Cooking wild meat seems to be one of the many questions that I get on a regular basis. For some reason people don’t know that much about cooking game animals. It might be due to a drastic decrease in the amount of hunters. Maybe it is due to the decrease in the amount of people that can actually cook something that didn’t come in cellophane. No matter what the underlying cause, I hope these tips might help any of you out that are fuzzy on how to prepare and cook game.
Before I start I want to toss out this disclaimer: I am not a chef. I am also not a food preparation or cooking expert. I am just a slightly overweight guy that loves food and has been cooking for himself since he was a teenager. Since I grew up very rural and lived off a lot of wild game, I had to learn how to prepare it where nonhunters would eat it. This is not an easy task, but I have now gotten to the point where some of my preparations have wild game that is almost 100% undetectable to the common city dweller..
This list is not all inclusive, but will give you a little bit of a foundation from which to work from. As times goes on I will include some recipes and meal preparation ideas to assist you in creating some great meals.
The first item I will address is the common response when talking about wild game: “It just tastes too gamy.” This “gamy” taste is usually connected with meat that was not properly cleaned and drained of blood. Although old timers tend to like the flavor that wild meat tends to have, the average grocery grazer has no interest in anything that tastes out of what they consider normal. To keep this taste from overwhelming your dishes you need to follow the following steps.
Several of these tips are associated with grilling or hot smoking. Others are in reference to stewing.
- Squeeze out all the blood from the meat. Start by soaking the meat for a period of time and then squeeze out all the blood while running the meat under running water. This removes much of the gamy flavor that people complain about. Some people claim that soaking for at least 2 hours in buttermilk, milk, boiling water, apple cider, or even salt water help. I address the apple cider boiling further down the list.
- Ensure all the “slime” is off the meat. Wild game tends to have an odd slime on the outside of the meat. Before you cook the meat it is important to either brush off or scrape off this “slime.” Inner cuts of meat will not have this slimy layer so many of you who do not process your own game may not know what I am talking about. The think to remember is that you want the meat as clean as possible. Any impurities will cook off or burn off depending on how you cook (for the most part), but it leaves odd flavors in the process.
- Use liberal amounts of seasoning. Although frying meat does produce its own flavor, grilling meat tends to do two things: adds smoke flavor to the meat and allows added spices or rubs to drip off. The meat will absorb flavor best (in my opinion and experience) when you first start to see the juices coming to the surface. This happens in two stages. Light juice is visible as the cooking side starts to seal up and the moisture is pushed to the top side of the meat. The second time is when the meat is cooked about 1/2 way through. This is when you see standing pools of juice on the meat. I will cover more on this later on.
Use liberal amounts of seasoning
- Don’t use too high of temperature when cooking wild game. If you sear the bottom and don’t allow all the seasoning to be fully absorbed throughout the entire cut a lot of the gamy flavor will come out. You will also get an odd texture that many dislike about wild game. Cook the game slowly and over heat ranges (for light smoke/grill/campfire) around 225 degress Fahrenheit.
- Only flip it once. Keep your eye on the meat and the way that the juices are accumulating on the top side. If you flip the meat too many times it tends to dry out and toughen up. This also changes the texture and changes it to one that people dislike.
- If you are cooking an animal that tends to be greasy you can boil it for a short time before grilling, smoking or frying. I like to use apple of some sort for what are commonly considered “trash” or “greasy” animals. Such species include raccoon, squirrel, certain types of duck/geese, and bear when it has been living in and around human settlement. These animals all pick up odd flavors from the food that they eat and raccoons are a great example. I like to boil mine in apple for several minutes before I perform my finishing cooking method. Strong flavored meats such as types of goat or pig can be boiled in beer for a few minutes to remove odd game flavors. Both of these methods help with the slime that tends to form on greasy types of meat.
Be careful when cooking after boiling meat. It will dry out quickly. I caught this squirrel just before it got too dry.
Watching the juice accumulation on the meat is very important. This tells you where in the thickness of meat that the cooking process has reached. As more and more juice accumulates on the top side of the cut, the closer to the center of the cut is cooked. For example:
- Small droplets begin to form on the top of the cut on the grill. This means that the bottom side has seared shut and juices are beginning to be pushed to the top side. When this happens it is at the tail edge of when seasoning is pulled into the core of the meat. If you have not already seasoned the meat, you should do so quickly. This is also the point where you will end up with a rare cut if you flip it now.
- Medium sized droplets of juice appearing on the top of the cut mean that you are getting to the medium rare to medium stage of the cooking process. There will be no real standing “puddles” of juice, but the droplets are starting to be big enough to run and join together.
Shiny top of meat when it gets to the medium rare stage
- Standing puddles of juice appearing on the top of the cut mean that the meat has reached the medium well to well stage. Flipping the cut now will leave no pick and an almost grey color throughout the entire cut. This is also the point where the meat starts to dry out and changes texture. Be vary careful at this point. When it looks like “blood” has started to accumulate on top of the cut you have cooked it too long. If you start to see the juices turning color and becoming less clear in nature it is very important to flip the meat quickly and season the other side before the cut dries too much.
These guidelines work great for cooking over open flame or frying, but things change a bit when you are going to stew out a critter. When you are making a stew or doing a “critter” with noodles type dinner it is important to keep an eye on the cooking process. You really need to make sure that the meat is really coming off the bone and the striations are separating with ease. Image that point with chili steak that allows you use a potato masher, but the meat doesn’t turn to mush. It is the perfect “pulled pork” spot. That is what you are looking for. Each section of meat coming off the bone stays together, but can easily be pulled apart. For whatever reason wild game tends to become more like a clam when over cooked in a stew and less like beef or chicken. There is a “perfect” spot, but if you leave it too long it doesn’t make it more tender. It shrivels and the texture becomes odd.
Lastly, a lot of the “drippins” that are used for gravy contain much of the gamy flavor that turns people off. If you can drain some of the juices and dilute it with some beef broth people will like it more.
Those are my main wild critter cooking tips. I will keep referring to them as I add recipes. Hope this helped!!!!