February 11, 2011

Tip of the day—Game Meat Tips (AKA, this post isn’t for everyone)

This tip isn’t going to apply to everyone reading, but for those of you with hunters in your family, I hope it will be of help.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I respect yours.  I have lots of friends who are vegan and vegetarian, and I respect the reasons for their choices.  I’m not saying theirs is any better or worse than mine.  I offer this information not to steer your decisions or opinions in any way but only to offer help if someone is using game meat and may not know how to prepare it. 

1.  Most game meat is lean.  There are some exclusions to this rule that I won’t get into at risk of everyone thinking that I cook with Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies—just know that most of the meats that you’ll come across from hunters are going to be relatively fat free.  A conventionally grown turkey or duck is much plumper, lighter meat and fattier than a wild turkey or duck.  By the way, this can also apply to grassfed beef as compared to corn fed beef. 

What does this mean when cooking?  Most game meats benefit from extra fat added to them.  Olive oil, butter, or bacon can be used to drizzle on top or in between meat and skin (in the case of turkey).  Tent the meat with aluminum foil or parchment when cooking so that they won’t dry out.

2.  Game meat is “gamey”.  The meat of conventionally grown animals is usually more bland in flavor as compared to game meat.  This taste can turn a lot of people off. 

What does this mean when cooking?  Brining meat helps to tenderize the meat and pull out some of the gamey flavor.  It will mellow the taste to varying degrees depending on how long it brines and what type of meat or fowl you are using.  Obviously brining isn’t as easy to do with ground meats, so if possible ask for cuts of meat and brine then grind your own at home.  To brine venison, I add a generous portion of Kosher salt (a handful for a couple of large steaks) and enough warm water to completely cover the meat.  I leave them in the fridge overnight.  Once ready to cook or marinade, I drain the brining liquid and give them a rinse. 

Another tip is to marinade the game meat before cooking.  For dove or pheasant an Italian dressing is quite nice.  For venison, use my marinade recipe or another you might use for beef steaks.  For duck or goose, cook as you would a stew using wine if you like.

One more preparation tip is to remove any “silver skin” from the meat, just as you would pork tenderloin.  The silver skin is somewhat sinuous and won’t break down and tenderize like fat will.  It will also add a gamey flavor to your dish.

3.  Game meat is usually shot.  For fowl in particular, it is important to make sure you clean away any and all shot that is in the meat.  You don’t want to swallow a bit of buckshot. 

4.  Game meat isn’t for everyone.  Some people prefer to not try game meat, and I can understand that choice.  For others, though, they are looking for ways to feed their family during tough economic times, and game meat might be the answer.  Even some vegetarians will eat game meat on occasion because the animal has lived a life free from the atrocities that occur in some mainstream factory farms.  Read the books The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Katz or The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan for more information on this. 

5.  If you don’t have a hunter in your family, you might still be able to access game meat.  Contact a local game processor in your area (your local gun shop or rifle range should be able to help you locate one if you don’t know how to find one), and ask if any meat has gone unclaimed that you can buy.  I talked to my sister recently and she said that the sweet man who always processes our deer was stuck with two freezers full of meat that no one came back to pay for.  Because deer season falls near the holidays in our area, many people overspend on Christmas and can’t pay their bill when their meat is ready.  This means that the processor is out the money unless he or she can find a buyer.

6.  Don’t prejudge.  Just as you wouldn’t want to be lumped into a group and described in a negative way, hunters don’t want to either.  Mainstream media likes to show what I would call scum—those hunters who hunt only for the game and leave the meat unused.  My grandfather taught his children and my father taught us that we are to be thankful that the animal gives its life so that we may eat.  I remember including that in part of our prayers before we ate.  We were taught that an animal should never be killed unless it is for food or it is putting you in harm (as in you are being attacked).  For this reason, we also try to use as much of the animal as we can so that nothing goes to waste.  I remember my father donating organ meat and mudcat (a type of fish) to people in our town who he knew needed food to feed their families.  If he took the limit in deer season, he would process the meat that we wouldn’t eat and give it to the director of the public housing authority so that he could distribute it among the residents who needed it.  I think that legacy is part of the reason I want to avoid food waste in our household.

I hope this is of help if you are ever preparing game meat at home!


  1. I may be the lone reader who identifies with this entire post. I am grateful to have come from a family that honors hunting and the animals that have graced our table. Nothing is done for sport alone. I have eaten everything from deer to dove to duck to turkey to mouton (like buffalo) to alligator. Hubby and I were even criticized for getting married on the opening day of dove season--what were we thinking???!!!

    I say try to have an open mind and if someone offers it to you, give it a try. All Gabe's tips are good ones. I'll add Worcestire Sauce is a game chef's best friend: when in doubt, add some.

  2. Thanks, Margaret! And--what WERE you thinking getting married the opening day of dove season??? LOL! My family would have said the same thing.