It's said that the average American eats about 195 pounds of meat each year and, not surprisingly, our tastes tend toward staples like beef, poultry, pork, and fish. That's a lot of meat and it seems like such a shame to eat the same old stuff night after night.
Increasingly, however, game and other specialty meats are jockeying for elbow room in the refrigerator alongside the old standbys. And why not? Not only are these very tasty meats, they're also very healthy. Animals like buffalo and elk are raised exclusively on grass diets and aren't loaded down with antibiotics and growth hormones. What's more, they’re higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than your garden-variety rib eye.
The catch is that these meats aren't for everyone. While some people might have a hard time getting past the idea of eating kangaroo, more people have difficulty getting past the per-pound price tag. Read on for our picks of the best game and specialty meats out there, as well as a few suggestions on how to serve them and where to find them.
A lean, rich-tasting red meat with a fairly coarse texture, bison can easily be used as a substitute for beef in any meal. It's much healthier too; bison is very high in protein and comparatively low in cholesterol, with half the calories and fat of beef.
Take care when preparing bison meat. Since it's so lean, it has a tendency to dry out as it’s being cooked. Cook it at a low temperature and watch out for overcooking. Serve bison medium-rare and in smaller portions than you would beef — it's much denser.
Buffalo meat is becoming increasingly common in North America — you’ll likely find farms near where you live or you'll be able to order the meat directly from your butcher. Our recipe suggestion is slow-cooked buffalo short ribs with a Dijon mustard glaze — a definite winner.
One of the largest members of the deer family, elk is prized for its meat. The taste is similar to beef, but with a gamey richness and sweetness that you’ll never find in a cow. This is a very dark meat with a coarse grain, giving it a texture like no other.
Like bison, this meat is very lean, so be careful when cooking. Again, cook it slowly and only to medium-rare. More and more farmers in the U.S. and Canada are producing elk meat, so there's a good chance you'll be able to find it at your local butcher or direct from the producer, if you look hard enough.
Our suggestion for a winning elk recipe is elk bourguignonne, with rich cepes, pearl onions, double-smoked bacon, and herbed mashed potatoes — a hearty, rich stew.
Australians have known for years about the quality of kangaroo meat, but its popularity has yet to catch on in North America.
Here’s a gamey meat, similar to venison that stands up well to baking or grilling. Serve it medium-rare or rare, and brush with olive oil before grilling to help sear in some of the juices.
Like bison and elk, it’s a healthier meat, high in protein and iron, but with a fine-grained texture that’s similar to liver when cooked. Because it has to be imported from the other side of the world, kangaroo is usually hard to find. Ask your local butcher for any leads, but don't be surprised if you have to resort to finding it on the internet — a number of reputable suppliers carry kangaroo steaks.
For a real Down Under flavor, try pan-seared kangaroo steaks served with a kiwi reduction and cashew nuts.
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Pheasant is one of the classic game birds; a small animal that's as prized for its plumage as it is for its rich, dark meat. When cooked, pheasant has a distinctly gamey taste that is complemented well with a full-bodied red wine and a dark reduction, or strong tasting vegetables like brussels sprouts and leafy greens.
It should be relatively easy to find pheasant. If you can't find the birds from a producer or even if you can't catch one yourself during hunting season, your local butcher should carry it.
We suggest Tuscan-grilled pheasant, wrapped in pancetta and served on a bed of Swiss chard.
Much maligned as "poverty meat," rabbit was used as a substitute for chicken during World War II when meat was in short supply. Despite this reputation, there's a lot to love about rabbit. The taste is similar to chicken in many ways; it's a white meat with a similar texture, but has a richer taste that's not too gamey. It's also much better for you than chicken as it's higher in protein and lower in fat.
The other nice thing about rabbit is that it's easy to cook properly. It braises up as well as it grills, just be careful not to dry it out. Our favorite way to cook rabbit is to brown it and then add it into a braising liquid and slow cook.
With that in mind, our rabbit braised in a white-wine mustard sauce comes highly recommended.
Playing the Game
With so many different varieties of meat to be eaten, why waste your time on the same old staples? The best way to learn about the best meats is to visit your local butcher and ask about game or other specialty meats and how to serve them.