4 Ways to Ensure You Won't Have a Gamey-Tasting Whitetail or Elk

I love to eat game meat.  Some of the best meat Larry and I have eaten have come from whitetail and mule deer, which is why if you're having trouble with gamey-tasting animals, I have terrific tips to ensure your game tastes good.

Field Dress and Cool that Animal Right Now

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen hunters make is not caring for their deer or elk right away. I get it; you're going after one of the biggest bucks or bulls you've ever seen, but if it takes you three days to get that animal out of a river or canyon, you've just ruined good meat, especially during hot weather.

Once you get an animal down, the next step is to field dress and skin the animal as quickly as possible to get the heat out of it. If you have a long trip back to the butcher (or your kitchen table where you're going to butcher the meat), pack the insides with snow (if available) and keep it cool.

I've seen all sorts of odd handling techniques.  I've seen someone tie the deer to the hood of his car and continue to hunt.  I've seen someone have three deer loaded in the bed like firewood without being field dressed or skinned.  Those deer were sitting in warm weather in the back of a pickup.  I've seen elk show up at a butchers that had not even been gutted.  (It was so warm, I was wearing sandals.)  I've known a hunter who managed to shoot an elk on one side of a river only to have it stumble to the opposite bank and die in the shallows.  It took them several days to get that elk out.  I really doubt the meat was any good.

Don't Age the Meat

I know I'll get in a lot of trouble telling people to not hang their meat to age, but that's exactly what I'm saying. The reason is simple: you're just letting the meat spoil.  Proper aging is done in a climate-controlled refrigerator big enough to hang a carcass.  Since most of us don't have that type of set up, people are quick to hang their game in their garage or barn, which has temperature fluctuations, flies, and rodents.  My that is appetizing.

I don't remember what old recipe book I read, but it was dated around 1840.  The author was vehement about not aging game because it actually soured the meat. She called it a "disgusting European habit" that Americans shouldn't do.  (With apologies to our European readers.)  If you have deer or elk, butcher it or get it butchered as quickly as you can.  If your butcher has a proper aging refrigerator, then great.  Otherwise, you'll just give it a really gamey taste.

Don't Cook it Like Beef

Venison and elk are not beef.  Don't try to cook them like beef.  Sure, there are some beef recipes that will work for game meat, but it's better to start with recipes developed for game before experimenting.  Marinading in buttermilk, for instance, will remove some of the flavor that older bucks/bulls tend to impart.  Since Larry and I hunt for meat and not antlers, I generally don't marinade the meat because it is usually quite tender -- even out of a two- or three-year old buck.

I've included a recipe for antelope tenderloins, that will also work for deer and elk tenderloins.  In fact, it'll work for backstrap and even round (if you tenderize the round).  Try it out and let me know what you think.

Use Nutmeg and Mace in Your Cooking

I found several old recipe books dated to the 18th and 19th centuries that used nutmeg and mace (the spice, not the spray) in all the venison dishes.  I decided to try it, and sure enough, nutmeg imparts a very sweet taste to the meat. Mace is stronger, which is why I seldom use it, but you can try both and see for yourself.  Yes, nutmeg is expensive, compared to other spices, but it's worth its weight in gold.

I add nutmeg to any big game meat including bear, elk, antelope, mule deer, and, of course, whitetail deer.  Sprinkle it on while you're browning the meat, or use it as a rub along with garlic, salt, and pepper when you grill.  It imparts such a wonderful flavor, you'll wonder why cooks don't use it more often.

Our ancestors who ate venison knew this little trick, but somehow it never got passed along to modern day hunters.  Yeah, nutmeg stocks are likely to go up, but you'll have some awesome-tasting dinners because of it.

-- MH Bonham