Are you ready to swap out your camo crocs for some Gucci loafers? Want to make endless Grey Poupon jokes in deer camp and have the fancy meats to complete your delivery? This recipe is something that came out of a little curiosity I’ve had for quite some time. I’ve been trying to find the simplest, most hands off way to cure some venison … and I’m thinking this just might be the easiest process ever. Here’s what to know for the gravlax cured venison loin recipe.


This gravlax cured venison loin recipe is an excellent option.

This gravlax cured venison loin recipe is an excellent option.


  • 1 lb. venison backstrap
  • .4 oz. or 2 tsp. pink salt
  • 8 oz. or 1 cup kosher salt / same raw sugar
  • 10-16 juniper berries, crushed
  • 3 tsp. pink peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 tsp. black pepper

Select a good pan for the liquid to drain into.

Select a good pan for the liquid to drain into.


  • Sharp Cold Steel fillet/boning knife for trimming/slicing
  • Plastic wrap
  • Cutting board
  • Bowl for mixing cure
  • 12-inch sheet pan with matching wire rack
  • Patience
Start with your preferred cut of venison.

Start with your preferred cut of venison.


A decade ago, I started making lox/gravlax (cured salmon) at Christmas for my family. My father would eat about half of the fish himself, some with cream cheese and crackers, some just straight down the pipe. Good both ways.

It’s a simple concept. Mix up a cup of salt, a cup of sugar, and coat a filet of salmon with the skin removed. Then, wrap in plastic. The salt and sugar pull out moisture from the fish, so leave one end of the wrapped filet open for liquid to drip out and onto a tray below.

Knowing how that process worked made me think it could also be applied to something like venison backstraps or tenderloins. I filled two Missouri deer tags, and the moment arrived to test my theory. I’ve talked to a few charcuterie experts about curing and had some Insta Cure No. 1 (quick cure) on hand, which extends the shelf life of this recipe.

Since you’re wrapping the meat in things, inherently they take on some flavors. So, it’s a great time to try anything aromatic you have lying around. Herbs, peppercorns, juniper berries, and smoked salts are all great to add a subtle note to the meat. I had juniper and pink peppercorns that gave a nice floral note.

The resulting cured meat is salty with a touch of sweet, and flavors that feel like where deer comes from—outside. The venison flavor isn’t dulled at all, but rather, is made richer and deeper. This is a great moment to consider where you hunt for foraging. Do you have mountain sage, juniper, or lemony sumac? Think about nabbing some of those ingredients (following a guide for collection and consumption safety) or purchasing some things that fit where that deer came from. Wild meat tastes like where it’s from, and your additions to salt and sugar will also accentuate that overall flavor profile.

A tasty treat for you and your guests.

A tasty treat for you and your guests.

For prep, unless you love chewing for 5 minutes after each bite, remove any fat or connective tissue on the meat. Mix up the sugar, salts, and spices as your cure. Grab a tray with a metal rack. A 12-inch or quarter sheet pan is the perfect size. Clear room on a refrigerator shelf to accommodate the pan. Cut the 1-pound meat into two shorter portions to better fit the pan.

Lay out the plastic wrap, enough to roll around the meat three to four times. Put enough of the cure as a base below the meat to have a 1/8-inch barrier between it and the plastic. Lay down your trimmed meat on top and cover the top similarly to the bottom. Don’t worry about cure falling down the sides, it’ll get pushed in when you roll up the plastic. I like to fold down a top end like an envelope, and then roll the meat up like a burrito with one end open. Set it on the wire rack with one end lifted to assist in getting the liquid to drip out of the packets into the tray below. I have a fridge magnet under one corner that holds it in place.

After a day or two, you’ll notice a sticky liquid in the bottom tray. It’s not some sci-fi creature growing in your fridge ready to annihilate humanity. This process is completely normal. It’s water from the meat combined with salt and sugar. If it gets too high, drain some off. If you’re at day four and want to go to day six to eight, use more cure in new plastic. In my experience, with smaller backstraps, four days will leave a bit of a raw feel to the inside (in a good way). Six days will get closer to jerky. If you’re trying this with elk, I recommend using tenderloin over the huge backstraps.

This last step might sound insane, unless you’re from the South and are used to spraying deer off with a hose. That said, rinse off the outside of the meat. Get the water nice and cool and rinse the cure off well for 3-4 minutes. (Don’t worry, that flavor isn’t going anywhere.) Skip this step and you’ll end up with a salty product.

Afterward, pat dry and slice off some pieces to taste. The end bits are always slightly stronger, but as you slice inward, it’ll be more meat and less cure. I like to serve the cured venison with a horseradish mustard, crusty bread, and something pickled or with olives. It’s a killer fancy treat, or maybe the best way to take some venison out into the field as a snack instead of jerky. If you plan on taking it out of a refrigerated environment, a longer cure time will give a more stable product. Honestly, you could slice it up and dehydrate like jerky, or run the whole loin chunks on a cold smoker. Feel free to play around and see what you like.

The gravlax cured venison loin recipe is one that's sure to impress.

The gravlax cured venison loin recipe is one that's sure to impress.

Recipe: Wild Hog Sausage Tomatillo Chorizo Style

I got my hands on a couple of 80-pound wild hogs from East Texas, so I started experimenting with some new wild hog sausage recipes. I wanted to come up with something that could be executed with near gas-station-level provisions, but also create it with the flexibility to be made completely from scratch.

This recipe is based on the classic Mexican concept of a green chorizo. Not wanting to use green dyes or blast them with cilantro, I opted for a simplified version. When I tested the final product on a group of hunters at a summertime archery and BBQ meetup, I was told it was the best wild game sausage they’d ever consumed. But I’ll let you be the judge.


Gather your ingredients and make a big batch of chorizo to make the most of your time.



  • 3 lbs. wild hog, cubed
  • 1-2 lbs. free-range pig fat
  • 3 cups tomatillo salsa (24 fl. oz)
  • 3-6 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. dried garlic
  • 6 pieces fresh garlic (optional)
  • Approx. 10 ft. of casings
  • Extra fresh and dried garlic

Tomatillo Salsa (optional):

  • 2 lbs. tomatillos
  • 1 lb. jalapeños
  • 1 whole garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Kosher salt


First thing’s first—procure your wild pig and consider how many pounds of sausage you want to end up with. A boned out ham and some extra trim from butchering left me with around 3 pounds of wild hog. I wanted a fairly fatty sausage, so I purchased 2 pounds of free-range Berkshire pork from my local butcher along with sausage casings. Use less fat if you’d like, but going too low will result in a grainy sausage and require binders (a corn tortilla or two cut into strips works well for that). Keep your leftover bones and shanks for cooking in some salsa, covered in beer and water with salt. Make some beans with that, waste no flavor here.

For every pound of wild hog meat (not counting the fat), add in a cup of green tomatillo salsa. I opted to make my own over an open fire for sheer flavor, but in a hurry you could smoke some store-bought salsa on your pellet grill. I just tend to take the long road around making wild game food, giving me precious moments to truly honor my kills with a special final meal.

My salsa ratio is 1 onion:1 whole garlic:2 pounds tomatillos:1 pound jalapeños:1 batch cilantro and salt to taste. I roast all the ingredients in the oven or over a fire and blend. While the salsa might seem kinda spicy at first, once added to the pork it calms down significantly.

grinding chorizo sausage

Combining more fatty free-range, farm-raised pork helps to give this wild game sausage a more ideal texture.

Grind your fat and meat while still frozen in 1-inch chunks on a coarse setting. I add salt to my meat, covering it in a solid sprinkle. Normally, I start with around a teaspoon per pound and go up from there, adding the final amount by taste after all the grinding is done. Once the ingredients have been ground together, add in the salsa and chill again in the freezer so the fat stays solid. If it starts to melt, it’ll spit out of your grinder, making a mess and maybe hitting you in the face. Don’t ask me how I know that. Your second grind can be a finer grind if you want a smoother product.

Now’s when you can make this your own. After the second pass of grinding and mixing the ingredients, this is the most important step: Cook a tiny patty of your sausage on the stovetop. From here, refine the sausage to your own taste. You could add some hot sauce if you need more heat, salt to your preference, or more garlic. I added a tablespoon of dry garlic and six pieces of fresh garlic, but the fresh garlic didn’t want to grind when whole so make sure it’s crushed and chopped really fine before tossing it in. Salt levels are a personal thing, but I feel like sausage can handle a strong salt flavor. I’ll also advocate here for kosher salt; it’s tastier and very consistent.

chorizo sausage links

"I like to boil some sausages, such as brats, before cooking them on direct heat, but these chorizo sausages can go right on a grill or into a pan." -CC

The final step is to simply stuff the sausages. My buddy, Steven, at the Sausage Foundry in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, shared a great tip when helping me learn the craft of sausage making. After you section your sausages by spinning them around like a clown making balloon animals, there are always a few air bubbles that make their way into the sausage. Get a sharp pin or needle and poke them lightly to let the air out. This will keep the air from bursting open your sausage over the grill.

I like to boil some sausages, such as brats, before cooking them on direct heat, but these chorizo sausages can go right on a grill or into a pan.

I served my wild hog chorizo sausages on tortillas with pickled veggies and salsa, but they’d be a fantastic sub for a hotdog in the classic Sonora dog (a soft bun with a sausage, mayo and mustard, green hatch chilies, beans, and maybe some cojita cheese). These also make for a great breakfast sausage served with eggs and hashbrowns. So, if you have some wild hog sausage, give this recipe a try.

wild hog chorizo sausage

The results of this recipe provide a meal that's equally fitting for hunting camp or a backyard party.

Recipe: Wild Duck Confit & Grits
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Wild duck can be a delicacy with thoughtful preparation. Head over to visit our partners at Work Sharp for this Wild Duck Confit & Grits recipe. While you’re there, stock up on knife sharpeners for your full field-to-table journey.

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Here’s a hunt camp meal your group won’t soon forget. And that’s largely because of what makes this Louisiana single pot meal so special. A campfire and a good cast iron pan. Some ground venison and gamebird livers. Add the Holy Trinity of Cajun vegetables and some cornbread, and you’ll soon be partaking in a single-pot feast. Let’s get to it.


1-2 lbs. ground venison
1 cup bird livers. Pheasant works amazing here (duck, goose, or even chicken will suffice)
1 cup extra long grain rice
2 1/4 cups chicken stock
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped peppers
1 cup chopped onion
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. marjoram or dried oregano
1 tbsp. cumin, seed or ground
1 tbsp.chili powder. Cajuns use cayenne, but I like grinding my own fresh at home from Morita peppers. They’re a dried red jalapeno for extra smokiness.
Corn bread topping (buy a mix or make your own, I won’t tell if you use a box). Just know that if you use a recipe with sugar in it, the topping could burn a little easier. Ask me later how I know.

Read: Kitchen Knife Sharpeners for Wild Game Cooks
One Pot ingredients

This recipe leans on the Holy Trinity of Cajun food: onions, peppers, and celery.


1. First prep/gather all your ingredients. If you didn’t chop anything at home and you’re in camp, chop your herbs and onion/pepper/celery. The holy trinity of cajun food are these 3 ingredients, and is based off the French influence in this food. It’s something you can use to start any stew or slow-cooked meal off right.

2. With your fire, this is another slow-cooked meal that will likely take an hour or more to cook. Start your fire, let some coals cook down and get more fire rolling further away from the cooking area. The idea is to have a fire maybe 1 foot away from your pot, so it’s not really cooking anything direct (unless you’re sautéing meat and can pull the pan to the side for slow cooking).

One Pot on fire

The idea is to have a fire maybe 1 foot away from your pot so it’s not really cooking anything direct.

One Pot cast iron

A cast iron Dutch Oven is ideal for this one-pot recipe.

3. Start your corn bread now to let it start activating to fluff up nicely. In camp I will often buy a trusted cornbread mix to bring with. Or I mix my dry ingredients at home and put them into a ziplock bag. You will need to always add milk, butter, and a whipped egg. So have a bowl to bring to camp for whipping up the batter.

4. First whisk with a fork the liquids, add the mixed dry ingredients, and set the bowl aside to rest while you cook the dirty rice. I like to cover with a towel or plastic wrap to keep out the bugs. Note that a big part of the flavor of corn bread lies in the fat used to make it. So if you’ve done my duck confit recipe, add some of that fat to the corn bread!

5. Add some fat to your cast iron: Olive oil, duck fat, bear lard, or butter will work great here. Brown the ground venison with a little salt added.

6. Once the venison is browned add in the holy trinity to sautée, and after the game bird or chicken livers, for a quick sear.

7. Add in your liquid to knock off any browning from the pan, and dump in the herbs and rice, stirring it to get a nice even mixture.

One Pot knives

Work Sharp's Ceramic Honing Rod allows you to maintain your knives like a professional at home or in camp.

Adding Fat to One Pot

Remember to add some fat to your cast iron. Olive oil, duck fat, bear lard or butter works great.

8. Let this start to boil, then pull off the coals, pour cornbread batter on top, or spoon into smaller dumpling-sized pieces, your call.

9. Cover with the lid and if it’s cool, add some coals to the top to warm it up. Just be careful not to get the top too hot if your cornbread has sugar in it, or it’ll burn.

10. Fifteen minutes should be plenty for the rice and cornbread to cook with the residual heat of the cast iron and steam inside. Your cornbread will be super moist and there should be some crunchy rice on the edges and bottom. Don’t be afraid to let it roll longer if your cornbread hasn’t browned or rice isn’t done.

For serving, scoop out some cornbread and spoon the rice on top of your Louisiana Single Pot Meal and enjoy! Add some fresh sprigs of rosemary or other herbs for curb appeal.

One Pot seconds

Warning: This delectable camp dish tends to attract visitors.

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St. Paul and Minneapolis both lay claim to inventing the Juicy Lucy, with Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club sporting lines out the door regardless of sub-zero temperatures. But you can impress your cold-weather hunting buddies with this twist on a classic and call it the Juicy Bambi. PC? Depends who you ask. But we think this venison burger recipe is Pretty Cool.


2 lbs. ground venison: deer, antelope, or elk

1-2 tbsp. harissa or bbq seasoning (salt free)

1/2 tbsp. ground black pepper

1 tbsp. salt

1 cup mayo

1-3 cloves garlic

Fresh basil

1- 2 lbs. russet potatoes

1 cup shredded lettuce

Pickle slices

Fresh sliced tomato

3-6 slices American cheese

3-4 buns (depending on burger size)

Read: Kitchen Knife Sharpeners for Wild Game Cooks
juicy lucy recipe

Basic seasonings go a long way in adding flavor while preserving the wild taste of your burgers.



1. Rinse potatoes and slice fries as even as possible.

2. Rinse again, and soak in a mix of water and salt. It should taste salty but not disgustingly salty, around 2 tbsp. per 1/2 gallon of water. Soak at least 20 minutes (overnight is great, but not necessary).

3. Par boil potatoes in fresh salty water until they just start to soften but not fully cooked. This will take way less time than you think—1-3 minutes depending on quantity of potatoes. They will continue to cook after pulling them out of the water and you don’t want mushy potatoes for fries.

4. Strain and set aside to cool. 

work sharp benchstone knife sharpener

The Benchstone knife sharpener from Work Sharp is great for hunting camp or on the countertop at home.

5. Heat 24-36 ounces of peanut oil in a deep frying pan to 300F. It will smoke at 350-450F depending on refinement and you should avoid smoke. If you don’t have a thermometer, use a potato. Once the oil immediately bubbles with a potato slice tossed in, you’re there. 

6. Fry your parboiled potatoes in the oil. Resist the urge to stir them too much. Let a crust form on the outside first so you don’t get lots of little bits floating around, as they’ll burn.

7. Once the fries are just starting to turn golden, remove them and let the oil run off in a colander. 

8. You’ll refry these right before serving for extra crisp, so don’t worry if they cool to room temp.

juicy lucy burger patties

The key to any juicy lucy is the cheesy core.

wild game burgers

Use wax paper to cover the burgers before smashing them down to even thickness. Use something rigid and flat, like a cutting board, to smash.


1. Evenly season and salt the ground meat, and make 6-8 balls.

2. Put 2 at a time on wax paper with a layer to cover the tops as well.

3. Smash down with a cutting board, trying to get even 1/4-inch patties.

4. Put 1-2 slices of American cheese on the bottom patty, put the other on top and seal. Repeat and make all your patties. 

5. Place raw burgers in the freezer for 10 minutes (they’ll just chill) to keep them firm and easy to grill. Start your coals on the grill. Did you know cold meat absorbs the most smoke flavor?

6. While the coals are burning down to embers, smash garlic and basil in a mortar and pestle and add mayo. If you have a blender, use it. If you don’t have a blender, smash the garlic with your knife and chop; do the same with the basil and mix it into the mayo by hand. Lick the spoon so your brain is ready for one of the world’s finest condiments.

grilled burger buns

Grill the burger buns for extra crunch and charred deliciousness.

garlic mayo

Fresh garlic mayo brings this burger to the next level.

7. Shred lettuce and get other toppings ready for action.

8. Spread coals in grill. Quickly toast buns and set aside.

9. Reheat peanut oil. Refry the fries quickly to crunch up. 

10. Grill burger patties for 2 minutes per side, or until crunchy on the edge. Allow time for the cheese to melt.

11. Spread a layer of mayo on bottom bun. Add patty. Top with tomato and pickle.

12. Serve with fries and extra garlic mayo for dipping. Be cautious of molten cheese dripping out of the patties. 

juicy lucy and fries

The Juicy Bambi will make you want to grind more meat this season.

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Frenched venison loin is a great backstrap cut if you get a whole deer back home. Or, you might have a processor who will deliver specialty cuts. I like to leave on the silverskin of this cut when freezing. That’s because, inevitably, the bones poke through the vac sealing or paper wrap. You trim the silverskin off before salting and any freezer burn goes with it. The bones make for “meat lollipops” not unlike lamb. In addition, the bones make eating in camp a breeze. It’s like nature’s meat handle, ready for grabbing. Why succotash? It was always whatever was fresh in the garden with corn, when my mother made it. So have fun, improvise, and eat your dang vegetables.


Bone-in venison loin, 4-8 ribs worth (4 if a mature animal, 8 if a young animal)
4 ears corn
1 onion
3 bell peppers
1/4 lb. cured meat/bacon/sausage
Fresh basil
Green veg (asparagus, lima beans, or zucchini do well here)
1 cup chopped tomato, cherry or large
2 tbsp. salt
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (leave whole), sage, and basil
3 tbsp. butter

Read: Kitchen Knife Sharpeners for Wild Game Cooks

Prepping the centerpiece of this dish: frenched bone-in venison loins.


1. Chop vegetables and herbs first.

2. Clean up Frenched bones, salt meat, toss scraps to bird dog.

3. Start a fire with lump charcoal and wood. Briquettes are dusty so if you use them do NOT put your meat on them.

Chopped Vegetables

The recipe calls for three bell peppers; assorted colors gives this dish more flavor and eye appeal.

Prepping Corn

Fresh corn is a key ingredient of the succotash.

4. Get your cast iron hot, add in butter and rosemary. Let melt lightly and add in the venison loin, spooning melted butter over loin for a minute to evenly cook all sides of the meat.

5. Pull the pan off the fire and drop the loin directly onto some big red coals. Flip once browned and set aside to rest. Don’t overcook this cut, it’ll be amazing even rare. The hot coals should brown the edges quickly and add an amazing smoky flavor.

6. Pull out of the coals and knock off any big chunks of wood attached to the meat, setting aside to rest.

Sharpening with Worksharp

The Work Sharp Benchstone Knife Sharpener is handy in any camp.

Benchstone in action

The three-sided Work Sharp Benchstone offers 20- and 25-degree sharpening angles.

7. Add your cured meat and veg into the buttered pan you cooked the venison in. Stir until it’s JUST cooked; overcooked corn just turns to rubber, and your vegetables will maintain their nutrients and flavor.

8. Add the fresh-chopped basil and sage to the vegetables, slice meat between each bone. Then serve with the meat on top of the bed of succotash.

We ate this in mid September when fresh sweet corn and in-season vegetables were still available. We also used one of the last cuts of venison left from the previous year. This was just as we were starting the new hunting season. I think it’ll be a tradition from here on out, judging from the response in camp.

Venison Loins Ready to Eat

Don't expect leftovers from this tasty camp dish.

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This wild game sausage breakfast burrito recipe has become a staple of our archery elk camp meal plan, and it’s equally adept for any style of hunting camp. Portions of burrito filling are cut into rectangles, vacuum sealed, and frozen. Heat a tortilla over a fire and indulge for breakfast. Or dinner. Or whenever. Keep the prepared slabs of filling chilled in a cooler, properly packaged in vac bags, and they’ll last all week in camp. These calorie-dense burritos will replace nutrients and energy lost during a long hunt, and they’re damned tasty!


2-3 lbs. cubed russet potatoes
2 red/yellow bell peppers
1 sweet onion
12 eggs
12 oz. shredded cheddar, Colby jack or pepper jack cheese (choose your favorite!)
1 cup tomatillo salsa
Olive oil
1 lb. wild game sausage (recipe below, but feel free to sub in one you’ve made before)
3 tbsp. salt
Hot sauce to garnish

Read: Kitchen Knife Sharpeners for Wild Game Cooks

Sausage Recipe

This recipe uses a 75/25 ratio of rough ground duck to pork fat, but you could sub in any other bird like ground goose or even upland birds. Just add more fat if the bird is lean. Add a tablespoon each: salt, sage, black pepper, chopped juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, and water. Mix until the sausage gets a little sticky. When the protein extraction has happened it will hold its shape and texture nicely. 


Loose sausage is an ideal use for all sorts of wild game—birds or beasts.


1. Prepare sausage.

2. Chop and measure all ingredients.

3. Go back to the store three times if you’re like me.

4. Preheat oven to 375-400F.

5. Boil potatoes with 1 tbsp. salt. Strain and let cool.

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Maintaining an edge on your knife is important in the field, and in the kitchen.

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Harness the power of Work Sharp electric and manual sharpeners, no matter the scenario.

6. Sauté onion and pepper in olive oil.

7. Lightly brown sausage (it’ll finish cooking in the bake).

8. Add a lining of parchment paper in the bottom of a 9×13-ish casserole pan and put in cooked sausage. If you don’t have any paper, just butter the crap out of the pan and don’t miss a spot or it’ll stick.

9. Whisk eggs, salt, and salsa together. Stir in cheese, sautéed vegetables, and potatoes, and pour over the cooked sausage in the pan. Add to warm oven and bake 50-60  minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. You’ll see some oil on the knife but shouldn’t see any runny egg.


Slabs of prepared burrito filling.


Convenient for packaging to eat on long trips.

10. To remove from the pan to cool, put a cutting board over the top of the casserole dish, and using hot pads, flip it over in one smooth motion like you would ramping a bike. If you don’t believe you’ll fail and crash. Let the egg cool to room temp for an hour, out of reach of any bird dogs (ask me how I know about this), and cut into 8-10 even pieces. Put on a sheet tray with parchment paper and pre-freeze overnight, vac sealing afterwards. You could vac seal before freezing if you have less time, but liquid might creep up towards and into the seal.

11. In camp: Start a fire, heat up a cast-iron skillet, add at least a tablespoon of olive oil, and drop in however many servings of burrito filling needed to fill all the stomachs … but don’t crowd the skillet. I was able to do 4 servings at once in one large skillet. The best tasting result was to brown all sides of the rectangle and use a spatula to cut the rectangle into slices to also brown the last two sides. We turned it into a scramble when we were less patient. The egg is cooked and you’re using a hot, oiled pan, so your cleanup will be minimal—nothing you can’t wipe out with a paper towel.

12. Heat tortillas on a grate or directly on wood with tongs. Add burrito filling plus any sauce. Roll up and eat!

venison breakfast burritos

Wild game recipes can be simple and beautiful—at home or in camp.

After a year of plenty an eager bowhunter makes the most of a tough season, with a little help from a young buck.


Last year I shot my first buck, made good use of a salvage tag for a deer a friend had hit with his car, and was gifted a pile of ground venison by my thoughtful sister. Suddenly I was venison rich, but it didn’t last. I also have a lady in my life with an equally voracious appetite for wild game, so even though we tried to make the meat last all year, we soon found ourselves with very little venison left in the freezer.

Our goal is to have as much of our meat come from wild game as possible. Its free-ranging nature means that it’s way more nutrient-dense, and doing the hard work required to obtain it just feels right. Earlier this season I tried elk hunting and came up empty handed. Then my first bow shot at a nice big white-tailed doe had unfortunately deflected off a small stick; my arrow completely missed the deer.

After recently thawing out and cooking up my last venison shank, the main ingredient in what would become some tasty barbacoa tacos, I told myself I needed to head out and bag the first deer I ran into. Soon I was driving to an Iowa county for which I held an unpunched antlerless tag, obtained with the thought of supplementing my statewide tag. Just maybe, I had reasoned, I would have the opportunity fill a couple tags during one exciting sit. Or maybe I had become a little desperate.

SpikeBuck3 900

The night before my scheduled hunt I had trouble sleeping, so I rose early and nervously got my gear together. I figured being a bit tired was nothing the chilly predawn air couldn’t cure, and I was right. After a strong cup of coffee and some brisk morning air I felt alive and refreshed, hiking into a promising area I had scouted earlier in September. I had tabbed the area an unmistakable high-traffic zone complete with lots of deer sign and great cover: A mix of downed timber, brushy brambles, and tall grass where deer feel safe. It’s my favorite kind of terrain to hunt from the ground.

Within minutes of arriving I had unfolded my hunting stool and placed it where I could sit relaxed, and have the dense backdrop effectively break up my outline—leaning up against a tree trunk while holding my bow upright and ready on my lap. I knew leaning on the tree would help keep me extra still and comfortable during a long sit.

I had the wind in my face and was expecting the deer to emerge from my left, or maybe in front of me on one of two distinct, well-beaten trails. I’d brought some rattling antlers to clash together once I’d settled in, and did just that. When nothing charged right in I resolved to remain silent. Maybe a half-hour in, the spike seemed to appear out of thin air. Suddenly he was there in front of me at 20 yards, completely unaware of my presence.

I waited for the young buck to make the first move and soon he did just that, sniffing the ground and taking a long step forward. As he did I drew back. The buck noticed me just as I got to full draw, but the advantage was now mine.

I’ve hunted out of treestands a few times and love that perspective; up high you can sometimes see animals 100 yards out with ease, and when hunting in a good wind I find the sensation of a swaying tree invigorating. But being at eye level with a deer, or watching them walk by slightly uphill, is just wild. The wind has to be perfect if you expect to be successful, and finding the right cover can be complicated at times, but it’s hunting. Even with the helpful and accurate HuntStand app showing the way, the outcome is far from certain. But that’s fine by me. The struggle is half the fun, and a successful hunt on the ground makes me feel like I truly earned the meat.

SpikeBuck2 900

Speaking of earning meat, the spike is now the second deer I’ve shot at the location, and both have run down a super-deep ravine and were found piled up near a large downed log. The first I packed out in quarters, slung over a shoulder with backstraps tossed in a plastic bag I luckily found stashed in my truck. This year I made a pledge to pack in game bags on solo hunts; I quickly quartered the spike using the gutless method, then loaded the boned meat in the game bags. Doing so I was able to pack the whole deer out, alone, in one trip. It didn’t come easy. After butchering the deer on the ground, then packing the 100 pounds to the truck and finally, up the stairs to my apartment, my legs, predictably, were trashed.

Now came the fun part. I decided that I wanted to try vacuum-sealing larger chunks of venison so I purchased the least-expensive unit I could find, and went to work processing my meat. I know many hunters happily use commercial meat processors, but I prefer to know I get my own animal back. I also don’t grind a lot of meat before freezing, and prefer my backstraps in larger pieces for grilling whole. I even bagged a whole front leg for some future curing/smoking experiments.

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In the end, the entire processing ordeal required a solid eight hours of work, but I’m no longer in a meat crisis. I’d have preferred a doe, but the spike will do quite nicely. As a bonus, in my home state of Iowa a spike counts as an antlerless deer (a buck requires a forked antler), so my any-sex tag is still valid for hunting a buck this season. More than anything, though, I’m thankful to have the honor to take another animal, and hope to create as much nutritious, beautiful food as I can out of respect.

In the coming months I’ll be sharing some of the process of preparing the meat using some classic recipes, as well as some chef collaborations.

Editor’s note: Caleb Condit and his fiancé, Rebecca Norden, are talented photographers and content producers currently situated in Iowa. As relative newcomers to the hunting community, we can look forward to more of their fresh perspectives through future contributions at HuntStand Media.

Given the widespread social isolation caused by COVID-19, there’s no better time to tap into your supply of wild game meat and have some fun in the kitchen. Get into the wild game cooking groove with this gourmet venison meatball recipe.


Starting now, I’m going to be sharing some wild game recipe collaborations that I’ve been working on with culinary badasses from around the country. Our goal is to help hunters and wild game cooks try some new ideas and refine some old ones.


This first recipe came out of a conversation I had over a beer with chef Samuel Charles at Rodina—a killer establishment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sam has a fantastic meatball recipe on his menu, so I asked him if he wanted to try making something similar with some of the venison I had in my freezer from a recent hunt. Being someone always willing to geek out on a new food adventure, he asked me to bring the meat and we’d make something to share with Rodina friends and staff. Rodina is constantly trying new kinds of protein, from emu breast carpaccio to elk steaks to whatever bycatch fish his supplier has gotten their hands.


My mother’s mashed potatoes always included a bit of buttermilk and a healthy dose of butter. The key to amazing mashed potatoes is actually keeping the dairy to a small quantity—no more than a tablespoon per potato. Potatoes love salt. Much like venison backstraps, potatoes need salt. I worked for a chef in my early 20s who told me to use Kosher salt as a general cooking salt, and to save fancy sea salts for garnishing/finishing. The reason being Kosher salt is very consistent in flavor and intensity, so once you get a feel for how much to use it won’t vary as much as sea salt or the low-quality iodized salt we all grew up on. Salt the water you boil your potatoes in. Once you’ve added some butter, milk and mixed the mash, make sure to taste them for flavor before serving. 


As far as making gravy for this dish, a good approach is to take the fat runoff from the meatballs and pour it into a saucepan, add a couple tablespoons of butter and some flour. Sauté the flour on medium high until just before it browns so it absorbs the flavor of the fat, and then add in some beef stock. I like keeping Better Than Bouillon paste around for things like this, as I don’t always remember to buy liquid premade stock. Even better would be to make your own wild game stock with the femurs from a deer or the leftover bones from a roasted pheasant or duck. Whisk in the stock to the hot fat and flour mixture to pull off all the delicious flavor from the bottom of the pan. The thickening reaction will happen over the next minute or two, and turn your heat down to a simmer to keep the gravy from boiling. 

When you serve your food, get creative for a beautiful presentation, much like you clean up your kill before a hero shot. Sam tends to put down a layer of mashed potatoes, then a few meatballs, with a coverage of gravy to finish. He had some fresh kale in the kitchen for a garnish when we were designing this recipe, but parsley, dill or cilantro would work nicely as well.


Meatballs are a time-honored tradition in most cultures, and this dish is guaranteed to be popular among all sorts of people—easily win over kids or your friends who’ve never been introduced to wild game flavors before. If we’re going to bring new hunters into our ranks, delicious cooking is a fantastic recruiting tool. I know it’s what lured me into this rich way of life.  

RECIPE (feeds 4 to 6 adults)



1.5  lbs. ground venison

4 eggs

1 cup breadcrumbs 

1 tbsp. dried dill

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tbsp. minced chives

1.5 tsp. Kosher salt (salt to taste)

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper


4 cups gravy

6 cups mashed potatoes



1. Combine all dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  

2. In a large bowl, add ground meat, eggs, then sprinkle dry mix over top. Mix all ingredients, making sure to evenly distribute spices and eggs. Work meat slightly during mixing process. Meat mixture should become slightly tacky. 

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4. Roll meatball mixture into golf-ball sized balls and place on cookie tray, with at least 1-inch gap between meatballs. Use parchment paper for easier cleanup.

5. Bake meatballs for approx. 15 minutes or until no pink is left.

6. Once complete, remove from cookie tray and place on top of warm mashed potatoes. 

7. Cover meatballs in gravy and garnish.


Recipe by Chef Samuel Charles

Given the widespread social isolation caused by COVID-19, there’s no better time to tap into your supply of wild game meat and have some fun in the kitchen.


All of us love a classy steak dinner. Venison backstraps or tenderloins are a great way to share wild game with foodies or wine and dine a significant other. Sure, you could go with the trusty old meat-and-potatoes approach, but sometimes we crave a new challenge. That’s where this dish comes in.

Our wild game cooking content is designed to inspire you to try new things, so don’t hesitate to experiment once you’ve mastered the fundamentals. Just like hunting, cooking is all about core techniques and the rest is personal.


Panzanella is an Italian salad that typically uses leftover bread from the day before. When I lived in Spain it was pretty common to get a loaf of bread delivered to my door every day by the village baker, and Italy is the same way. Those rustic country breads don’t have a long shelf life, so lots of recipes are born from the utilization of leftover ingredients. In this case, the final product is what we know as croutons. If you don’t have any bread lying around or want to save time, feel free to substitute with premade croutons.


When I watched chef Samuel Charles prepare venison panzanella for the first time at Rodina, I noted some specific techniques that he used to cook the steak. First, when searing the meat, he tends to leave thinner layers of silver skin on the outside to protect the protein, as it tends to burn off with the high temperature. Most of us cut off silver skin before cooking because it can produce strong flavors, but in this case the thin silver skin burnt away in seconds with a super hot sauté pan.


Another key to this recipe is basting the steak with butter. I’d seen chefs do this before, and after trying it myself I can see why: consistency. Basically, you sear the steak on all sides after seasoning with some salt and then add a tablespoon of butter to the pan. I like adding a splash of oil to keep the butter from browning too much at high heat. If it’s a single steak in the pan and you have a gas burner, tilt the pan toward you with the steak in the pool of butter and scoop the butter continuously over the steak. The heat will evenly cook the steak on all sides, and the basting keeps the meat from drying out. Add rosemary or garlic to the butter at any point to infuse the steak with those flavors, and I could even see using chopped bacon to add smoky notes. Sam uses what’s called a French steel or carbon steel sauté pan, but I also do this at home in my cast-iron skillet. I’ll often use an instant-read thermometer to get steaks to a perfect medium rare.

Sam also uses hilariously long tweezers to cook with at times. I laughed and asked what that was about, and he mentioned it helps when you have lots of little things to turn over and don’t want to smash them with big BBQ tongs.

Squash is an integral part of this recipe. There’s a huge world of squash out there, so don’t be timid about trying multiple varieties. Acorn squash works well and it’s readily available, but consider “exotics” such as Japanese pumpkins to expand your horizons. Even better, plant your own squash in your backyard for maximum self-sustaining bragging rights. Bake the seeds with a bit of oil and salt, or just use sunflower seeds for the easy way out.

Salt is essential and requires serious forethought. I use Kosher salt to season my steaks. When you venture outside regular iodized salt, the options can be overwhelming. Just use this as a rule of thumb: Kosher salt is for cooking and sea salt is for finishing or adding salt at the table. Kosher salt is very consistent in grain size and flavor intensity, so once you know how strong it is, you can be very good about nailing the saltiness of your food more easily. If you want to get really fancy, try using a flake salt for finishing, as it’s less salty and looks cool.


While this recipe might seem advanced, in the end it’s just a steak salad. If you’re smart enough to harvest a skittish whitetail while balancing on a treestand 15 feet in the air, you can cook a steak with a new approach. I find that hunters and chefs have a lot in common: We both have a lot of respect for our ingredients, try to waste nothing, and prefer to know exactly where our food comes from.

RECIPE (feeds one or two adults)


6 oz. venison steak

1 acorn squash (small to medium size)

3 slices old bread

2 garlic cloves

1 bunch kale

1 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. cooking oil

Juice from one lemon

1/2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt


1. Peel squash, cut in half, scoop out seeds and put aside in a bowl for roasting later. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Slice squash, toss in oil, put onto a sheet pan and roast in oven until a knife goes easily through flesh. Set aside.

3. Wash seeds under water until squash flesh is gone. Toss seeds with salt, sugar and a dash of oil. Bake in oven, set aside.

4. Cube old bread into desired crouton size.

5. Remove stems from kale and tear into half-dollar size pieces.

6. Heat pan on medium, add 1/2 tsp. of oil, add bread cubes and continuously move until each is pan fried. Remove from heat and put onto tray with paper towel.

7. Add kale, roasted squash and croutons in a mixing bowl.

8. Heat pan on medium high, season steak with salt, add oil to pan and sear steak to almost desired temp. Add butter and garlic to pan and baste steak until desired temp is achieved (use an instant-read thermometer and stop cooking at 130-135 degrees if you want medium rare). Remove steak from pan, add garlic to mixing bowl.

9. Toss ingredients in mixing bowl with remainder of oil, juiced lemon and a pinch of salt.

10. Transfer salad into a nice bowl. Slice steak and put over top of salad. Garnish with baked seeds.


Recipe by Chef Samuel Charles