Cooking Game Meat with Rub on It
Wild game is basically anything you can shoot in the woods or on a prairie and eat and seem like a reasonable human being to other meat-eaters.
Which means it's a wide-ranging category.
Antelope...game meat. Super lean white meat.
Elk and venison...game meat. Lean red meat.
Bear...game meat. Lean with weird fat pockets (and kind of a grab bag in terms of flavor).
I'll leave it to hunters (of which I am not one) to get into the details elsewhere. But Midyett Premium Rub...which of course is great on just about anything of course of course...really shines on beef and game meat, to the exclusion of any other rub-type preparation I have ever eaten.
I won't go into excruciating detail on cooking game here, mostly because I don't do it enough to consider myself particularly skilled at it. But I have a few comments.
First of all, game meat is lean. Uniformly, it's not going to have the even, marbled fat content that a well-bred beef cow will have. And these animals are a long way from being purpose-built for barbecue and grilling the way pork pigs or chicken chickens are.
Second of all, the fat content of the meat is liable to be very concentrated and dense. That's a point related to the above, but worth making on its own. The fat may be streaked throughout the cut or hanging out in a kind of "pad," similar to the fat cap on a brisket or pork shoulder.
Game animals cut up roughly like a cow does, in that there are steaks, loins, shoulder, hindquarters. They don't necessarily cook like a cow does. The aforementioned lack of marbled fat means you've got a handful of choices with it:
1. Cook hot and fast to the top end of medium-rare (for thin steaks)
2. Cook medium-hot to the top end of medium-rare (for thicker steaks and loins)
3. Cook long, low, and slow in a fat-rich environment (for larger cuts)
Is rare meat an option with game? I present no recommendations on that front, and I recommend you do your research before you cook game meat in any case. Personally...I don't cook it that way. As with beef, most pathogens present in game meat are going to be on the surface (and obliterated in cooking regardless). But there's a heightened risk of trichinosis and other issues in game meat, and...I admit I'm not willing to eat game meat rare the way I will eat (happily) a rare steak.
Judicious trimming is your friend. Don't be afraid to trim back fat deposits, tendons, membranes, and any sections that seem unduly sinewy.
Furthermore, a variety of options are available to you to increase the fat content of the cook. Caul fat, olive oil, and bacon are good for exterior treatment, and larding the interior of a large cut with beef or pork fat is often a good idea as well.
Have I made game meat sound weird? Mayyyybe. It's...not weird. I will close by saying that properly bled and prepared game meat, from animals who have been eating their natural diets out in the wild, can be a special kind of delicious that you cannot get from any variety of beef. It's eminently worth cooking and eating it any chance you have to get quality game.
What you need to do to grill things...go!
Get this stuff:
- A grill (kettle, "egg"-style, something like that)
- Hardwood charcoal and a little bit of hardwood (chips, a chunk, whatever)
- Some food to grill
So there's grilling and there's smoking. Grilling is cooking over a fire at moderate to high heat for a short time. Smoking (barbecuing) is cooking over smoke at low temperature for a long time. This here tutorial thingy is about grilling.
Now...if you have a gas grill...no judging. I use 'em when they are around. Just fire it up and grill the food. If you have multiple burners and can afford to leave one unlit, do that. You can move things over to that part of the grill to sit for a bit, if they get cooked enough and you need to catch up with other stuff or whatever. And also ignore the rest of this thing.
If you do not have a gas grill...are they gone? OK...good for you. Man, who wants to cook on one of those things? You might as well stay inside, right? Don't you feel bad for those people? Me too. Ugh caveman cook food wood fire, me big caveman. So anyway, let's move on with real grilling.
Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going. Use hardwood (a/k/a "lump") charcoal, if at all possible. Briquettes are a total drag for smoking, but you can get away with them when grilling. Still, I don't recommend them. They don't burn as hot as lump, they don't smell or taste as good, and they produce a ton of ash.
Now...if you are cooking just a bit of food, or you're cooking just veggies for some reason, or even cooking real thin stuff like bulgogi or cutlets, you might only want a half-chimney of charcoal. And I don't clear out the grill if there's viable charcoal in the bottom (as opposed to just ash, which I do trash)--if you have a bunch of leftover charcoal in there, then a half-chimney might be the ticket for your cook.
I use some kind of pulpy paper (newspaper is ideal) crumpled up to light the chimney. Crumple the paper into balls, put it on a non-flammable surface like concrete or the bottom of your grill, light it on fire, and put the chimney with charcoal in it on top of the now-burning paper. You can use a crumpled-up paper bag, as well, but it might not catch as quickly (hint: light a candle, drip wax on the paper, and light the waxy paper with the candle--wax is an accelerant). You know what else works great? Peanut shells. Seriously great for lighting a fire.
Anyway, LIGHT IT, then let the chimney run until the top of it sees ash. You should have at least a bit of white ash on the top of the charcoal in there. Then dump the coals into the grill...
...ideally leaving about a quarter of the available space largely free of charcoal.
Why? So you will feel smart when you have a steak or piece of chicken or charred pepper that is done early and you want to keep it warm but not full-on cooking for another five minutes.
The charcoal you have in there? You ideally want it spread out evenly over the area you DID want covered. That can be hard to do pouring charcoal out of a chimney. Maybe move coals around with tongs to get it evenish. Once you grill a bunch, you get good at managing the hot and cool spots, and maybe this will not matter much.
If you have wood to add here...add it. Use only hardwood, and not too much. You're only going to get a short amount of time with the smoke. It's going to be an accent, not a primary element as in smoking. Let it burn a bit before putting anything on the grill.
For grilling, I would suggest opening the bottom damper on the grill completely. Get it hot. And you may or may not be using the grill cover. If I'm cooking sausage or hot dogs or burgers, I do those cooks with an open grill mostly (though I do smoke sausage at low temperature sometimes when barbecuing). Steaks, I'll use the lid, but usually when I do put the lid on over steaks, I close off all dampers completely.
A note on burning grease and fat: it's not a major flavor issue when grilling like it is with barbecue, mostly because the temperature of a grilling fire is so much hotter than a smoking fire. The grease burns off more quickly and completely. The food isn't lingering over the smoldering grease fire for many many minutes, soaking up the petroleum taste. If anything, a little beef grease just adds some grilly grillness on the flavor front--but only at grilling temps! You want to avoid burning grease completely on a low and slow cook.
Anyway, if your grill is hot, good job. You're ready to grill now.
What you need to smoke meat:
- Hardwood charcoal
- Hardwood chunks (not chips)
- Drip pan (large hotel pan)
- Grill with a couple layers of grills (more on that later)
And now...here's how you set up your grill to smoke meat.
We're talking kettle grills and kamado-style smokers like the Big Green Egg and so forth. If you have something fancier like an offset smoker or whatever, good for you! But you can figure that out on your own!
Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and get it going. I'll assume you know how to use a charcoal chimney. Use hardwood charcoal, not briquettes. Briquettes are not pure wood. They have fillers like clay and other stuff in 'em. As a result, you're smoking your meat with whatever else is in the briquettes as well as whatever wood material is in there. Even if the fillers do not flavor the meat (they might), the non-wood stuff in there means they won't produce the same flavorful impact as hardwood charcoal. The filler also means briquettes ash a TON. Plus I don't think they last as long for low-temp cooks, maybe because they ash so much and kinda smother themselves or something, I don't know. I think they're a drag.
Fill the bottom of the smoker with unlit charcoal—”fill,” yeah…not FILL-fill. Just get a good one-chunk-thick layer of charcoal in there. Dump the chimney onto it once the chimney stuff is nice and hot.
Add 5-6 sizable chunks of hardwood to the fire—or less. I like a lot of early smoke myself, but you can overdo it, I guess. Spread the chunks out so they’re not clumped together.
What kind of wood? Hardwood of some kind. Hickory and oak are good for most everything, as are other nut woods like pecan. Cherry is good for cuts of beef. Apple is great for pork or chicken, just OK for beef (kind of light). I like mesquite, but it’s strong--I wouldn’t use it all alone if you can help it, and I wouldn't use it at all on anything but beef. A mix of wood will give you good, complex flavor.
The bottom damper on the grill should be maybe ½ way open and the top should be about the same. Just because that’s the middle and you can go up/down on either end from there.
Ideally you’ve got a thermometer on the lid of the grill. Shoot for 225°F or maybe 250°F tops. Overshooting is best to avoid—high temp wastes fuel and takes a long time to come down.
You’ll want to have some kind of two-level grill scene so you can put a drip pan between the fire and the meat. There is a variety of ways to do this—just depends on your grill deal. Maybe you have an offset smoker, and it’s a nonissue. But the drip pan should have a large surface, it should be pretty shallow (couple inches deep), it should not be right on the coals, and it should be maybe half full of water—room at the top for whatever grease falls into the pan.
The top grill goes above the drip pan—worst case, you can put the drip pan on the regular grill and balance a second grill on top of the drip pan. That would be wobbly, but I’ve done it and it works OK.
Just do not allow too much grease to get in the fire. It’s not like getting a little steak fat on the fire when grilling. A brisket, for example, puts out a lot of grease from the fatty point and the fat cap. If that grease gets into the fire to any great extent, you’ll end up with a hot-ass grease fire, greasy smoke, and meat that has this gross petrol taste. Even if other people don’t notice it, you will, and it will bum you out.
Once your drip pan is “secured” or at least there, with a grill above it...you're ready to put on the meat.