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Steven Rinella: Money-Saving Wild Game Cooking Tips

by Steven Rinella   |  October 24th, 2011 8
Dall's sheep kill

Once you've blown all your money hunting one of these...


Welcome to the first installment of Fare Game, my new blog at petersenshunting.com. We’re going to explore every facet of American hunting, from how to handle a deer heart to how to handle an anti-hunter. (Hint: you sprinkle the deer heart with salt and stuff it with chutney; you sprinkle the anti-hunter with love and stuff him with information.)

Along the way, I’ll be dealing with the same kinds of wild places and wild ideas that have informed my books and magazine stories, but I get to do it without all the well-intentioned editors who keep me from saying things that’ll get me into trouble. There’s even been talk of giving me my own log-in information, which means I’ll be able to post the occasional rum-fuelled rant over a satellite internet connection without having to ask anyone’s permission. But since I’m new at this, and they’re probably still watching me, I’m going to start with some safe and practical tips about how to save money when preparing wild game. Now, continue reading….act like you never read this part……

To amuse myself, I now and then calculate the true per-pound costs of game meat. The results can be rewarding or alarming, depending on the nature of the hunt. A whitetail arrowed on opening day eight miles from my house means inexpensive meat, maybe just a few dollars a pound. On the other hand, I figure that the meat from my most recent Alaskan Dall’s sheep hunt came out to about $75 a pound once I factored in license fees, commercial airfare and a bush plane charter.

After absorbing that sort of sticker shock, I find myself looking for economical and thrifty tricks for handling wild game meat in my kitchen. Here are three favorites that a lot of guys overlook:

1. If you’ve been eyeballing a fancy butchers’ saw or electric band saw for butchering carcasses or making bone-in cuts, hold off on making that purchase. I’ve butchered scores of carcasses — reducing them to such cuts as t-bones, rib chops, and shanks for osso bucco — using nothing more than a standard 12-inch hack saw that can be found in about any garage. Mine outperforms butchers’ saws because the finer teeth of a hack saw — I like the blades sporting 24 teeth per inch of blade; they cost about a dollar apiece — are less likely to grab the bone and shake it and more likely to cut it. And when I’m done, it fits in a dishwasher or sink for cleanup much more easily than a full-size butchers’ saw. To make my case even more emphatically, I’d like to comment that I have a butchers’ saw and a hack saw hanging side-by-side in my kitchen. Just seconds ago I used the hack saw to break down the shoulder of a blacktail deer. The butcher’s saw remained untouched.

Sheep cut and saw

...You can save some cash by cutting bones with one of these.

2. Just as you don’t need a specific saw for cutting game bones, you don’t need a specific cookbook for preparing game meat. Some of my best wild game recipes have come from adapting beef, lamb and even pork recipes from widely available mainstream cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking, Silver Spoon, Steven Raichlen’s wonderful — and seemingly omnipresent — series of books on grilling, and even books by the dapper British pretty boy Jamie Oliver — his thyme, lemon and pesto marinade for pork chops works on everything from mule deer to street pigeon. Of course, there are significant differences between the meats of wild North American animals and farm-raised imports such as cattle, but there are benefits to learning how to adjust recipes to accommodate these differences. It’s a simple fact that many more, and much better, brains have been applied to cooking beef than venison. Tap into their secrets and you’ll become the best wild game chef that you’ve ever met.

3. With bear oil bringing around $14 an ounce on the internet, it’s the definition of thrifty to learn how to render your own bear oil from bear fat. When I butcher a bear, especially one that’s been feeding on berries, I retain the fat and cut it into 1-inch cubes. Then I simmer these cubes over very low heat. After a few hours, the cubes have turned into crispies that look like pork rinds, floating on a gorgeous pool of clear oil that is exceedingly tasty. The oil is solid when refrigerated and viscous like coconut oil at room temperature. I use it for deep frying, sautéing, and even as lard when baking pie crusts. It tastes better than conventional oils, and it leaves you feeling like a much bigger badass.

  • shaun

    Awsome tips Steven. I'll be following this for sure.

  • Mike

    Great job, +1 following!

  • Laura

    Thanks so much for the tips. Hubby brought home a doe on Sat. night with his bow.. My 9 year old could not get a good shot on his first deer and didn't want to hunt the afternoon so dad took his spot in the tree stand to see if they would come back.. Yes they did :) Now my freezer will start to fill up and my son will soon enjoy his favorites live Venison Stew and Stroganoff

  • Ron B

    Steve, if you keep this up, what fun will it be to buy a bunch of s_ _t before hunting season? I suppose we should start sewing our buttons back on instead of buying a new shirt. What the heck I might as well get Sue to weave me some muslin cloth for meat bags. And while I am at it i will home brew my own beer and then Miller can layoff the third shift…………… See Ya

  • Eric Hanke

    Steve, do you have any recipe's for pheasant? Also, I you are ever interested in hunting Turkey I have a place in Nebraska w/ a cabin that would be great for a story.

  • Andy

    So who were the editors giving you guff? I just got a three year subscription to Petersen's because you write for them now. I hope you are left alone and keep writing for a long time. I'll be hunting on POW next May, since as you probably know, its the last season for over the counter bear license next year. I promise not to raid your camp!

  • Charmaine Gahr

    Steve, do you have a good recipe for venison breakfast sausage? My husband has killed one deer this season and hopes to get another one would love to put up some sausage with it.

  • Myakka Chuck

    Good stuff, Steve. And glad to see your column in Hunting. I enjoy them and your TV shows because you represent the best aspects of hunting. And tell those editors to lay off – I've been a Hunting subscriber for years but I looked up the website just to find your blog.

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