Farm-raised Arby's venison doesn't taste like the hunted white-tails

When the company catch phrase is “We have the meats,” it has to go a cut above.

For the second consecutive year Arby’s, home of roast beef burger-alternative, takes aim at the hunting crowd with a venison sandwich.

Last year, the 5½-ounce thick-cut venison sandwich was test marketed in 17 locations in five states that have substantial numbers of deer hunters, including six restaurants in Pittsburgh. In less time than it takes to put up a tree stand, the fast-food venison sold out.

Saturday the sandwiches, $7 plus tax, went on sale for the second year when the doors opened at all 3,400 Arby’s locations.

Jo McQuillis scored one of the first served at the Pleasant Hills restaurant, and got hers to go.

“It’s for my son Brian. He has to work today, so he asked me get one for him,” she said.

Wild game dishes of all kinds are frequently served at her Elizabeth home.

“Are you kidding?,” she said, laughing. “I have a bear standing up and stretched across the floor at my house. Deer, moose, fish — everything.”

While Kylie Daley of Jefferson Hills waited in line to pick up a sandwich for her father, he was sitting in a tree stand near their camp in Warren County waiting to draw his bow on the real thing.

Clarence Schreiber of West Mifflin said he was aware of Arby’s company slogan, but he wanted to know if they knew what to do with the meat he’s been cooking for more than 50 years.

“It’s about where you shoot it [the deer]. I shoot mine in the neck and getting the glands off fast,” he said. “You have to get the blood out. That’s what can make it taste too gamey.”

Mr. Schreiber, the family venison chef, said he boils his cuts in a frying pan, then dumps out the bloody water.

“I do that three times, and wash the pan each time, until the water comes out clear,” he said. “Then I cook it in some butter. My venison tastes like honey and butter. It’s that good.”

He took a first bite of his Arby’s venison sandwich and chewed slowly.

“Not bad,” he said. “I wouldn’t fault them on it. But it doesn’t taste like deer meat.”

Farm-raised and grass-fed in New Zealand, Arby’s bun-sized venison steaks are soaked in a garlic marinade and vacuum-sealed in a cooking bag. At the restaurant the bags are heated in water. One thick steak or two thinner ones are served on a bun with a dab of Cabernet-juniper steak sauce and crunchy fried onion slices.

Mr. Schreiber got it right. It doesn’t taste like the white-tails that hunters eat at home. The penned deer are much less lean than their wild cousins — a plus perhaps for people who aren’t used to eating them.

But the biggest difference is the bun. Venison steak sandwiches aren’t unheard of, but they are at least uncommon. The excess bread is a bit of a mouthful that goes down better with a sip of something, anything. The sauce and onions don’t overpower the garlic, salt and pepper marinade, giving Arby’s venison a distinctive if unfamiliar flavor.

The biggest thrill of Arby’s deer promotion is the novelty of drive-through venison, boxed, bagged and handed through the window. Even in deer country, that’s something the most wily of hunters can’t provide.

John Hayes: 412-263-1991,

First Published October 21, 2017 1:24 PM


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