Many of us have heard about all the positive aspects of eating game meats: They’re lean proteins, low in cholesterol, full of vitamins and minerals, loaded with flavor—and are, by definition, meats from free-ranging animals.
But we’ve also all heard horror stories about how difficult it can be to cook game correctly: venison cooked into shoe leather, pheasants dry as cardboard. The good news is that it really doesn’t take a Michelin star to cook game properly, if you understand how game meats are different—and similar—to the domesticated meats you know and love.
I use the term “game meats” because true wild game is, for the most part, illegal to sell in the United States. Every pheasant, elk steak, duck or rabbit you see in the store was raised on a farm. In a way, that’s a good thing: Farmed game meats are a bit more consistent than their wild cousins, wild ducks especially can be a crapshoot, and you need not worry about chomping down on birdshot in the pheasants or quail you buy.
It also means that store-bought game meats are far closer to their domesticated equivalents than you might think. Consider them hybrids, halfway steps between the real, wild thing and the flabby farmed meats of a cheapo supermarket.
Here’s what you need to know about cooking the most common game meats and how they differ from their domesticated cousins.