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26 responses to “Wild Game Fat and Flavor”

  1. Josh

    Again, an interesting, fascinating, frustrating article. I’m heading out this Wednesday for a duck/goose/pheasant/chukar/dove hunt, yet with my current lack of success, I have no illusions of what I’m bringing back. Therefore, reading your wild fat-rendering article is causing some level of consternation on my part.
    Maybe somebody will get a few snipe next week, and let me tag along…

  2. adele

    Great essay. Once again, I’m reminded that I really should try to make friends with some hunters. :)

  3. matt wright

    I now know a lot more about fat – especially game fat, than I did 10 minutes ago.

    Another great article! I have to get out and hunt something. I never realised just how different the fats could all be, depending on what the birds ate – but it makes perfect sense.

  4. Heath Putnam

    Hank – you might want to get the new book “Fat” by McLagan.

    You’ll see that goose fat is distinguished by being highly monounsaturated. That makes it taste “clean” and “light” compared to other fats.

    Just as mangalitsa (and other pigs) produce more monounsaturated fat than other breeds of pigs, geese produce more monounsaturated fat than ducks or chickens.

    Pigs that eat corn have a lot of polyunsaturated fat in their carcasses. That’s worse than being high in monounsaturated fat, because polyunsaturated fats (particularly linolenic acid) rancidify so rapidly. Just as olive oil stays good a long time (and corn oil goes rancid), the fat composition of a pig determines the quality of the cured products it can produce.

    Pigs fattened on acorns have more monounsaturated fat in them. They generally taste better. If you don’t have acorns, a feed low in polyunsaturated fat (e.g. barley) would be a good choice.

    Antioxidants are also important. Antioxidants wind up in the fat, and help stop it from going rancid. They help the fat to taste better. Pigs that eat forage or fresh hay (or just industrially extracted rosemary oil) taste better.

    You might find this interesting:

  5. Heath Putnam

    Hank – here is another link for you:

    That shows the evolution over time of fat composition in response to a change (step-function) in a diet’s fat composition.

    I’m not an expert on duck or goose fat, so I really don’t know about the differences you’ve observed.

    You might want to compare barley-fattened wild hogs to acorn-fattened wild hogs. I suspect you’ll prefer the acorn-fattened ones.

    Rosemary oil (and copper sulphate) are the sorts of things that people feed their hogs when they get serious about fat quality. Here’s another study on it:

    The idea of those programs is to allow one to replicate the natural conditions that produce the best pork – because there’s too much demand for such pork (given the limited amount of oak savannah).

    In general, that’s the point of farming – replicate the natural conditions that produce the best conditions for whatever we are raising. When you factor in things like taste instead of just yield, you start doing things the way the Spanish do. That’s especially true with pigs or chickens (compared to cows), because they are monogastric. Because they “are what they eat”, you have to control what they eat if you want the best tasting meat or eggs.

  6. Peter

    This is all really cool information. All I can offer is some closeup duck fat porn from this evening’s post.

  7. Ryan

    See, this article is why I consider your blog my favorite food site, Hank. You share so much amazing info!

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  9. Dan

    Hey Hank!
    Liked the article. The deer I grew up eating came from the prairies of Wyoming, and were usually donated to our large family by my dad’s “generous” friends.

    They tasted different from the beauty you described. The flavor “notes” as you call them of each generously donated animal reflected less a tranquil life sequestered in some alfalfa plot, and more a scraping and tawney struggle for survival, eating pine cones and sage brush, and ending in a terrified chase.

    The final indignity was the marinating ride home on some jeep hood warmed by the over worked engine. By the time some part of it started sizzling in a pan in our family kitchen, each member of our large family suddenly had someplace to go, the smell alone was so bad.

    Fast forward 30 Years. I am living in rural South Dakota with my wife and family, when my wife one day mentions that she grew up on wild game, and asked why I had never gone hunting in such a game laden area of the country.

    I asked her if she ever actually liked the wild game she had eaten. She looked at me puzzled, like I had asked her if she actually like ice cream. When she assured me that most of the meals of wild game she consumed growing up were excellent, I figured maybe it was my few and awful experiences that were the exception.

    Most of the area deer were well fed on alfalfa, corn, and soy beans. The first deer I took was quitely grazing early in the morning not even aware of my presence. Field dressing her, I was surprised to see so much fat inside. An uncle who professionally guided hunts to Canada and the Dakotas told me that once I had field dressed the animal to stuff the cavity with snow to cool down the meat and rinse any residual body stuff from the inside.

    After letting it hang in our sometimes near freezing, sometimes below freezing garage for a few weeks, I broke down the carcass into steaks and roasts. I was told the fat and the bone marrow carried most of the gamey taste, and to therefore avoid cutting or breaking bones, and to carefully trim the fat and silver flesh.

    Our first meal yielded to each plate several tender slices of sweet and warmly spicy venison roast. I was bumbfounded at how delicious it was, rich in flavor, red, and juicy. I was also suddenly very disappointed that it would be a whole year before I would get to go hunting again for more.

    Over the years, I have taught my sons deer hunting, and now that they are grown I usually have more than I can use for the year. They do not trim the fat as carefully as I taught them to, but to my delightful surprise, the meat still tastes excellent. We have served venison to friends over for company. They too are shocked and delighted to find out it is venison. The most common remark is, “This doesn’t taste like wild meat at all!”

    For what it’s worth, most of the schools in the Dakotas are closed today on account of wind chill danger, commonly ranging between -25 to -45. And while such weather does bring more than its share of misery to most, it’s much less noticable when you’re pulling walleye through the ice, in a warm and enclosed hut, with the help and company of your beautiful wife and daughter! Savor All God’s Blessings!

  10. Brian

    Well, I just spent a good part of today breaking down a few ducks and the biggest Canada I’ve ever seen in Missouri. This was my first time breaking down a goose by your method, and I was so pleased with the duck fat I rendered a couple weeks ago, I figured I try out the goose. It had a ton of fat all over the skin, but also a huge amount in the cavity near the rear end, more than all of the skin combined. I noticed when I pulled it out the cavity fat had a much stronger smell than the skin. Initially I was going to throw it all in a pan to render, but decided to do an experiment and keep the skin fat separate from the body cavity fat. I’m really glad I did. The skin fat rendered out a nice clear yellow with a pleasant nutty aroma, a little like peanut oil. The cavity fat smells like guts and poop, and it’s cloudy. I think I’ll probably toss it. Just didn’t see this brought up anywhere, and I thought it was interesting. (Wondering if maybe an unnoticed gut shot caused the cavity fat to get tainted before I broke it down).

  11. Dave M

    what an interesting article along with fascinating comments. thank you so much for this wealth of information. Keep up the good work Hank. From Australia

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    […] looking to cook wild game and his explanations of why you shouldn’t immediately discard wild game fat should be read by anyone preparing to butcher a wild animal. I’ll admit I’m very […]

  13. John

    Hank, is there anything you can do with hooded mergansers? I have a pond at my hunting property in SC that has had a dozen splashing around the last two times down. I hunt the woodies when they show up but don’t want to shoot the mergansers if there’s no way to make them palatable. Thanks, John

  14. Mike

    Having been told countless times that it should be done, I have always trimmed away as much of the fat as possible when processing deer.
    This year after reading a little of what you have to say on the subject I decided to fry some deer fat and taste it for myself. It was delicious. But I am worried about how long it will keep. Most of my venison goes into the freezer and some of it doesn’t get used till just before the next deer season. I understand that venison fat goes rancid faster than domestic fats, but will it last a year in the freezer.
    Thanks, Mike

  15. Matt

    I stumbled on your site today while looking for salami recipes. I have been glued to it all afternoon. This article was particularly interesting to me as I have recently taken up elk hunting here in Colorado. Last year was incredibly hot and dry and the animals showed it–no perceptible fat and strong flavored meat. This year, in contrast, the animals had more than an inch of rich white fat stored on the hind quarters. The flavor is smooth, and sweet. It probably doesn’t hurt that the quarters were able to hang in my cold garage for four days before cutting. All developed a beautiful dry “skin” and smelled richly sweet as we cut them.

    I will be reading this site regularly!

  16. Kris

    Hey Hank, I have a couple of your books (love them) but I’ve never seen this touched on in detail before. A buddy and I shot two prime caribou in mid august this summer and because we live so far from anywhere (high arctic Canada), getting our hands on pork fat wasn’t a possibility so we ground the fat from the bous and mixed it in with our grind to make burger. I’ve since used a bunch of that mix to make some jalapeno summer sausage ( store bought hi mountain mix in 2 1/2″ fibre casings). Now, it’s good, but it’s got a bit of an unusual ‘bad’ funk to it that seems to be less obvious after the sausage is fried (I took them to 165 in the oven so cooking isn’t required, but it sure makes them taste better). Don’t get me wrong, the sausage is tasty, it’s just got some weird ‘what the hell is that’ flavour.

    I guess what I want to know is a little more about the process by which fat goes rancid and how the ‘saturation’ of the fat influences this. I’m not sure if my sausage has some normal ‘funk’ or if the meat/bou fat mix went rancid in the freezer. I’ve only noticed this ‘funk’ flavour in the sausage and not in burgers or any other cuts. We trimmed the majority of the fat off when we cut steaks, etc but not all of it by any means.



  17. Greg

    I just found this page and was wondering if your familiar with Florida wild boars. I’ve have just returned to hunting after not hunting for over 30 years, (some how I just didn’t find the time), anyway I’ve never hunted boar before and need some advice about the “gamey taste” and the best kill shots as well as preparing for the freezer, and packaging. Thanks for your advice and great website.

  18. Ben

    The mallards finally turned up at my duck hunting spot this morning, and I managed to knock down a few. I’ve been excited to roast some mallards whole all year, but when I began plucking I noticed that these have very orange fat. What’s your opinion on mallards with such fat? Are they worth roasting, or will they taste fishy? And if they’re going to be fishy, would confitting the legs or cooking the wings into buffalo wings cover up the fishiness enoough to be tolerable?

  19. Diana

    Interesting! I didn’t realize how much fat affects the flavor of meat! Will have to pay attention more as I cook :)

    Question: my husband went hog hunting with friends last year, and they bagged a great big one. They split the meat between three of them, and we got sausage (spiced into breakfast sausage by the butcher) as well as some other cuts. Our sausage didn’t taste gamey at all (probably 6-7 pounds of it) until the last 2 batches I’ve pulled out of the freezer. The last two were so gamey it was almost hard to eat.

    Can meat develop a gamey taste as it ages in the freezer? (I know it hasn’t been in the freezer a full year, but I can’t remember if they went last December or last March.) Curious if you have any experience with this :) Thanks!

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