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Buying and Preparing Wild Game Meat

If you’re a hunter or have a friend or family member who hunts, chances are you may have been treated to a dinner that includes game meat, such as venison, elk, bison, or perhaps even ostrich.

The term “game meat” generally refers to that which comes from animals that are hunted for food and not raised on farms, like cattle, chicken, and pigs. The meat from these wild animals is generally leaner and usually very rich in flavor.

For decades, game meats were generally only consumed by those who did the hunting and their families, but these meats have risen in popularity during the last few decades as the search for healthier food escalates. Most game meat does indeed have fewer calories than beef or pork and usually less saturated fat as well. There’s also a higher content of polyunsaturated fats – the good kind – in game meat. Some of the meats, like bison, are good sources of iron as well and contain a healthy amount of other essential vitamins and minerals. It’s no wonder they’re catching on with food lovers everywhere!

Cooking Wild Game

Wild game meats can be prepared much in the same way as other meats. They can be grilled, pan fried, roasted, broiled, or ground. Venison, in particular is very versatile, and can be substituted for beef in a variety of recipes.

The main thing to remember about cooking game meats is that they are indeed leaner than the domesticated meats you purchase at your butcher or grocery store. And because the meat is so lean, it tends to be much drier than chicken, pork, or beef, so cooking methods may need to be a bit different and cooking times are generally shorter. It’s a good idea to employ the use of sauces or marinades when preparing game meats like venison, bison, or elk. These will add juiciness and flavor to the meat and keep it from getting tough and chewy. You can also brush the cooking surface with vegetable oil, butter, margarine, bacon fat, or sour cream if you prefer to forego a marinade.

If you’re cooking wild game birds, leave the skin on to avoid dryness when baked, broiled, or fried. Many experts suggest smoking game birds with aromatic woods like apple or cherry wood for best results. Smoking will help retain the moisture. You can also include these birds in casseroles, mixed with other ingredients that will add moisture as well.

If you see fat on the meat before you cook it, you may be tempted to leave it there to make the meat more tender and juicy. However, that’s not a wise idea. You’ll need to remove any fat before cooking because wild game fat gets rancid very quickly and will contribute a very strong flavor that may be unpleasant.

Freezing Wild Game

Those who have friends or family members who are hunters are often the recipients of large amounts of wild game meat, necessitating the need to freeze some of that bounty.
If you know you’re not going to use the meat immediately, freeze it while it is fresh. It’s best to package it in small quantities rather than large amounts; just enough for one meal is an appropriate size for freezing.

Do not use plastic wrap or foil when freezing. Instead, choose a heavy duty freezer paper, either waxed or laminated. All air should be pressed out of the package before you put it in the freezer. Label the package with the date and contents. Frozen, fresh game can last for up to eight months but it’s best to consume it sooner.

Because game meat can be quite high in bacteria, when you’re ready to thaw it, don’t do so on your kitchen counter where the bacteria is likely to blossom. Instead, thaw it in your refrigerator for use within one to two days, or in the microwave for game meat that you’re going to use immediately.