Cook guide

Home cook’s guide to preparing wild game

  • Pheasant is a tasty and versatile meat, perfect for experimenting with recipes.
  • Remove the fat from the venison to avoid a more gamey flavor.
  • Duck lends itself well to big, bold flavors.

The game is on.

Minnesota’s duck hunting season began on September 23, followed by the pheasant opening on October 14; deer hunting firearms season kicks off November 4th.

Central Minnesota is teeming with beasts from the land, the air, and the lakes, but what can a successful hunter do with all that meat once bagged and tagged?

When a hunt is over, many hunters take what they’ve shot to a professional processor for cleaning and butchering. Some game farms offer post-hunt clean-in-place for a small fee, but once the animal is treated, it is up to the home cook to decide on preparation.

When cooking any meat product, safety should be the first priority. The USDA and the Minnesota Department of Health recommend the following minimum internal cooking temperatures for game:

  • Ground deer, elk, bison or caribou: 160 ° F
  • Fresh venison, moose, elk or caribou steaks, chops and roasts: 145 ° F
  • Pheasant, duck or goose (any formula): 165 ° F
  • Rabbit (all formulas): 160 ° F

It’s also important to note that any stuffing, cooked on its own or inside a bird, must be cooked at 165 ° F to be safe to serve.

Travis Hansen, an employee of McDonald's Meats in Clear Lake, takes money from an area hunter to process it on November 15, 2015, at the market.

Preparing wild game can confuse many home cooks, who might be concerned about the differences between pheasant and chicken, or venison and beef. While wild game can be unfamiliar territory, there are a few tips and tricks that can make it easier to whip up portions of your hard-earned loot.


You know the old saying, “Does it taste like chicken?” According to Keith Sand, owner of Sand Pine Pheasants in Avon, pheasant meat stays true to that cliché, only better.

“Personally, I think it’s better than chicken,” Sand said. “It’s in that line – it’s white meat – but tastier and more delicate.”

Sand and his crew at Sand Pine Pheasants offer field, guided and European hunts, after which the birds can be cleaned up and slaughtered for a small fee. Once the birds are at their best, Sand said, most people “have a pretty good plan” of what to do with meat in the kitchen, but he gave newbies some tips.

“Don’t overcook it! You can turn anything into a piece of leather if you stare at it for too long. Once the moisture is gone, you can’t get it back,” he said. . “You still want it done, but just about to be done and not done, that’s where I like it. Think medium-good, as opposed to good.”

Sand recommends boning birds first, then checking them carefully for bone chips and BBs. Then, he said, it’s about cooking them slowly and slowly.

Some of Sand’s favorite pheasant recipes include bacon-wrapped pheasant jalapenos poppers and his take on a Southern classic: cookies and pheasant sauce.

“There are a lot of great recipes out there,” he said.


Venison is a lean red meat, usually slightly tougher than beef, which lends itself well to burgers, sausage, jerky, dried sticks, and even bacon. Thielen Meats of Pierz offers game processing, including cutting and packaging of fresh cuts.

Freshly cooked venison is sliced ​​on a wooden cutting board.

Joe Thielen, co-owner of the meat market, said early preparation is essential for game.

“It has a bit of a wild flavor, but when prepared properly you can kind of avoid that real gamey taste,” Thielen said. “The best thing you can do when handling game is prepare quickly. Cooling it down quickly, peeling off the skin quickly… taking those first steps makes a huge difference in whether or not you’re going to enjoy the game. “

Thielen also recommended that home cooks use a practice employed in his meat market: cutting the fat off meat.

“The fat is usually an area that tastes a bit more like game, so we’re working really hard to get that out of the way, and if you’re doing it at home I would recommend it.”

Thielen suggested game preparations that mimic beef, as both meats have a similar flavor.

“You can season it or marinate it like you would beef – I usually use onion and garlic, for starters – just make sure you don’t overcook it. overcook, it’s going to get tough, and you don’t want it, Thielen said. “If I make steaks or chops, I cook them over medium heat, like you would beef. Roasts are also good – low and slow, in the oven or in a slow cooker. “

Colleen Gregorio is a family cook who regularly cooks game and wild turkey that her husband, John, brings back from his hunts. She, like Thielen, tends to treat game the way she would beef, but Gregorio prefers the meat to be prepared minced, rather than in steaks or chops.

“It’s a lot less fatty,” Gregorio said of the minced venison. “We’re going to make meatballs, chili, sometimes I’ll make meat sauce with it.… I’m always trying to do something new.”

Gregorio’s household also cooks venison fillet, which Gregorio compared to beef fillet, but cautioned that the cut must be treated with care.

“John makes his own dry dough for the meat, and usually we grill it or bake it,” Gregorio said. “But he grabs it every time – again, because it’s less fat, it has to be treated a little differently than beef or pork.”


Duck is perhaps a more familiar dish, especially for those who frequent The Pickled Loon bar and restaurant in downtown St. Cloud, where poultry features on both the lunch and dinner menus under form of duck chorizo ​​tacos.

“They are one of our best sellers. I was surprised how popular they have become,” said chef Samantha Roiland of the tacos, which include a spicy Mexican duck sausage mix. , potatoes and peppadew aioli.

Roiland recommends that home chefs use ground duck as a starting point.

“If it’s chopped and you spice it up a bit and cook it like any other minced meat, it’s a bit foolproof compared to, say, a duck breast, which can be very overcooked. easily, ”she said.

“We use coarsely chopped duck (in Pickled Loon) so that it doesn’t dry out, as it still has lumps of fat in it.”

Hunter Joe Neumann goes pheasant hunting with his dog on September 25, 2015 at Sand Pine Pheasants.

If you’re not a fan of ground meats, duck portions might be right for you. But Roiland warned home cooks not to cook the duck breast all along.

“I recommend cooking a half-rare duck breast. If you cook it all the way through, I think it would be dry,” Roiland said. “It’s a little different from cooking chicken.”

Whichever duck mix you choose, Roiland suggests bold spices to complement the bird’s “slightly gamey” flavor.

“If you make a really intense spice blend, it will help with the gaminess,” Roiland said. “I’m a big fan of Latin flavors so I love chili peppers, garlic and herbs. But I also know that if you use something like juniper it will take away a bit of the gaminess.”

Follow Alyssa Zaczek on Twitter @sctimesalyssa, email her at [email protected] or call her at 255-8761.

For more information …

Sand Pine Pheasants is located at 12195 Norway Road, Avon. To learn more about Sand Pine Pheasants, call (320) 363-4790 or visit

Thielen Meats of Pierz is located at 310 Main St. N, Pierz. To learn more about Thielen Meats of Pierz, call (320) 468-6616 or visit

The Pickled Loon restaurant is located at 715 rue St. Germain. To learn more about The Pickled Loon, call (320) 281-3581 or visit

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