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Wild Game Cooking Methods

Capt. Clark

October 17th Thursday 1805


I was furnished with a mat to Sit on, and one man Set about prepareing me Something to eate, first he brought in a piece of a Drift log of pine and with a wedge of the elks horn, and a malet of Stone curioesly Carved he Split the log into Small pieces and lay'd it open on the fire on which he put round Stones, a woman handed him a basket of water and a large Salmon about half Dried, when the Stones were hot he put them into the basket of water with the fish which was Soon Suflicently boiled for use. it was then taken out put on a platter of rushes neetly made, and Set before me they boiled a Salmon for each of the men with me, dureing those preperations.

The cooking methods for wild game are the same as those for domestic animals and in fact the modern methods of cooking were derived from cooking wild game.  On occasion it is enjoyable to step out into a less controlled environment and cook wild game.  The methods that are most suitable for this is smoking, grilling, Dutch Oven, and open fire camp cooking.  It is important, however, not to minimize any safe food handling practices.  Keeping meat at <40 degrees F before cooking, cooking meat to the proper temperature, and maintaining clean work areas is essential to prevent spoilage and contamination.  For more information go to Food Safety.

Other methods for cooking/preserving wild game includes canning, drying, and corning.  These methods are not covered in this website with the exception of drying to make jerky  which is discussed under smoking.  For more information on preserving food go to the Oregon State University Extension website.

Barbecuing and grilling are very similar and the same equipment can be used for either method. The equipment for smoking usually requires a different design which allows for indirect heating and good circulation of smoke over the meat.


  • Grilling is use for more tender cuts and the meat is cooked over direct heat at a high temperature.

  • Barbecuing is used for tougher cuts that require longer cooking times and indirect heat.  

  • Camp cooking over an open fire is normally done with direct heat and high temperatures similar to grilling.

  • Smoking involves lower temperature, indirect heat and longer cooking times.

  • Wood smoke flavors can be accomplished during grilling, barbecuing, or smoking.

Smoking Wild Game
Smoking Wild Game

Capt. Lewis

Wednesday May 14th 1806.


We gave the indians who were about 15 in number half the female bear.... this was a great treat to those poor wretches who scarcely taist meat once a month. they immediately prepared a brisk fire of dry wood on which they threw a parsel of smooth stones from the river, when the fire had birnt down and heated the stones they placed them level and laid on a parsel of pine boughs, on these they laid the flesh of the bear in flitches...,after this they poared on a small quantity of water and covered the whoe over with earth to the debth of four inches... I taisted of this meat and found it much more tender than that which we had roasted or boiled, but the strong flavor of the pine distroyed it for my pallate.

The more traditional smoking techniques include hot smoking and cold smoking.  


  • Hot smoking can take place in a smoker or grill and the temperature is within a range of 180 to 250 degrees F.  At these temperature the meat is cooked to the desirable temperature that will kill most microbes.  

  • Cold smoking takes place  at less than 140 degrees F and at these temperatures the meat is not cooked and the microbes are not killed.  Cold smoking is not recommended unless additional steps are taken to preserve the meat including pre-cooking the meat before smoking or cooking at 300 degrees F after smoking until the meat is cooked through.

Easy Smoking


The simplest way to smoke meat is to add "liquid smoke" directly to the meat during the grilling process.  There is a large variety of commercially available "liquid smoke" mixtures and they can be obtain with different smoke flavors (hickory, alder, mesquite, apple).  Some people can not tell the difference in the taste of meat that has been treated with liquid smoke and meat that has been smoked in a more traditional manner.  The best approach is to try it and determine if it meets your personal tastes

Hot smoking can be done by using your charcoal grill, a smoker or gas grill:


  • If you have a charcoal grill arrange the briquette on each side of the grill .  Place a pan between the piles and partially fill with water.  Put water soaked wood chips directly on the charcoal briquettes and allow to smoke before cooking.  Place the meat on the grill above the water pan and cover the grill.  Add briquettes and water as needed.

  • Smokers are designed to have three areas beginning with a charcoal grate, a grate for a water pan and a grate for the meat.  The soaked wood chip are added through a small door on the bottom of the smoker.  Some smoker have an electric heating element that eliminates the need for charcoal.  After adding the soaked wood chips, place the meat on the grate above the water pan and close the lid.

  • Gas grill can be used to add a smoke flavor by placing lava rock around the burners and using soaked wood chips.  The will be a tendency for the meat to dry since there is no water pan to add moisture.

  • Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the center of the meat has reached a safe temperature.

Wood Smoke Flavor


Smoke flavor is a matter of personal preference so you should try different hardwood chips or chunks until you find the ones that taste best for big game, upland birds, waterfowl and fish.  A general guide for wood flavor is present below:


  • Hickory - strong smoky flavor - good with all meats.

  • Alder - mild flavor - good with fish such as salmon, sturgeon and steelhead

  • Apple - fruity smoke flavor - good for venison and game birds

  • Mesquite - sweet light flavor - good with all meats


The are many different types of wood chips available including such woods as grape vines and wine barrel oak.  You can also combine different woods to develop you own special mixtures and flavors.

Smoking and Drying


Smoking and drying is a two step cooking method often used to make jerky and is usually done in a smoker.  


  • After the meat has been cut in strips and marinated, it is place in the smoker and smoked for about 3 hours at 150 degrees F.  

  • The smoke is then stopped and the meat is dried at 145 degrees F for an additional 6 hours or until the meat is firm, dry and will not break when bent.  

  • Instead of drying in the smoker, the meat can be removed after smoking and placed in an oven set at 140 degrees F with the door ajar.

If you want to make traditional jerky, the best way is to cure, smoke and dry the meat using a jerky cure and seasoning mix (e.g.  Cabela's Jerky Seasoning or Hi Mountain Jerky Cure and Seasoning) and following the directions carefully.   Also the Colorado State University Extension has addressed the food safety concerns relating to making jerky and has prepared a set of recommendations and a recipe for making traditional jerky.  You can access this information at "Leathers and Jerky no. 9.311".  A copy of their recipe can be found on this site under Recipes/Big Game/ Venison Jerky.

Grilling Wild Game
Grilling Wild Game

Capt. Lewis

Tuesday July 16th 1805.


Drewyer killed a buffaloe this morning near the river and we halted and breakfasted on it. here for the first time I ate of the small guts of the buffaloe cooked over a blazing fire in the Indian stile without any preperation of washing or other clensing and found them very good.-

Grilling and barbecuing can be done using wood, charcoal or gas.


  • Wood adds a nice smoke flavor to the meat but it requires more attention in order to maintain a consistent temperature.  

  • The heat is easier to regulate when using charcoal and if hardwood charcoal is used a slight wood smoke flavor is added to the meat.

  • A gas grill provides the greatest control over the cooking temperature but it does not impart the smoke flavor unless wood chips and lava rocks are used.

It is a matter of personal preference whether you use wood, charcoal, or gas and with proper care and cooking techniques there would be little difference in the quality and flavor of the final meat dish.


You can grill food by placing the food directly over the flames or coals or indirectly by moving the food to one side so it is not directly over the high heat.


  • The direct cooking is a good method for steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, fish and skewered meats.  

  • The temperature is often in excess of 500 degrees F which is sufficiently high to add flavor to the meat similar to that when meat is browned before cooking. (See Note below)

  • The indirect method is best for large cuts of meat or bone-in birds.

  • This method cooks the meat at a lower temperature and allows the meat to cook all the way through without charring the meat.

  • Most of the time, barbecuing is done using the indirect cooking method.

You can add flavor to the meat you plan to grill or barbecue by using marinades, rubs, barbecue sauces, and smoke.  Information on marinades, rubs and sauces can be found in the Recipe section of this site and smoking is discussed in this section - Cooking Methods.


Note: If you do a lot of grilling, recent studies suggest there may be a cancer risk from eating meat cooked by high-heat methods such as grilling, frying and broiling.  The USDA suggest that the following precaution be taken to reduce this risks:


  • To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare-up.

  • Precook meat in a microwave immediately before placing  it on the grill to release some of the juices that can drop on coals.

  • Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them.

  • Cut charred portions off the meat


The USDA states that based on present research finding, eating moderate amounts of grilled meats like fish, meat and poultry cooked to a safe temperature (without charring) does not pose a problem.

Dutch Oven Cooking

Capt. Lewis

Wednesday April 30th 1806.


Drewyer killed a beaver and an otter; a pan of the former we reserved for ourselves and gave the indians the ballance. these people will not eat the dog but feast heartily on the otter which is vastly inferior in my estimation, they sometimes also eat their horses, this indeed is common to all the indians who possess this annimal in the plains of Columbia; but it is only done when necessity compells them.

The Dutch oven dates back to the 1600's and were widely used early colonist, pioneers and explorer such as Louis and Clark.  A Dutch oven is a cast iron pot with a tight fit lid that can be used for any type of cooking.  The unique feature of a Dutch oven is its design which allows hot coals to be placed on top of the oven to have uniform heat on all sides of the pot.  They are excellent for making roasts, stews,  bread, cakes and other dishes.  They can also be stacked on top of each other which conserves heat and allows multiple dishes to be prepared at the same time.  The newer Dutch ovens are also made from aluminum and instead of hot coals, charcoal briquettes are used as the heat source.

Dutch Oven Cooking

General Dutch Oven Information


  • Anything that can be cooked in a home oven can be cooked in a Dutch Oven (DO).

  • Temperature control is everything.

  1. Protect your oven from the wind, it results in uneven heat distribution.  

  2. Large diameter HVAC ducting works well; leave the seam open and just place around the DO.

  3. General formula for initial heat using charcoal briquettes:  Diameter of top of DO minus 3 briquettes on bottom and Diameter of DO plus 3 briquettes on top = approximately 325 degrees F.  To increase 25 degrees F, add one briquette to both top and bottom.

  4. Every time the DO lid is lifted, about 25 degrees F is lost; avoid removing the lid.  Use your nose, if it smells done, it probably is.

  5. It is easy to use too many briquettes-count.

  6. When cooking over wood coals (campfire) it is difficult to burn anything.

  7. If using an aluminum DO, be careful too much heat and the DO may melt; cooling breezes may serve like a bellows and do evil things.

  • To conserve on charcoal, stack one DO on top of another (Its safe up to about 3 or 4 high, after that things can get tricky.)

  • Use some kind of base or fire pan, special DO stands and discs from plows work well.  If stacking DOs, the base will keep the legs from sinking into the ground and spilling the contents.

  • Stacked DOs (all but the top one) work like poorly sealed pressure cookers.

  • To preheat the oven, place several coals (4 to 8) on the lidded DO.  If proofing bread, use 4-6 coals on the lid.

  • If using cast iron DO, be careful how it is washed.  Use only very hot water on a well seasoned DO.  Using soap or detergent will remove the seasoning.  It may be necessary to re-season the DO periodically (some folks recommend annually).

  • Use a plastic scraper to do initial cleaning after cooking.  (The scrapers from Pampered Chef are excellent)  Avoid using harsh abrasives as they can remove some of the seasoning.

  • Spray the DO, and lid, with PAM or similar oil spray after cleaning, wipe off excess oil with a paper towel.

  • If you are storing your DO with the lid on, fold a paper towel and place it inside the oven with one end protruding outside.  This will wick moisture away from the interior.

  • Avoid thermally shocking your DO (raise or lower the temperature gradually), too fast and you may crack your oven.

  • If cooking bread, spray PAM, or equal on bottom and sides of DO, then toss in some cornmeal and get it distributed.  It makes the bread come out really easy.  Or, you can use parchment paper; use the lid from the next smaller size DO to cut a round.

  • If you want to make ice cream, use 2 nested DOs, ice and salt in the outer, custard in the inner.  It works!  Just be sure to rinse the outer DO really well to remove any remnant salt.

Dutch Oven Accessories


  • A lid lifter (essential)

  • Tongs, to add or remove coals (essential)

  • Leather welding gloves (handy)

  • Whisk broom, to remove ashes (handy)

  • Charcoal chimney (handy for getting coals going faster)

  • Fire pan or DO stand (ranges from handy to essential)

  • Small fireplace, ash shovel (handy for cleaning up the DO stand)

  • Wind break (ranges from nice to essential)

  • Meat thermometer (important)

  • Trivet (very handy)

Camp Cooking
Camp Cooking

Capt. Lewis

Friday August 23rd 1805.


Their impliments for making fire is nothing more than a blunt arrow and a peice of well seasoned soft spongey wood such as the willow or cottonwood. the point of this arrow they apply to this dry stick so near one edge of it that the particles of wood which are seperated from it by the friction of the arrow falls down by it's side in a little pile. the arrow is held between the palms of the hand with the fingers extended, and being pressed as much as possible against the peice is briskly rolled between the palms ...... they bring them back with a quick motion and repeat the operation till the dust by the friction takes fire ....... its astonished me to see in what little time these people would kindle fire in this way. in less than a minute they will produce fire.

The list of equipment for camp cooking is dependent on the length of time spent in the field and the type of meals to be prepared.  A simple checklist for camp cooking includes the following:

  • First aid kit

  • Drinking water

  • Fire starting material (matches)

  • Cooking utensils

     - Pot for boiling water

     - Cast iron frying pan

     - Camp grill

     - Skewers

     - Cooking fork

     - Spatula

  • Cooking oil

  • Hot pads and mitts

  • Wood stove

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Hand washing supplies

  • Food or a method to harvest wild game/fish

  • Stack of wood

The two main methods for cooking with a wood stove are frying and boiling.  If you plan to cook outside with a campfire you can grill in addition to frying and boiling. Other method such as Dutch Oven baking and reflector ovens adds to the types of dishes that can be prepared.  The key to all these method is to get a proper fire burning and maintaining a steady heat.  Split hardwoods is the best for controlling the fire and providing a bed of hot coals which will give off constant heat.  To determine if the fire is at a cooking temperature, hold your hand at a point where the food would be cooked.  If you can hold it at that position for three seconds the fire is at a good level for cooking.


Any of the wild game recipes (e.g. deer, fish, upland game) which call for frying or grilling can easily be done over a campfire.  To simplify cleanup, fish and other meats can be wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked on a grill or place directly in the fire pit on the coals.

Howard and Larry wish you the very best, really they do!!

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