The smell of hickory-smoked wood fills the air. The leaves are turning red and orange, and you can practically hear your neighbors cheering every Saturday and Sunday. It’s fall, which means hunting, football, grilling and gatherings—such as a wild game cookout.
With hunting season in full swing, the best way to celebrate your harvest is with family and friends. And we all know that wild game and grilling are a match made in heaven. There is something so amazing about prepping, cooking and sharing your harvest with your closest friends. Above all, everyone wants to hear the story of how the meat they are about to enjoy came to the table.
Of course, preparing wild game is so much more than grilling a backstrap. It’s the most versatile protein there is, not to mention that it packs a bunch of flavor you just can’t get from store-bought meats. And there is something magical about using a grill to cook wild game.
I love to cook wild game on my Camp Chef pellet grill. Being a chef, I will impart extra flavor into a dish any chance I get. So, a grill/smoker combination is a great way to go, and imparting more flavor is one of the biggest tips I can give you when it comes to preparing wild game. It’ll turn even a non-wild-game eater into a believer.
The trick is using different fats. What do I mean? Whenever I cook bacon, for example, it’s a sin to throw out the leftover fat. So, I keep a large glass jar in the refrigerator and dump all the leftover fat into it for use at a later time. Bacon fat really helps to enhance the flavors of wild game. Try using it in place of vegetable oil when cooking your game. I like to brush my wild game with melted bacon fat before placing them on the grill. This gives the meat a wonderful, salty smokiness that is absolutely delectable.
If you’re truly an adventurous foodie, try using beef tallow. When making sausages from wild game, I always throw beef tallow into the mix. It gives it a rich umami flavor and silky texture. And never throw away the caul fat from your harvest. Caul fat, whether from a hog or deer, pairs perfectly with upland game. Try wrapping upland game in caul fat and throwing it on the grill. The caul fat essentially protects the delicate meat from over-cooking. And the rendered fat penetrates the meat, creating super-moist and flavorful birds.
To get you started on your next wild-game gathering, I’ve included a few of my favorite recipes. These are some classics with a twist that will leave your guests begging you to host the next potluck. Hope you enjoy them!
SMOKED VENISON BURGER WITH BACON BEER CHEESE FONDUE
For the Cheese:
- ¾ cup beer of choice
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 8 oz. Swiss cheese
- 4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- 6 pieces of bacon, cooked and chopped
In a sauce pot, add the beer and chopped garlic. Next, add the Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese and flour in a large bowl, and use your hands to coat the cheese with flour. Then, on medium-high heat, bring the beer and garlic to a boil.
Once it’s boiling, add the cheese and flour mixture and stir constantly until the cheese is melted and everything is well combined. Then add the chopped bacon to the cheese mixture, and top the burgers with the cheese while its hot.
For the spicy mayo:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 4 Tbsp. Sriracha
- 2 Tbsp. pickled jalapenos, chopped
In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients and then mix well. Keep in the refrigerator until serving.
For the burgers:
- 6 venison patties
- 3 Tbsp. bacon fat, melted
- Tomato, sliced
- Red onion, sliced
- Pretzel buns
Initially, set your grill or smoker to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Use hickory pellets to smoke. Use a pastry brush to coat each side of the venison patties with the melted bacon fat, then season with salt and pepper. Place the seasoned patties on the grill and cook them until done as desired.
Before adding the burger, spread the spicy mayo on both sides of the pretzel buns. After that, place the cooked venison patty on the bottom half of the pretzel bun. Then top the patty with the bacon beer cheese fondue. Add the lettuce and tomato, then the top half of the pretzel bun.
SMOKED ELK QUESO
- ½ pound elk, ground
- 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning
- 1¼ cups half and half
- ¾ pound American cheese
- 4 oz. mozzarella cheese
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- Pico de gallo
- Sour cream
Initially, add the ground elk in a cast-iron skillet. After that, place the skillet on a grill set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the meat has cooked, add the taco seasoning and ¼ cup of water. Stir well to combine. Close the smoker/grill and continue to cook until the water has evaporated.
Once the elk is cooked, remove the elk from the pan and set it aside in a bowl. In a pot on medium-high heat, add the half and half. Once the half and half comes to a boil, turn the heat to low and add both of the cheeses. Whisk well to combine.
Once the cheese has fully melted, add the chili powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Then add the ground elk. Finally, serve from the cast-iron skillet and top with pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips.
WHOLE SMOKED SNAPPER WITH SPICY PESTO
For the snapper:
- 1 whole snapper, gutted and scaled (you can use trout as well)
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, whole
- Parsley, small bunch
Oil the grates of a grill/smoker well. Lightly score the skin of the fish. This will help give the fish a delicious smoky flavor.
Season the whole snapper with salt and pepper on the outside and then lightly brush it all over with olive oil. Place the sliced lemon, garlic and parsley in the belly of the fish.
Then place each whole fish on the grill when it’s at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Use hickory pellets if smoking.
For the pesto:
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 serrano pepper, chopped
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 5 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
- ½ cup basil, fresh
- ½ cup mint, fresh
- ¼ cup cilantro, fresh
- Olive oil, ½ cup to start
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the garlic clove and serrano pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Run the machine until the garlic and pepper are finely chopped. Then add the pine nuts, parmesan cheese, basil, mint and cilantro. Add about ¼ cup of the olive oil. Then put the lid back on and run the machine. While the machine is running, add the rest of the olive oil to form an emulsion. Add more olive oil if needed to get a thicker or smoother texture.
Serve the whole fish straight from the grill or smoker and top it with the spicy herbed pesto so that the residual heat warms up the sauce.
SMOKED ORANGE COCKTAIL
- 4 oranges, sliced in half
- 1 oz. bourbon
- 2 oz. Droptine Apple Persimmon Moonshine
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- Cinnamon stick
Place the sliced oranges on the grill and smoke them until they have nice grill marks on their flesh. Then squeeze the juice from all of the oranges.
To mix the cocktail, add 2 ounces of the smoked orange juice, 1 ounce of bourbon, 2 ounces of moonshine and 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a shaker cup. Fill it with ice and shake it until it’s chilled. Finally, pour the contents into a cocktail glass and serve with a cinnamon stick.
This article is from Ballistic magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Subscriptions are available at OutdoorGroupStore.com.