5 Most Common Game Cooking Mistakes

American Hunter

Now that I am regularly shooting tasty animals it is important not to wreck the meat, either in preparation or in the cooking. American Hunter Magazine outline the 5 most common mistakes:

1. Not Aging the Game First
Unlike domestic animals, wild ones have a rich, variable flavor, because they are often older at death, exercise freely and enjoy a mixed diet. The wild flavors that result from cooking these animals are often described as “gamy.” In Old World Europe, game was hung until it began to rot—a treatment they called mortification—which not only tenderized the meat but heightened the wild, gamy flavor even further.

2. Not Brining or Marinating the Game First
Brining is an old-fashioned technique that involves soaking meat or poultry in a flavorful saltwater solution to enhance its moisture and taste. The proper ratio is 2 tablespoons of salt to 4 cups of water. It is especially good with breast meat and other lean cuts like the loin.

3. Overcooking the Game
The surest way to turn someone off of wild-game to serve it to them overcooked. Because there is less fat in wild animals, the moisture evaporates quickly in the pan, drying out the meat, turning it gray and giving it that “gamy” flavor. White-meat upland birds should not be served rare, but can have a blush of pink in them. The wild ones will be more muscular and will dry out more quickly, so you need to tend to them while they are cooking—basting them, poaching them, doting on them until the very last second.

Dark-meat birds, such as ducks, and red meat game animals like venison must be served no more than medium-rare. Serving it rare is even better. There is no use in eating it otherwise.

4. Cooking it the Wrong Way
In the world of chefs, meat is categorized into first, second and third category cuts. The first category is the leanest and most naturally tender, like the tenderloin. The third category is the toughest, like a shoulder. The cooking method used to cook these cuts varies greatly and is crucial to making the final dish successful. The first category—the loin—must be quickly seared and served.  The third category should be braised in liquid over many hours until the collagen breaks down.

5. Overcompensating
Sometimes we do too much to a dish, when the ingredients should be allowed to speak for themselves. We smother it in cream of mushroom soup or wrap it with jalapeños, cream cheese and bacon—dominating the star of the show.


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  • Mark Hubbard

    All five of these points are good. I’ve been cooking a lot of wild game lately, pheasant, wild boar ribs and belly, thar, and having real trouble with toughness. As an experiment today I’m cooking a whole hare over charcoal and mesquite in a Komodo Kamado, at ultra- low heat for about eight hours, almost just cold smoking it.

  • johnopkb

    I would also add that larding or barding most game improves the cooked result. The low fat content responds well to an addition of pork fat or bacon to enhance the rich textures and flavours, and guards against dryness.  This is particularly so with third category cuts

  • George

    I’m fortunate to live where I can hunt deer.  Over the years I’ve come to some conclusions.  If your hunting for trophy antlers then your hunting for bone, not meat.  Send the testosterone riddled meat to the butchers and cut it with mutton and pork to make sausage. Either that or give it to dogs you want to lose weight.  What an animal has been living on dictates it’s taste. Tussockland deer taste less gamey than ones browsing native bush.  Another critical aspect is how the animal died. If it’s on full alert or got winged by the first shot and bolted incuring more wounds until the end then the animal is full of adrenalin, which translates into lactic acid in the muscles to give it that turbo boost to escape and survive.  Tough as old boots, gamey and metallic is the result.  Here’s my regime for excellent meat — become good at stalking.  Forget being Joe Sniper at 400m. [You have to walk up to the darn thing anyway.] Forget head, neck, frontal and ‘Texas Heart Shots’ –Heart and lung shots behind the front shoulder are the way to go.If the beast doesn’t know what hit it or any clue of danger it will die nearly instantly from shock.  Bleed it and remove the nuts and pizzle if its a male before gutting.  Get the animal home whole and skin it there. Hang the carcass in a chiller, if you don’t have access to one then find a nice pine tree wrap the body in shade cloth so the blowies can’t get in, haul it as far up into the breeze and shade as you can with a block and tackle. Leave it there for 10 days, bring it down and cut the legs, back rack and under cuts off. Separate the leg muscles into primals, most will come apart along the silverskin and sinew using your thumbs and a little knife work. The outside of the meat will be dehydrated red/black leather, cut it off like pumpkin skin.
    With all that done remove the silverskin and shot and blown meat. You will now have about 50% of the meat you thought you’d get and a bucket or two of dog scraps but that’s always better than I get from the butcher.  Grill the muscles whole, rest it in foil for 15minutes and slice it cross grain just before serving.  The meat tastes way way better as a result of being left to set during rigor mortis, and the natural enzymes get to work.  It’s not rotten, you know rotten when you smell it.  Its just pure well aged protein and well worth the wait.

  • Mediaan

    Reminds me how high-living our lifestyle in NZ is.  Really, how does anyone find stuff to whinge about?

    Game hunting.  Big game fishing.  Freshwater angling. Skiing on several mountain ranges.  Recreational choices that are luxury beyond belief for the rest of the world, within save-up reach of any New Zealander..