Wild-Game Cooking: Tender Elk

posted on September 3, 2019

As one who has largely lived on wild meat for the last 35 years and has become a big proponent of same, it pains me to have to make this admission: Some animals are too tough to eat—at least, without a little help. There are a number of factors that contribute to tough meat. Usually—but not always—bucks and bulls are tougher than cows and does. An older cow or doe is often a lot tougher than a young buck or bull. Animals that are under physical stress when they are killed can be pretty tough as well. Recently I was called to provide some elk for a gathering. All I had for a group this size was a 4 1/2-pound elk backstrap from an old cow, and she was as tough as an old hip boot.

There are a number of remedies for tough meat. Marinades ranging from simple to complex abound. Unless there is a compelling reason for the complex, I prefer a simple solution. My buddy Jim Zumbo provided the following one. First trim any ligaments and fat from the thawed roast. Give the meat a generous rub of Cavendish’s Greek Seasoning; then cover the roast with olive oil. Place it in a covered dish for about 6 hours at room temperature followed by an overnight slumber in the fridge.

You can use a crock pot or a Dutch oven if you are outdoors. First, though, you must sear the meat either in the Dutch oven or on the grill. Either way, the grill or Dutch oven must be quite hot—almost smoking if you use oil or lard as a moistener—before you put the meat to it. It only requires about 45 seconds per side to properly sear the meat; perhaps a minute if you are using an outdoor grill. Place the roast in the crock pot or Dutch oven, along with 2 cups of red wine—I use a cheap burgundy—and a 9-ounce can of French onion soup. Depending upon your tastes and how much room you have in the pot, you can add some mushrooms and/or potatoes sliced in half. If needed, add a little water to ensure all the contents are covered with liquid. Make sure you have at least 1 to 2 inches of clearance between the liquid and the lid.

If you are cooking in the crock pot, start out on high temperature for 60 minutes; then switch to the lower heat for three to four hours or when the meat temperature is 145 to 150 degrees. Pull the meat and put it on a carving board to cool for five minutes or so and allow the meat to stabilize. If you try to carve it when it’s still hot, it may just fall apart.

The Dutch oven requires a bit more prep. First you’ll need to dig a hole in the ground that will allow 2 to 3 inches of coals under the Dutch oven and enough for another couple of inches on top, plus another 2 to 3 inches for dirt. Build a fire in the hole. You can use this fire to sear the meat; then pull it off and put it to the side until you have coals ready. Once you have a nice bed of coals shovel out about half of them. Place the Dutch oven in the hole atop the remaining coals. Replace the coals you shoveled out on top of the Dutch oven. Make sure the bail on the oven is vertical and cover the coals with dirt, leaving the bail exposed. Do not pack the dirt, just make sure the coals are fully covered. Go on about your day.

When it’s time for dinner, use a hook to carefully lift the Dutch oven straight up from the hole. Push the bail down and out of the way. Stand or kneel on the downwind side of the oven and carefully lift the lid off the oven making sure to not allow it to tilt and dump dirt and ashes into the oven and on your meal. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this with a hook, you can purchase a lid lifter that grasps the lid securely. Proceed as with the crock pot in terms of carving and serving the meat.

You can make gravy from the remaining liquid either by adding a gravy mix or simply whisking in some flour. If you have any leftovers, you’re in luck. One of the best parts of this recipe is leftover sandwiches the next day!


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