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.
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.