When I cook turkey with foraged wild morels, everyone is up for the meal. But when I say come on over for a bear roast, people are not so fast to accept the invitation. Bear meat is a mystery meat to many people, even people who eat venison will question if they like bear meat or not. I think this is the case because not too many people have eaten bear meat, and the ones that have might not have had the best experience. People tend to question if they would enjoy bear meat because they associate it with a tough stringy protein. Let me assure you if you ever have the chance to obtain bear meat, please do not pass it up. As with all game meat, if handled properly in the field, identified, and stored properly, you will have an excellent cut of meat, imagine it as a nice chuck roast. Actually, that is exactly how you will prepare most bear meat.
Spring vs. Fall Bear Meat
Spring bear meat is very different than fall bear, it has less fat cover and less intermuscular fat, as matter of fact it is fairly lean. A lean spring bear is barded (added fat on the outer surface) and handled a lot like a wild pig in Texas because it is much leaner. As with any game meat, the animal’s diet does affect the flavor of the meat. In places like Alaska where the bear’s fall diet mainly consists of fish, the meat not only is oilier but tastes a lot different than spring bear meat. The fat content also directly affects the decision-making on matching the correct muscle with the correct cooking method. For example, fatty stringy beef brisket is slow-cooked, barbequed, pickled, brined, and/or boiled like corned beef. This is exactly how you should handle fall bear meat. If you have bear meat that tastes like fish, stir fry the tender cuts in oyster sauce or in a Thai dish that uses fish sauce. Grind tough cuts into burger, sausage, chili, or taco meat.
Bear Meat Tips
Most hunters are more concerned about getting the taxidermy preparation completed than they are handling the meat. Whether you hunt bear in spring or fall you must field dress asap. You need to get the body temperature down as fast as possible. The large muscle mass, heavy fat covering, and thick hide, will retain the body temperature and could very easily spoil the meat overnight. Most Fish & Game laws require you to take all edible cuts of meat, proof of sex, and check or call into game checking stations to report the kill to maintain their quotas. Most all states prohibit harvesting a sow with cubs and/or harvesting yearling cubs that are still with mom.
Some states allow hunting bears with dogs, if your bear has been run all day by dogs, best age that meat well. There are states and/or provinces that allow baiting bears, while some states are very densely populated places and those bears raid garbage cans, dumps, etc. This wide range of diet and activity does have an effect of taste and tenderness.
Cooking Bear Meat
No matter the season or where the bear was harvested, bear meat needs to be cooked thoroughly to 165-degree internal temperature. This is due to the diseases it could carry. This by no means states that you should stay away from bear meat. We don’t stay away from chicken or poultry due to the diseases they could carry such as salmonella. This is why we prevent cross contamination with chicken and cook chicken to 165-degree internal temperature. Bear meat is associated with Trichinosis and Toxoplasma Gondii. Trichinosis (also found in pork) is a parasite and Toxoplasma Gondii cause toxoplasmosis in humans. Which is also found in cats and kitty litter. We don’t shy away from cats, chicken, or pork, so no need to fear eating bear meat.
Break down meat into primal cuts and age as you would venison, wrap in game bags and let hang 5-7 days, 35-45 degrees. Not in sunlight, rain, or where the cats, birds, dogs, can get at the meat. Aging relaxes the muscles, develops flavor, and tenderizes. Bear have the same muscle groups as deer, just different in shape and length. As example the loins of bear are much smaller than one would expect. If I were to compare bear meat to deer meat, I would say bear meat is a bit stringier or grainy. Of course the color is different which varies with the age of the bear. The fat content of a fall bear is closer to a domestic pig rather than a lean deer or spring bear. The younger the animal the more tender it will be.
Before cooking remove fascia, tacky membrane covering all muscles. This membrane is what makes the meat contort out of shape when cooking, makes it chewy, and makes it taste gamey.
Unless of course if you are trying to smoke, the entire ham. Then it is best to inject a brine that has curing salt to ensure safety but to alter the flavor so you don’t have that gamey taste.
Keep the bear fat from fall bear, chop or coarse grind this fat, add water and slow cook (render) the fat to a liquid state. Strain and chill, now you have an excellent fat to cook with. This is just like cooking with duck fat, chicken fat, and/or lard. Bear fat works great for biscuits, pie shells, and cooking with. I’ve even used it to waterproof my boots, and feed the birds as suet.
When cooking tender cuts, use dry cooking methods, such as stir fry, sauté, pan fry, deep fry, broil, grill, and roast. Most importantly, bring the meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Serve immediately or else the meat will overcook and lose its juices which should always run clear at this temperature. There is a very thin line between being fully cooked with juices and overcooked with no juices. This is why I like to inject a brine similar to brining a thanksgiving turkey, to prevent drying out the meat.
For the trim and tough cuts, I will grind and/or make sausages. Whenever I prepare bear sausage I will add pink curing salt to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. Other cooking methods well suited for bear meat are pressure cooking and canning. Pressure cooking ensures the meat will be tender, well done, and will do so in a very short period of time. Canning is best suited for lean spring bear, fall bear is too fatty. Remember to always use a pressure canner when canning meats.
My favorite cooking methods are suited for all bear meat no matter what the season are combination cooking methods such as braising and stewing. The meat in these cooking methods is seared, moisture added, cooked low and slow, and always fork tender. Fork tender means fall off the bone or fork which means the meat is automatically cooked well done. There is no need for a thermometer because it automatically reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. I also like to inject brine into the meat and corn or pickle the meat and cook as you would for corned beef, by boiling/simmering as you would for boiled brisket or short ribs.
How to Braise
This is a one-pot preparation.
- Use a less tender cut of meat, portion size or larger.
- Use straight sided sauté pan (sautoir or rondeau) or cast iron pan or dutch oven.
- Hot pan, a small amount of oil.
- Sear the meat, and caramelize. (brown meat, creating fond on the bottom of the pan)
- Add mirepoix (vegetables optional)
- Deglaze the fond by adding liquid such as wine, beer, broth, or brown gravy.
- Add the liquid approximately halfway up the meat.
- Bring to boil, season, cover, and place in a 350-degree oven.
- Cook until fork tender, degrease the sauce and adjust the flavor and consistency of the sauce.
- Slice meat, reserve, and serve the meat smothered in the sauce.
If you have questions regarding cooking bear meat, check with your fish and game and county extension offices. They have the personnel and knowledge to properly direct you to a quality outcome.
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