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Handling Wild Game Meats
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Cooking Wild Game
  by Susan Brewer

Game animals lead active lives. As a result, their muscles are relatively lean. This makes game meat drier than domestic meat or poultry. Therefore, it's important to use cooking methods that add juiciness and flavor to the drier cuts of game meat.

Cooking Tips

  1. Thaw frozen game meat completely in the refrigerator at or below 40ºF. Game meat is often high in bacterial content. Thawing at room temperature enhances bacterial growth.

  2. Trim away fat before cooking if this was not done when the game was cut. Wild game fat tends to become rancid quickly and this contributes to the "gamey" flavor.

  3. Add other fats to keep game meat from becoming too dry.

  4. Rub a roast with salt pork, butter, margarine, beef suet, bacon fat, vegetable fat, or sweet or sour cream to add moisture, richness, and flavor.

  5. Baste very lean cuts with additional fat to improve flavor.

  6. "Lard" your lean game meat by inserting slivers of uncooked salt pork or bacon with a skewer or ice pick. If you make your own rolled roasts add beef or pork fat to the inside and outside of the roast before it is tied.

  7. Serve game meat very hot or very cold. Lukewarm game fat has a very greasy taste.

Methods of Meat Cookery

The two major methods for cooking meat are:

  1. Dry heat--roasting, broiling, and pan broiling.

  2. Moist heat--braising and stewing. The same general cooking rules apply to most kinds of big game animals. Game meat is generally cooked the same way as a similar cut of lean beef.

Dry Heat

  1. Roasting (loin or rib)

  2. Trim off all game fat, rub with bacon drippings or similar fat.

  3. Season with salt, pepper, and desired herbs.

  4. Place on roasting rack in uncovered pan, bone down.

  5. For added flavor, place bacon strips on top of roast.

  6. Baste with additional fat as needed, but do not add water.

  7. Roast uncovered at 300ºF. Allow 20 to 25 min/lb. Since lean game meat usually cooks faster than beef, use a meat thermometer, if possible.

Broiling (loin and rib steaks or chops)

  1. Preheat the broiler.

  2. Trim all natural fat from steaks or chops.

  3. Rub meat with butter, bacon fat, beef suet, or salt pork, and season it.

  4. Place steaks or chops on the broiler rack with the top surface 3 to 5 inches below the heat source, depending upon the thickness of cut.

  5. Leave broiler or oven door open a few inches unless range directions advise otherwise. If meat smokes or spatters, the flame is too high or the meat is too close.

  6. Brown meat on each side.

  7. Baste with butter, and serve at once.

Pan Broiling (loin and rib steaks or chops)

  1. Partially heat a heavy frying pan.

  2. Rub the medium hot pan with suet or a small amount of fat.

  3. Cook meat quickly over high heat.

Moist Heat (for less tender cuts)

  1. Braising. (chuck or shoulder, leg or round, breast or plate)

  2. Season with sale, pepper, and herbs.

  3. Rub with flour.

  4. Brown all sides in moderately hot fat.

  5. Add a small amount of water (about 2/3 cup).

  6. Cover tightly.

  7. Cook very slowly (simmer) until tender (2 to 3 hours). Turn the meat occasionally, adding water, if necessary.

Stewing (shank, neck)

  1. Cut the meat into one inch cubes.

  2. Sprinkle with flour and season.

  3. Brown on all sides in medium hot fat.

  4. Cover meat with boiling water.

  5. Cover kettle tightly.

  6. Simmer until tender (about 2 to 3 hours). Do not boil!

  7. Add vegetables just long enough before serving time so they will be tender.

Marinades

Marinades can tenderize, enhance, or disguise game flavors to fit your preference. One of the best marinades we've used is 20 Gauge Fish and Game Sauce, and would recommend it to anyone.

Cover meat with one of the following marinades and allow to stand in the refrigerator at least 24 hours. Broil, roast, or braise.

  1. 20 Gauge Fish and Game Sauce

  2. 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 1/2 cup sugar

  3. French dressing

  4. Tomato sauce or undiluted tomato soup

  5. Tomato juice

  6. Fruit juice (such as lemon, pineapple, or a mixture of many juices)

  7. 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup cooking oil, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp garlic salt

  8. 2 cups water, 2 cups vinegar, 1-2 tbsp sugar, 4 bay leaves, 1 tsp salt, 12 whole cloves, 1 tsp allspice, 3 medium sized onions, sliced

  9. Garlic salt, salt, and pepper to taste and equal parts of: worcestershire sauce and two of your favorite steak sauces. This gives a blend of flavors and also is excellent for basting game roasts or thick steaks during cooking.

  10. 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 clove garlic, minced, 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  11. Commercial marinades

  12. Milk

Big Game Recipes

Game Roasts

Tenderness will be the guide for choosing either moist or dry heat cookery to cook game roasts. Less tender roasts can be baked with dry heat at low temperatures for long periods of time or cooked with moist heat for shorter times.

Use a meat thermometer, if possible, to judge the doneness of game roast. It's best to roast game to a minimum internal temperature of 160ºF to destroy parasites that might be present.

Game Pot Roast

[Use shoulder (or chuck) or leg (or round) roasts]
3-4 lb. roast
1/2 tsp salt
2 c water
4 slices bacon
1 bay leaf
4 carrots, quartered
1/8 tsp thyme
4 small rutabagas, quartered
1/8 tsp basil
6 small potatoes, quartered
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small onion, sliced
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/2 c sour cream
(Use other vegetables, if desired)

Place roast, water, and seasonings in a heavy pan. Lay bacon strips on roast. Cover pan tightly. Simmer until nearly tender. Add vegetables and cook with the roast until all vegetables are tender. Add sour cream. Heat but do not boil. Serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Venison Roast

4-5 lb. roast
2 tbsp instant minced onion
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp pepper
4 slices bacon
1 tsp monosodium glutamate
2 lemons, sliced

Remove all fat from venison roast. Place in a roasting pan and rub with salt, pepper and monosodium glutamate. Sprinkle onion and Worcestershire sauce over roast. Cover roast with bacon and lemon. Cook, covered, at 300ºF for 4 hours until tender. Add a small amount of hot water, if needed. Serves 8 to 10.

Steaks and Ribs

Steaks and ribs retain more juice if the cuts are thick (1-1 1/4").

Tenderness will be the guide for choosing dry or moist heat cookery.

Use moist heat for less tender cuts or tenderize in one of these ways:

  1. Cut the long muscle fibers by pounding or scoring.

  2. Soften the tissue by using acids (lemon juice, tomato juice).

  3. Use commercially prepared marinades or tenderizers.

Use dry heat cookery for tenderized or already tender cuts. Cook quickly over high heat.

Venison Steak in Mirepoix

[Use leg steak]
1 tbsp butter or margarine
2 lb. leg steak, 1/2 inch thick
1/2 c carrots, diced 1/4 inch thick
salt and pepper
1/2 c celery, diced 1/4 inch thick
garlic powder, freshly ground
1/2 c onion, diced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 c flour
1/4 bay leaf
2 tbsp butter or margarine
2 c beef broth

To make mirepoix, melt 1 tbsp butter or margarine in a sauce pan and saute vegetables slowly until limp. Add bay leaf and beef broth. Simmer gently for 5 minutes. Trim excess fat from sides of meat. Slash sides to prevent curling. Sprinkle steak with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then dredge in flour. Melt 2 tbsp butter or margarine in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Brown steak on both sides. Add mirepoix. Cover skillet tightly and simmer over low heat until tender (about 1 1/2 hours). Serve venison in large pieces with some sauce spooned over each piece. Serves 4 to 6.

*Mirepoix is a classic mixture of vegetables and liquid used in French cooking as a flavor enhancer. Cut vegetables exactly as directed as they form a "built-in" garnish.

Ground Game

Use ground meat from any part of the carcass. Be sure that the meat is used immediately after thawing. (Ground game meat, because of its high bacterial content, often spoils faster than other ground meat.)

Gameburgers

2 lb. ground game meat
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 lb. suet or other meat fat cut into small pieces
garlic salt
pepper
1 c bread crumbs
1/3 c milk

Mix ingredients and fry like hamburgers. Serve with tomato, onion, or pickle slices on toasted buns. Serves 6.

Variation: Use 1 lb. ground beef and 1 lb. ground game meat. Omit the suet.

Venison Meat Balls

3 slices soft bread
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 lb. ground venison
1/4 c butter or margarine
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp oregano
salt and pepper (for gravy)
1/8 tsp basil
1 c milk
1/4 tsp pepper

Break bread into small pieces and combine with ground venison, salt, oregano, basil, pepper and onion. Mix thoroughly. Shape into small balls about 1 inch in diameter. Chill for 15 to 20 minutes. Brown in butter or margarine, turning frequently. Cover pan. Turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove meat balls.

Add flour, salt and pepper to pan drippings. Mix well. Add milk, stirring constantly and simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Return meat balls to pan with gravy and simmer another 5 minutes. Serves 4.

Homemade Sausages

Meat Preparation

Any lean meat from any part of the carcass can be used for sausage. Most often meat from the back and hind legs is saved for roasts and steaks and boneless, fat-free lean from other areas of the carcass is for sausage. The lean should be removed from the carcass and made into sausage as soon as possible (the day after the kill is best) to prevent unnecessary bacterial growth. Meat which has been frozen and thawed can also be used. Freezing meat before sausage is made insures that it will be free from live parasites which are sometimes found in game meat. Freeze clean, edible trimmings immediately after they are removed from the carcass. The trimmings can be ground and fat added when they are thawed. Regardless of whether fresh lean trimmings or thawed lean trimmings are used, speed in sausage preparation is a must to avoid bacterial growth.

Game Sausage Recipes

Fresh Game Sausage

15 lb. lean meat
6 tbsp (42 g) ground black pepper
10 lb. pork or beef fat*
5 tbsp (14 g) rubbed sage
3/4 cup (8 oz or 227 g) salt

*Pork fat is preferred in this and in subsequent recipes but beef fat is usually easier to purchase.

Cut lean meat and fat into 1-inch squares or grind through a coarse (1/2- to 1-inch) plate. Season by sprinkling the ingredients over the meat and hand mix. Grind through a 3/16-inch plate. Sausage can be frozen in packages, made into patties or stuffed in hog casings. The above produces a mild sausage. For a more highly seasoned sausage, increase the amount of pepper and add additional seasoning. (Example: 1 tbsp nutmeg, 1 tbsp ginger, 1 tbsp mace).

Cooked Salami

19 lb. lean meat
4 tbsp (29.6 g) ground black pepper*
6 lb. pork or beef fat
3 tbsp (13.5 g) garlic powder
1 cup (10.5 oz or 298 g) salt
3 tbsp (14.5 g) coriander seed
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
4 tsp (7 g) ground mace
1 quart (2 lb.) cold water
4 tsp (7 g) ground cardamon
2 tsp (14 g) cure (optional)

*Whole pepper, if added in place of ground pepper, must be mixed in after the meat has been through the grinder for the last time.

Cut lean meat and fat into 1-inch squares or grind through a coarse (1/2- to 1-inch) plate. Season by sprinkling the ingredients over the meat and hand mix. Grind through a 1/4-inch plate while adding water and then regrind through a 1/8-inch plate. Stuff into natural or artificial casings 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place in smokehouse and heat at 180ºF until the internal sausage temperature reaches 152ºF. Move to a cold water bath until the internal temperature reaches 100ºF. Rinse briefly with hot water to remove grease and hang sausage at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours before refrigeration. The salami should be cooled overnight in a refrigerator before cutting.

Polish Sausage

19 lb. lean meat
1 quart (2 lb.) cold water
6 lb. pork or beef fat
3 tbsp (21 g) ground black pepper
3/4 lb. nonfat dry milk
3 tbsp (124 g) coriander
1 cup (10.5 oz or 298 g) salt
5 tbsp (21 g) garlic powder
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
2 tsp (14 g) cure (optional)

Cut lean meat and fat into 1-inch squares or grind through a coarse (1/2- to 1-inch) plate. Season by sprinkling the ingredients over the meat and hand mix. Grind through a 1/4-inch plate while adding water and then regrind through a 1/8-inch plate. Stuff into hog casings. Place in a smokehouse and heat at 180ºF until a smoked color is obtained and the sausage reaches 152ºF internal temperature. Immediately place the sausage in cold water until the internal temperature is 100ºF. Rinse briefly with hot water to remove grease. Allow to dry 1 to 2 hours at room temperature. Move to refrigerator. Polish sausage is sometimes made with cured meat.

Game Loaf

4 lb. lean meat
2 tbsp (28.3 g) sugar
l lb. pork or beef fat
1/2 cup (113 g) chopped onions
2 1/2 pt cold water
2 1/2 tsp (5.7 g) white or black pepper
1/2 lb. wheat flour or soy flour
2 tsp (2 g) sage
3 oz (85 g) dry skim milk
1/2 tsp (3 g) cure dissolved in 3 tbsp (56.7 g) salt
1 cup water*

*Cure can be left out but the loaf will be lacking cured meat color when it is cooked.

Grind the game and fat through a 1/2-inch plate and mix all ingredients thoroughly. Regrind the mixture through a 1/8-inch plate. Bake in greased loaf pans in a 200ºF oven until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 152ºF. Cool the loaves at room temperature and then chill overnight in the refrigerator. Slice and serve cold.

Casings

Pork casings, pickled or preserved in dry salt, are obtainable from many locker plants. Beef casings, sheep casings and artificial casings are also often available from some locker plants or places where sausage is made. The use of casings can be avoided if fresh game sausage is made into patties and cooked sausage such as salami is made in loaf pans. Sausages cooked in loaf pans require that bread crumbs, soy protein concentrate or other binder be added at the 5 to 10 percent level to prevent excessive fat and moisture separation.

All casings preserved in dry salt must first be soaked in lukewarm water for approximately 30 minutes before use. Flush each case by putting the end of the casing over the cold water tap and running cold water through the casing. Unused casings can be drained, covered again with fine salt and frozen.

Some artificial casings should be soaked in hot tap water (100ºF) at least 30 minutes but not over 4 hours before use and punctured with a knife point before sausage is stuffed. The purpose of the puncturing the casing is to eliminate air and fat pockets in the finished sausage.

Notes

  1. The cure mentioned for several sausage recipes contains 6.25% sodium nitrite which gives a red, cured color to the sausage after heating. Sausages which do not contain cure will be brown, not red, after processing. Cures such as "Modern Cure" or "Prague Powder" can sometimes be purchased from small commercial sausage makers. Complete cures such as "Tender-Quick" (available from Morton Salt Co., P.O. Box 355, Argo, IL 60501) can also be used. Complete cures can often be purchased in grocery stores or locker plants. Follow the instructions on the container if complete cures are used. Complete cures often replace most of the salt and sugar called for in the sausage recipes.

  2. Fresh sausage is readily perishable and has a short shelf life of 4 or 5 days at refrigerator temperature.

  3. Fresh sausage should be frozen if it is to be kept more than 4 or 5 days. Fresh sausage or cooked sausage can be kept 2 to 3 months at 0ºF and slightly longer at colder temperatures.

  4. To keep fresh sausage patties from falling apart while frying, add up to 1/2 cup of cold water for each 4 lbs. of sausage and mix well with the hands until the mass becomes sticky and doughlike.

  5. A meat thermometer is a must to check the internal temperature of cooked sausages such as thuringer, polish sausage, bockwurst, liver sausage and cooked salami.

  6. Seasonings in sausage can be altered to suit individual tastes.

  7. Natural spices may result in some discoloration around large spice particles. Spice discoloration is not harmful.

Fresh uncooked sausages and cooked sausages (those heated to 152ºF during processing) can be pan-fried, baked in an oven, simmered, pan-broiled or grilled. However, some cooked sausages (salami, liver sausage) are usually eaten cold.

Source

Field, R.A., 1983. You and Your Wild Game, Ag
Extension Bulletin B613, University of Wyoming,
Laramie, WY.

  1. This document is EHE-732, a publication of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  2. Susan Brewer, Ph.D., Foods and Nutrition Specialist, Illinois Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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