You spend a lot of time, effort and money in going about chasing down wild game for the freezer. After such an investment, you’re counting on a solid return in flavor once it finally comes time to eat it, and the last thing you want is that notorious gamey taste that plagues so many wild meats. We’ve all fallen victim to this hurdle in the procurement of wild game meat, so don’t worry if you’re running into this problem as you explore the world of hunting. Thankfully, we’ve found a few kitchen hacks for cooking venison, elk, or other game animals that takes those stronger flavors right out.
A lot of people love to tell you how much they hate eating wild game meat because of the overpowering flavor, but it’s possible they’ve never actually eaten a properly field-dressed animal, or even more likely, they aren’t familiar with traditional wild game recipes. Game meats are much different than your farm-raised meats like beef and chicken, and yet many hunters try to cook them with with the same approach.
The following suggestions are each a product of my own trials and errors over the course of a long hunting career. My wife hates the gamey taste of venison, so I’ve had to experiment to find a way around to land on recipes we can both enjoy. However, I’m sure these will work for other hunters, too, as I believe they simplify the process from start to finish. If you think something tastes gamey, try one of these strategies next time.
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1. Field dressing basics
The first step in avoiding a gaminess starts in the field. The key to securing a great taste from your harvested game meat is getting the animal gutted and cooled as quickly as possible. The longer the animal lies in the field-particularly overnight because of a bad shot-the worse it’s going to taste.
Enzymes quickly start breaking down inside the animal, and the warmer it is outside, the faster this process occurs. Your field dressing technique usually has the greatest influence on the taste of wild game meat.
A lot of hunters also tend to believe it’s necessary to hang and bleed an animal after it’s been gutted. Often these are the same hunters who always seem to be over-marinating their meals, even with grass-fed beef at the summer cookout. Simply put, a shot through the vitals induces significant bleeding is usually all you need. It’s this blood that remains in the muscles that creates that strong taste. Put a greater emphasis on proper cleaning and efficiently getting your deer to a professional processor or your home butchering station rather than hanging it (this is especially important with deer meat).
2. Soaking it
Here’s where you’ll probably find the most advice regarding the preparation of wild game meat. Many hunters suggest soaking your game meat in vinegar. However, because of vinegar’s acidity, it can often dry the meat out, making it especially tough. Instead, try soaking the meat in milk or even buttermilk, both of which will produce better results with most wild animals, especially when dealing with backstraps.
For a lot of old-school cooks, this is a mandatory step before putting any wild-game meat in a slow cooker. A saltwater brine is also a very popular choice, as the salt helps suck out a lot of the bad flavors. Make sure you give the meat a good clean water bath before cooking, though, to avoid an overpowering taste of salt.
Marinades are also a solid remedy, and there are a variety available on the market, but something as simple as soaking it in Italian dressing can be enough. Ultimately, this helps remove more of the blood from the meat, leaving only the tissue behind.
3. Silver skin
Taking the time to remove the silver skin and other connective tissues before cooking will pay off dividends when it comes time to sit down and eat. This is especially important with some game birds like, namely pheasant.
If you have a strong gamey taste in wild big-game meat at your house, this very well may be the cause, regardless of whether any of the previous strategies worked. These tissues are very strong and full of unwanted flavors. Taking the time using a small knife, or even a fork in some cases, can improve the entire cooking experience.
Removing the fat in red meat altogether is a must if people in your family have a sensitive stomach when it comes to wild game. Fat is a great flavor addition in range-fed beef, but if you leave the fat from wild game meat doesn’t do a whole lot beyond making your house smell and ruin your meal.
4. Don’t overcook!
Overcooking wild game meat is a cardinal sin. Believe it or not, gaminess is actually amplified the more you cook wild meat. Low and slow is the name of the game.
Any pan-seared venison needs only a little bit of time on both sides, keeping at a maximum of a nice medium rare. Because there isn’t much fat, game meats cook surprisingly quick. If you’re doing all of the above and still getting a strong, gamey taste, this just might be why.
Remember, trial and error is the best teacher when it comes to cooking, especially when it comes to anything wild. If gaminess turned you off to venison in the past, perhaps it’s time to try it again. Only this time, hopefully you can fall back on a few of these tips.