Cooking Wild Game for the Family

Feb 27, 2023

People cooking in the kitchen.
Share your love for the outdoors with those you love.

Food was the #1 Motivation for Hunting in 2021

Did you know that the number one motivation for hunting in 2021 was “for food/meat”? It’s encouraging to see that there are people who pursue hunting as a way of life and not just a hobby, however, we encourage all who enjoy the outdoors to reap its natural gifts. This includes harvesting wild game that helps stabilize the ecosystem and feeds your family.

With mealtime looking more different today than it ever has, it’s important to understand that wild game has room in your hectic life too. You don’t have to make room for it (maybe make a little room in your fridge or freezer though).

Blend Don’t Bend

When cooking wild game, shift your mindset to blending wild game recipes into your life not bending your life to work with wild game recipes. Look at it as a simple substitute for other protein sources that can be utilized throughout your family’s life in various recipes and for many occasions. 

Take our spaghetti and venison meatballs recipe for example, by using ground venison rather than ground beef for your meatballs, you will have naturally elevated a classic dinner menu item with locally sourced protein. This dish is great if you like to meal prep or to have in your weekly rotation of dinner ideas for those busy weeknights. The flavorful meatballs can also stand out on their own and are the ideal size to serve as an appetizer at your next dinner party or during football season.

Wild turkey nuggets on a bed of greens.

With a family of all ages, it can be hard to find an entree that both young and old will enjoy. That’s not the case with our tender wild turkey nuggets. This turkey nugget recipe satisfies all parties and when cooked in an air fryer is a healthy alternative to your child’s love for chicken nuggets. As those toddlers turn into teenagers, pairing these amazing bites with their favorite dipping sauce

makes for a perfect after-school snack or appetizer for your backyard barbecue. If you’re needing some green in your diet, dice the nuggets and throw them on a salad or in lettuce wraps.

Any entertaining occasion gives you the best excuse to show off our jalapeno duck poppers recipe to family, friends, coworkers, etc. This is a great entry course for those who are new to wild game because “If you see something familiar [like bacon] on a plate you are more likely to try it,” said Amy Hall, Program Coordinator for Tennessee Wildlife Federation. The bacon she is referring to wraps around the marinated duck which makes for a sinfully delicious combination and will have any skeptic rethinking their doubts.

To truly appreciate wild game, blending and enhancing its unique flavor into existing recipes goes beyond “disguising that natural flavor with sauces, marinades…”. Hall added, “If you understand controlling that wild taste from the beginning, then you will have an easier time cooking on the back side of it.”

Set Yourself and the Dish Up for Success

Being realistic, we understand that some simply do not want to try wild game meat. Dealing with picky eaters or not, you should do everything you can to learn the proper way to process, store, prepare, and cook wild game meat.

This will set you, the dish, and all future wild game dishes up for success. It’s the “Wow, this is duck?” or “This is venison?” comments that can be the true test of a successful recipe. It’s a moment experienced by all, even the legendary American restaurateur, Guy Fieri, at one of his charity foundation dinners. 

“I made them a wild game jambalaya with duck sausage, elk, wild boar, and alligator. People lost their minds,” Fieri told Hook and Barrel Magazine. “It was legendary. Each meat had to be respectfully cooked so that nothing was tough. You have to handle them all in the right way.”

When you know and respect the wild game meat you’re handling, you’ll be able to artfully prepare a dish that tastes as good as it looks. Learn from Taylor Martin, Associate Director, Hunting and Fishing Academy, about a key tip to remember when cooking wild game. 

Silver skin is something that exists within mammals and birds and knowing what wild game meat cuts are better with or without silver skin left on will impact whether your dinner guests will be requesting your dish again in the future. This also goes hand-in-hand with working with a processor when you aren’t familiar with the different types of cuts of meat.

“[When deer hunting,] you should have a processor in mind before you step out into the field. Processors make things a whole lot easier for new people coming into hunting.” 

Amy Hall, Program Coordinator for Tennessee Wildlife Federation

Learning how to pick a deer processor is important. Ask plenty of questions to ensure that you are on the same page. A good processor makes a huge difference when it comes to trimming the meat in a way that highlights its distinct flavor, thus expanding your food pallet and erasing the stereotypical gamey taste people fear. Not only will cooking with wild game surprise your guests, but you might also surprise yourself with how easy and great tasting it can be when you’ve done the proper research. 

Taking a Story From the Field to the Fork, Not Just the Meat

Besides the food on the table, one of the most important parts of gathering as a family is the conversations that take place throughout the meal. Topics vary from individual life updates to the latest gossip and more, and should always include compliments to the cook somewhere during the meal. As the cook, it’s important that you take the story of the harvest from the field to the fork and not just the meat.

 If you aren’t the harvester, make sure to give the hunter credit and enough time to share the background story of the meat. A perfect opportunity to explore this conversation topic is when those “This is wild game?!” moments occur. If you’re at the table with people who are intimidated to eat the meat, there may be some hesitancy when having a discussion about its origins. These moments of curiosity, produced by your cooking, open the floor up for honest communication about the sometimes uncomfortable subject and can help enlighten those who aren’t familiar with hunting and eating wild game. 

Family enjoying a successful harvest.

However, you understand your family and friends better than we do. If you believe it would be more appropriate, share the background story before the meal. Maybe do so when kids or other friends and family members are helping you prepare the spaghetti and venison meatballs for tonight’s dinner.

With children especially, be gentle, kind, and honest. If venison is something you enjoy cooking and hunting is a passion, be transparent and allow them to decide if they want to carry on the family tradition or not.

It’s important to note that whenever these conversations occur, they shouldn’t be about projecting your views onto others. Instead, share your story and show that “they can appreciate hunting without being a hunter themselves,” said Hall. “If they taste something and they like it, they will recognize the hard work that you’ve put in to create that meal, and then maybe you have created a new advocate.” You never know, you may have piqued a family member’s interest when recounting your harvesting story and they now recognize you as a resource if they have any questions in the future.

Your Cooking Will Evolve, Just Like You

As your family becomes more accustomed to your wild game-infused dishes, you will be able to be more creative with your cooking skills and prepare dishes like pan-fried leek stuffed trout and blackened catfish

Cooking is a creative process of trial and error. We applaud the many who have taken the steps to introduce wild game into your lifestyle. Once you’ve experienced your first wild game dish, open your eyes to the endless possibilities.

Each year brings the same seasons, so don’t be afraid to try new recipes with your wild game. If a dish doesn’t work out, there’s always next year, or depending on when you harvest your wild game, there’s always next weekend. 

No matter the season, wild game recipes will fit in with any phase of your family’s life. To stay updated with all of our latest wild game recipes and quick tips follow us on YouTube @TNWildlifeFederation.

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