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Simple Roast Pheasant

roast pheasant recipe

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

When life gives you a beautiful pheasant, one that you have not shot up or that was raised in a pen, you should roast it whole like a chicken. But a pheasant is not a chicken — it can get dry and ugly very fast if roasted poorly. That’s where this recipe comes in.

I designed this recipe for young birds, but I have also found that ranched birds are ideal; you can often find whole pheasants in places like Whole Foods or other specialty markets.

This roast pheasant recipe, unlike many of the others you may have seen, relies on a few special tricks. One is an eight-hour brine; this will season the bird and help it to retain moisture. Brining is a critical step when roasting lean game birds such as wild turkey, pheasant, sharptail grouse, or even smaller birds such as chukars or quail. You risk dry birds if you skip this step.

Another trick is a searing hot oven, followed by a stint in a cooler oven. This isn’t a terribly new idea, and if you happen to have the Englishman Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book, he goes into this pretty thoroughly. I like my second, cooler step a bit cooler than he does, however.

The third is resting the bird. Fearnley-Whittingstall is big on this, but then again so are all cooks worth their apron.

Roast Pheasant

1 pheasant will serve 2 normal eaters, or 1 hearty eater.

Prep Time: 5 hours, if you are brining the bird

Cook Time: 60 minutes

  • 2 whole pheasants
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 to 4 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or softened butter
  • Black pepper to taste

__________

Here’s a basic method for roasting a pheasant:

  1. Brine the bird. Make a brine by bringing the water, salt, bay leaves, juniper and sugar to a boil. Cover and let cool to room temperature. When it cools, submerge your pheasant in the brine and keep it in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours. The longer you brine, the saltier the pheasant will become. I brine pen-raised birds for 4 hours, old roosters for 8 hours.
  2. Optional step: If you really want a crispy skin, take the birds out of the brine and set them uncovered in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. This dries out the skin (but not the meat) and helps you get crispier skin.

  3. When you are ready to cook, take the pheasant out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Heat your oven. Get it to 500°F if possible, but at least 400°F. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of preheating, and up to a half hour. Oil the bird. You can do this with olive oil or you can smear butter all over it. Crack some black pepper over the bird.
  4. Stuff with a piece of onion or apple and a few fresh herbs. Do not pack the cavity. Truss the bird if you want. I do this often because it helps the pheasant cook more evenly. (Here’s a video on how to truss a chicken, which is basically the same thing as a pheasant.)
  5. Roast the pheasant for 15 minutes at your high temperature. Take the pheasant out and lower the temperature to 350°F. Leave your oven door open to speed this process.
  6. Optional step: Baste the bird with either butter or a glaze. When I do this, I like to use a boiled-down combination of butter and maple syrup.

  7. Return the pheasant to the oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the thigh meat to be about 155°F to 165°F and for the bird’s juices to run pretty clear. A little pink in the juice — and in the bird — is what you want. The higher end of this cooking time will give you a well-done bird, which I try to avoid but many people prefer.
  8. Remove the pheasant and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This resting time is vital, as it lets the juices redistribute within the pheasant. It will also finish off the cooking process through carry-over heating.

whole roast pheasant

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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25 responses to “Simple Roast Pheasant”

  1. The Food Plot: The HAGC’s ‘Simple Roast Pheasant’ | The Women's Outdoor News
  2. noah

    Can you list (or maybe you have) proper instructions for gutting a pheasant and preparing it/dressing it to be prepared this way? Thanks!

  3. richard scardigli

    i am trying this will let you know how it comes out

  4. jason herbert

    I used this for thanksgiving cooking for my girlfriend. I used a bird that has laid around in my freezer since last year. It turned out extremely well, I would have been happy for a decent meal out of this but it really turned out great. I’ve never roasted anything in my life, couldn’t have been more happy with this.

    Thanks,
    Jason

  5. Roasted Pheasant, A Christmas Present | A Taste of Morning

    […] When you are running low on ideas for what to get someone for a present, it can be nice to prepare a special meal for that person. For an early Christmas present, I decided to cook Roasted Pheasants as a lunch for my husband and my mother. This was the first time that I had ever cooked game birds and so I am not going to pretend to be an expert on their preparation. I had to do a little searching for information on temperature and times. I mostly followed the recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.* […]

  6. Darrin Nordahl

    Excellent tips, Hank. I found myself with a couple of wild birds and had to try roasting one (I braised the other in a white wine cream sauce), and didn’t want to run the risk of overcooking without doing some research first. I rubbed my bird with bacon fat before roasting, as I felt this would help hold in the juices better. (Though I wished I had duck fat.) Regardless, the bird was cooked PERFECTLY! And dang, was it tasty. Best pheasant I’ve ever eaten. Here’s the outcome: http://365wholefoods.blogspot.com/2013/03/pheasant-phasianus-colchicus.html

  7. Ashley

    I found this recipe to be excellent. As this was the first pheasant my fiance had ever tried we wanted something simplistic that would let its true flavor shine through. That is exactly what we got. Thank you!

  8. William McMahon

    Will be trying this, this weekend. Thank you.

    p.s. just by chance I was on a hunt this morning and found “juniper berries” in the wild. Some things are meant to be!

  9. Dan

    Can this recipe be used if the bird is skinned?

  10. Ian Shaul

    Yesterday my girlfriend had her first successful hunt and her first pheasant. Appropriately, she wanted a simple, “really taste the bird” kind of meal with it and I wanted her to learn to pluck. No juniper berries or butter (basted with a good EVOL) and it was the best whole pheasant I’ve ever had. A couple questions–brine amounts? I doubled the brine directions and it was enough to cover 1 bird.
    The only thing that could have turned out better is that our skin didn’t end up crispy–is that because I basted it too often and too late in the process?
    Thanks, Hank, you’re a 1-man wild game America’s test kitchen. Can’t wait for the weather to turn to s#!t so I can start utilizing Duck Duck Goose!

  11. Reid

    I used a variation on this recipe for my recent humble thanksgiving meal and can’t praise it enough. Simple, juicy, and delicious.

  12. justin

    hi just bought myself a pheasant but only question is on the temp in the cooking is that in fahrenheit or celsius because my oven only goes to 250 celsius

  13. Lee James

    Hi there I am cooking a brace of pheasants for xmas. This is my first time cooking these birds so I have been doing some research. Although this recipe sounds simple and delicious I have opted for a chestnut stuffing and port sauce one. However I do want to take on the idea of brining the birds. So my question is, would brining the birds (esp with the juniper berries as not used before) have a negative effect on the taste bearing in mind my intended recipe?

    Thank

    Lee

  14. Linda Scott

    Last Christmas, I decided to cook a pheasant for dinner. I consulted all of my French cookbooks, but also decided to do some online searching & came across your website. I decided to give your Simple Roast Pheasant recipe a try & was so happy I did! The pheasant was moist, tender, and wonderfully delicious! This year I’m going to cook a guinea fowl and was hoping you had some tips on cooking them. Can I apply the same technique that I used for the pheasant? I also bought some duck fat to use instead of butter.

  15. ken

    Don’t have juniper berries. Any substitute?

  16. ken

    May recipes call for covering with bacon. What do you think about that for the oil covering.

  17. Brett Baker

    I had great success with this recipe. The internal temp ended up being over 165 and the pheasant was still juicy and delicious. Thanks for another great recipe

  18. Laurie

    I replace the juniper berries with pomegranates but I leave them raw, and just sprinkle them over the roasted bird on the plate. The flavour is only half the advantage here–it’s the texture that does it.

  19. CM

    Wow!!!! My first pheasant, and it was spectacular!!! I cooked it in a cast iron pan and it caught the drippings which were the best ever!!!!!! I was licking the gravy drippings up. Sooooo good.

  20. Bill Dockendorf

    Ken

    For the Juniper berries in the brine, are they fresh or can you use those in a jar?

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