Eating Wyoming: Wyoming Elk. It’s What’s For Dinner

in Eating Wyoming/Column

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Did you hear there’s a meat shortage? Of course you didn’t, you’re in Wyoming. 

One thing you can say for Wyoming: nothing stands in the way of filling a freezer with meat and elk is the go-to game for hunters across the state. 

With the primary firearms elk season running from Aug. 31 to Jan. 31, there’s still plenty of time bag that buck.

Once you have your game processed and packed away in the freezer, though, how are you going to enjoy it? Elk isn’t like other meat. You can’t just grab a package of elk meat cook it like you would beef. 

So here are a few of my tips for preparing a delicious elk dish.

If you have never cooked elk before, the first thing you’ll notice is how incredibly lean the meat is. That poses a small problem with the meat drying out because it’s easily overcooked. 

It is recommended that elk be cooked to an internal temperature of 130 to 140 degrees. After 150 degrees, the extremely lean meat will begin to dry.

So hot and fast is the best way to impart flavor and not risk drying things out. This works great for steak cuts or searing a roast. 

Burgers are a bit easier to work with, because most people have their ground elk mixed with things like beef fat or even pork to add moisture. 

Ground elk like this is not just for burgers though. Chili is amazing with this versatile Wyoming staple. In short, you can use it any way you can use regular ground beef.

Now that we have our cuts and temperatures worked out, what should we cook? I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to elk. 

First, maybe I should tell you that I spent 20 years as a butcher in my father’s meat market. I was used to getting game meat from hunters and cooking my fair share of if, but that was wild hog, and tiny little Florida deer. Elk is a bit different, to say the least.

Recently, one of my neighbors was moving and offered to give me the elk he had in his freezer — ground elk as well as steak and roast cuts.

The ground elk made a most wonderful spaghetti. 

Now I wanted to try a roast cut. I know with a lean roast, there are two methods for cooking. One involves using a meat thermometer and bring the internal temp to the 135 degrees. I ended up tackling the second method, a slow braise.

With a camping trip to Vedauwoo planned, what better time to serve a Wyoming meat. The roast I was give, appeared to be a blade cut and was, as expected, quite lean. 

With the braising method, I would let the meat cook slowly all day, and when I was ready, it would be fall-apart tender. 

Since I planned to cook this in a cast iron Dutch oven, I began by bringing my iron up to a searing temp. Using a gas burner, I allowed the Dutch oven to heat up. Using few tablespoons of flour, I lightly coated the meat. The flour would help thicken the juices while cooking.

After the Dutch oven was up to temp, I added the a few tablespoons of cooking oil to the vessel and seared the meat on all sides. After the sear, I lowered the burner’s flame as low as possible. At this point, I coated the top side of the roast with a thin layer of tomato paste.

Normally a braise requires a liquid and you can use just about anything. I was going to use beef stock, but on this trip, one of my camping friends brought some home mademead. Mead is a fermented spirit made with honey. Depending on the brew master, mead can be sweet or dry. I thought this dry mead would be just like using a good red wine to braise with, so in went about a cup.

Since this was basically a pot roast style cook, I added a variety of vegetables. This is what I used, but feel free to use your favorites:

4 peeled and halved potatoes 

2 cups of carrots (pealed and cut for camping convenience.)

2 onions halved

3 stalks of celery

2 cups of sliced mushrooms

2 couple of cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

and 

Couple of handfuls of Brussels sprouts

Your quantity can vary, depending on the size of your Dutch oven. 

Now that the veggies are in place, hit everything with a generous amount of salt and pepper, just pop on the lid and wait. How long? Well, a long time! This isn’t the exact science part of the recipe.

Being on a low heat, you can literally let it cook all day. Like turning on the crock pot before you leave for work. In this case, I took a long hike around Turtle Rock, which was about three hours, and I still had time to kill.

After about five hours had passed, I popped the lid off, and WOW! The first thing that hit me was the aroma. OK, OK, I was hungry after the hike, but I swear this was heaven! 

Now we come to the easy part. I take out all the vegetables and put them in bowl so I can get to the meat itself. 

The meat had a mild, almost sweet flavor. As expected, it barely resisted my fork and it was as tender as you can get.

The hardest part of this recipe was telling everyone on this camping trip, that they had to be patient as I took photos for this article. There were no other complaints in the camp, and plenty of thumbs up!

All of this was just my method cooking elk, but what I really want to know is, how do you cook it? With elk being so widely enjoyed here in Wyoming, I’m sure there are hundreds of family favorites out there.

Please, if you see this article on Facebook, let me know in the comments you would improve on my preparation. Or just share a different recipe altogether. 

I’m looking forward to learning from you all, and quite possibly trying something different next time I cook elk.

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