe is the same. Smoked kidneys will last for 3 days in the fridge after cooking if they aren't brined.
Smoked Venison Kidneys
- 1 lb kidneys or up to double that amount (see note on the brine)
Brine *see note
- 1.5 T 10g Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon 2g pink salt (sodium nitrate)
- ¼ cup 50 g brown sugar or maple syrup (use a little extra than ¼ cup if you use maple to account for the water it contains)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil for smoking
- Aromatics you can adjust to your taste and what you have
- 1 large clove garlic grated, minced or mashed
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
- ½ inch piece cinnamon
- 10 allspice berries
- 5 whole cloves
Removing the fat
- Remove any membrane from the kidneys if attached, then inspect the middle portion where they attach to the body and remove the fat from the inside of the kidneys, I like to do this with a sharp, thin bladed scissors or pruning shears.
- The fat can be tricky to remove without a thin, sharp tool. If you don’t have a sharp shears, you could also remove the fat inside by freezing the kidneys half-way to make them less wiggly. That being said, if you can’t get the fat out, or don’t want to, don’t worry, it will still be ok.
Soaking and brining
- Soak the kidneys in water for 24 hours in the fridge. Meanwhile, bring the brine ingredients to a boil, then cool completely.
- Add the soaked kidneys to the brine, and leave for 2 days.
- Lightly oil the kidneys, then smoke at 250F for 1.5 hours or until an internal temperature of 150 F. Cool, slice, and enjoy fooling your friends and family into thinking they’re eating fancy smoked bologna.
- Smoked kidneys will last in the fridge for 5-6 days, and can be frozen.
You will have enough to use for a number of things, you can use the brine for another purpose or re-use it 1x.