Rules of the Game: Tips for Grilling Your Hunting Catch
Hunting is a precise and calculated pursuit. All the camouflage, careful movements and patience pay off when you secure the game you came for. The victory you feel after your catch is only the beginning. Grilling your wild game meat can be the satisfying finale to your hunting saga — if done properly.
Cooking wild game is similar to cooking domestic meat in many ways, but it also has some key differences. Understanding the distinct flavors and qualities game meat brings to the table can help make the most of your catch.
Why You Should Grill Your Game
A lot of work and preparation goes into bringing your catch home, so why settle for a cooking method that’s anything less than spectacular? Grilling wild game is an excellent way to bring out the meat’s natural flavors and tenderness. Here are a few specific reasons to grill your game:
- Quick and Effective: The Culinary Institute of America classifies grilling as a dry-heat method that doesn’t require added fat. In a grill, meat cooks via indirect radiant heat. A grill’s environment and rack system allow waves of hot air to circulate around the meat and cook it thoroughly. The result is a tender piece of meat cooked quickly and effectively.
- Safe Temperature Range: Most organizations recommend bringing meat to an internal temperature between 145 to 160 degrees to prevent food poisoning. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a slightly higher temp for game meat — 160 degrees for game animals and 165 degrees for game birds. Grilling your game allows you to set your temperature and easily access the meat with a thermometer.
- Nutritional Benefits: Because grilling doesn’t require extra fat, you can use it to cook your game meat healthily and deliciously. Beyond the grill, many types of wild game offer nutritional benefits over domestic meat. Wild game animals live an active lifestyle and eat a natural diet, which contributes to a lower fat count in their meat. Game meat also has less cholesterol than its domestic counterparts. Eating game meat can be a health-conscious alternative to domestic meat without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.
- Grill Marks: You’ve already won the man-points for catching the game, so why not stack the deck? Grill marks are a visual cue of craftsmanship and deliciousness that you can’t achieve anywhere else. So go ahead, milk your catch for all it’s worth.
Harnessing these benefits is simple when you understand the game and cut of meat you’re grilling. Here are some of the best game types and cuts for a mouthwatering meal.
Best Types of Wild Game to Grill
Wild game comes in a variety of sizes, and each type of meat fits into a different flavor profile. When it comes to taste, here are some of the best types of wild game to grill:
Venison Game Animals
- Deer: Deer meat is one of the most common and widely-known game meats. The meat flavor reflects the type of diet the deer consumed. Corn-fed deer have a milder flavor compared to deer that ate sage or acorns. Overall, this meat is lean, dry and flavorful.
- Elk: Elk meat tends to be less gamey than deer and is very lean. Many compare the flavor of elk meat to beef, though it has much less fat than beef. Elk are much larger than deer, which means their meat cuts more closely resemble that of a cow. Their steak and loins make great choices for the grill. When prepared properly, this meat is tender, healthy and mild.
Other Game Animals
- Rabbit: Rabbit meat contains more protein than beef or chicken. Its flavor is similar to a slightly meatier and earthier chicken, and it can be prepared much like a chicken. Young “fryer” rabbits have tender, fine-grained meat, making them perfect for grilling.
- Boar: Wild pigs bear some similarities to their domesticated counterparts, but meat flavor isn’t one of them. Boar meat is leaner than domestic pork and richer in taste. Boar have similar body types to domestic pigs, which means you can grill them like the pork you’re used to.
- Alligator: The flavor and texture of alligator meat vary depending on the animal’s environment and what cut of meat you taste. Alligator tail makes a juicy, chicken-like tenderloin, whereas alligator legs have gamier dark meat.
- Squirrel: There’s no shortage of squirrels in the United States. Easy access to this game makes it a popular hunting catch. Squirrel meat is reminiscent of chicken with nutty, gamey notes that add depth and flavor.
- Goose: Once a holiday staple, goose is a less common — but still delicious — delicacy. Goose meat is dark, fatty and packed with flavor. The game meat will reflect the goose’s diet, which means geese from various areas will likely taste different. The grill is a great tool to cook goose meat quickly and prevent it from toughening.
- Duck: Like goose, duck meat is dark and fatty. Its flavor resembles a stronger version of dark chicken meat. Duck skin becomes crispy when cooked, making duck a delectable choice for grilling and eating.
- Pheasant: Pheasants are medium-sized game birds with a mild taste in between chicken, turkey and quail. Pheasant meat is nutty and reflects the animal’s diet and lifestyle in flavor. The breast, thigh and leg cuts are easy to cook on the grill.
- Quail: Quail are small birds, but their meat is packed with flavor. Though it resembles chicken in color, quail meat has a bold flavor that requires little dressing up. Their compact nature makes it easy to toss a few on the grill at a time for a quick and delicious dinner.
- Wild Turkey: The taste of wild turkey is similar to that of domestic turkey, but stronger. Wild turkeys eat a larger variety of nuts, berries and insects and live a more active lifestyle than domestic turkeys. Their meat is darker, richer and more intense than a domestic turkey.
Whether you’re hunting something small, large, gamey or mild, you want your catch to taste delicious. Here are a few things you should know about cooking wild meat.
Selecting a Cut of Wild Game to Grill
A show-stopping wild game meal starts with selecting the right cut of meat. In general, larger game includes cuts similar to large domestic meat. Steaks, ribs and loins are all common in wild game like deer, elk, boar and even alligator. Most of these wild game cuts exhibit a similar level of tenderness as typical domestic cuts, but game is almost always leaner.
Great grilling choices for big game cooking include:
- Steak cuts
- Rib meat
- Loin cuts
- Sirloin cuts
- Tenderloin cuts
Smaller game animals like squirrels or rabbits have some similar cuts of meat, including loin and ribs. You won’t get a steak out of a rabbit or squirrel, but the loin, rib and leg meat still cook well on a grill.
Game birds tend to have similar cuts to domestic poultry. In general, you can treat and cook most game birds like you would chicken. The only difference you’ll need to consider is how you’ll address the bolder flavor of meat with marinades, rubs, crusts or more.
Great grilling choices for game bird cooking include:
- Breast cuts
- Thigh cuts
- Leg cuts
- Whole bird (if small)
The cut of meat you choose to grill will depend on what you’re craving, how many people you’re feeding and what your grill can handle. Keep your game refrigerated until you’re ready to grill to prevent foodborne illness. Prepare the meat like you would domestic meat, but keep in mind the specific animal’s flavor. A bold marinade paired with a bold meat flavor may be too overpowering.
Depending on the type of meat you’re grilling, you may want to address the gamey elephant in the room.
Addressing “Gamey” Flavor
One of the main differences between eating domestic and wild meat is the gameyness wild meat exhibits. Though difficult to describe, gameyness in meat is akin to a musky, pungent flavor. What an animal eats, the type of animal and the cut of meat you choose may all influence the gamey flavor in your catch.
Another factor that determines gameyness is whether the game you’re cooking was farm-raised. Some types of game are difficult to hunt or mostly available to hunt on game farms. Farm-raised game animals land in between domestic farm animals and wild game animals in terms of flavor. Their meat is milder than what you’d find in the wild, but it is more gamey than what you’re used to with domestic farm meat.
Regardless of the level of gameyness, many people find the flavor overpowering. According to the USDA, there are a few ways to cover gameyness in your wild meat:
- Overnight Soak: Leaving your game in a salt or vinegar solution overnight can help reduce gamey flavor. The USDA recommends one tablespoon of salt or one cup of vinegar per cup of cold water. Use enough solution to cover the game completely, store in the refrigerator and discard the solution after soaking.
- Marinade: If you’re seeking additional measures to make your game palatable, consider marinating the meat. The USDA recommends marinating game birds for one to two days and game animals for three to five days. If you boil the marinade, you can use it as a basting sauce on the meat or serve as a sauce on cooked meat. Beyond reducing gameyness, marinades impart flavor and help tenderize the meat. Common marinades include French or Italian dressing, tomato juice, fruit juice and vinegar mixed with spices.
If you want the meat’s natural flavor to shine, consider simple seasonings. For a milder, more accessible taste, consider soaking the meat overnight and adding a marinade.
Tips and Recipes for Grilling Wild Game
We’ve already established that wild game is leaner than domestic meat and gamey at times. But what does that mean on the grill? There are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your wild game comes out juicy, tender and delicious:
1. Skip the Fat: The fat marbling on a beef steak is part of what makes it tender and delicious. Wild game is a little different. Most game meat will have much less fat to begin with due to the animal’s active lifestyle. What fat wild game does have tastes unpleasant and extremely gamey — especially at room temperature. Before grilling, trim the fat off your cuts of meat to ensure the flavor is even throughout.
2. Don’t Overcook: Wild game lives an active lifestyle and has much less fat than domestic livestock. This means game meat is much more likely to be dry and tough if overcooked. The intense heat from a grill can be a great way to prevent tough meat, but keep an internal thermometer near. Once your meat has reached the desired internal temp, remove it from the heat and let it rest before serving.
3. Baste and Lard: Even when you’re careful not to overcook your game, leaner cuts of meat may need additional help. Basting meat with marinade, butter or other sauces can help keep meat moist. Use a basting brush or bulb to bathe the meat often. An extra step called larding may also help. Larding involves placing cold strips of seasoned pork fat into your raw game. As it cooks, the fat melts and provides internal basting. Wild turkey and venison cuts may benefit from both larding and basting.
With these tips in mind, here are some mouthwatering wild game recipes for the grill:
- Deer: This grilled venison loin recipe lets the meat do the talking. Coat the venison with olive oil, salt and pepper and then drop the game onto a preheated grill. Baste venison with barbecue sauce or your favorite marinade if you’d like. Because venison is extremely lean, take care that you don’t overcook the meat.
- Elk: For a quick meal with a spicy kick, try this recipe for grilled elk skewers with a fajita rub. Simply cube the elk meat, toss with fajita spices and place the meat on skewers. Place the skewered meat over a high-heat grill and cook for one to two minutes on all four sides. Enjoy this flavorful dish on its own or pair with grilled veggies.
- Rabbit: This garlic and herb grilled rabbit recipe conveniently utilizes all the rabbit cuts. Marinate the meat in a garlic and herb mixture and then grill over medium-high heat. Each section of the rabbit provides a different texture and subtle flavor differences. Try a bite of each piece to experience it all!
- Boar: Why opt for pork chops when you could try a grilled boar tenderloin? This recipe includes a brown sugar, paprika and chili powder spice rub in addition to an herb chimichurri sauce. Let the meat rest with the spice rub before grilling and then add the tenderloins to a medium-high grill. Serve atop the chimichurri sauce for a dish packed with bold flavor.
- Alligator: If you’re serving alligator, you might as well go all out. This grilled alligator slider recipe combines a familiar favorite with a wild meat choice. Form alligator meat patties and cook them over a hot grill like you would a classic burger. Serve with your favorite slider toppings and sauces for a sandwich that raises the bar.
- Squirrel: This jerk marinated grilled squirrel recipe combats tough squirrel meat with a Jamaican jerk marinade. Featuring plenty of spice and acid notes, the marinade helps moisten and break down tough meat fibers and creates a delicious coating once grilled. Soak your squirrel and grill carefully for a tender, juicy meal.
- Goose: To channel the goose’s decadent history as a luxurious holiday meal, try this bacon-wrapped grilled goose breast recipe. Marinate the goose in a red wine and herb mixture before wrapping the breasts in strips of bacon. Grill to medium-rare for a savory meal that’s sure to impress.
- Duck: This recipe for grilled teriyaki duck legs is sure to please. Braising the legs in teriyaki sauce before grilling them keeps them tender and flavorful. Serve with rice and vegetables or on its own for a sweet, delicious upgrade over chicken legs.
- Pheasant: Looking for a party appetizer that stands out from the crowd? Try some grilled pheasant poppers! Simply marinate the pheasant meat in the sauce of your choice, cube and skewer the meat, wrap with bacon and pop on the grill. You’ll have a meaty, unique appetizer to please even a picky crowd.
- Quail: For a whole-bird recipe, try this grilled whole quail. Pair your favorite sauce or marinade with the quail meat for a juicy grilled dish. Grill several quails at once for a party or make a few for a family dinner.
- Wild Turkey: You could grill your wild turkey with a marinade or rub like you would domesticated turkey. Or you could switch it up and try these grilled wild turkey rolls. This recipe calls for bacon-wrapped chunks of wild turkey with a jalapeno rolled into the mix. Grill these rolls for a spicy, bite-sized taste of wild turkey perfection.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box with your game meat recipes. With a little creativity and grill knowledge, your grilled game meal can be the perfect ending to your hunt. For an unparalleled meat experience, choose a grill that’s as impressive as your wild game.
Find a Grill as Impressive as Your Hunting Prowess
Every hunter needs a grill that can keep up with and perfectly cook the game he brings home. Grilla Grills has a grill for every catch, from our pellet grill to our kamado charcoal grill to our professional pellet smoker. Our grills feature precise temperature controls to cook your game at the perfect heat and are engineered to provide quality, reliability and durability.
As a family-owned company, we understand the value of long-lasting equipment that fuels your gatherings. For a grill that can keep up with your hunting schedule, shop Grilla Grills today