My husband and our sons are avid hunters and over the years they mastered this skill. While I don’t have anything against their favorite pastime, I wish they would give a helping hand when processing the meat. Over the years, I tried to perfect my methods of smoking deer and bear meat. I hope my guide will provide you with some good tips.
I can honestly say that I’ve tried this time-honored cooking method with every type of meat. In fact, numerous meats can be smoked with outstanding results. From venison loins to rainbow trout or wild turkey, I’ve tried them all. If you desire to take up meat smoking, but you don’t know how to or where to begin, let’s start with the learning curve and required tools.
Understanding the concept of meat smoking
A lot of people are mistaking grilling with wood chips tossed over charcoal as smoking. This can certainly add a smoky flavor to your meat, but it’s far from the actual process of smoking meat. Traditional smoking uses indirect heat to cook meat over a long period of time. Some meats are basted or marinated while others are dry-rubbed or salt-water soaked.
In the begging, this is mostly a trial and error process and it will help you learn how to operate your smoker and define your taste preferences. After several tries, you will be able to achieve juicy and tender meat.
As you probably have guessed, a smoker is the first tool you require. While there are several models available on the market in all price ranges, don’t rush in. Before buying one consider the following:
- How often will you use it?
- How many people will you cook for?
- In what climate will you cook?
- How much time are you willing to spend to monitor the temperature?
If you plan to use it only to cook for your family, a small smoker will suffice. If you are regularly entertaining guests, you need to go with something bigger. Also, if you plan to smoke year round, as I do, You will need a thick-walled smoker to help insulate during the cold weather.
Also, if you don’t have much time to check the temperature, I suggest getting a model that uses a wood-pallet dispenser with automatic temperature control. These are just a few tips, but you must research for yourself depending on the budget you have and the goals you want to achieve.
Related article: Smoking Meat For Long-term Storage – Smoking Secrets
When it comes to fueling your smoker, this is an important consideration. If the type of smoker you have needs to adjust the temperature manually, you should use a mix of charcoal and wood chips or chunks. Using wood alone will make the meat taste too smoky. However, it also depends on your preference.
Don’t just use any wood and go with the type of wood intended for smoking. I recommend using oak, pecan, apple, hickory, cherry, mesquite or maple. One quick tip: let the coal burn a while before adding the wood.
A manual smoker is designed with vents that allow or restrict oxygen flow. In time, with a little practice, you will learn how to adjust them properly. You will need to make minute adjustments because each adjustment will take time to show on the thermometer.
The smokers outfitted with a hopper and automatic temperature control are preferred by many since they make the job easier. These types of smokers use wood pellets that are sold commercially and they can be found pretty much everywhere. If you don’t have time to monitor the temperature, with this smoker, the job is pretty straight-forward. Just load the hopper with pellets, set the temperature and take care of your other chores.
Besides the thermometer of your smoker, you will also need a meat thermometer. It will help you test the meat’s internal temperature. This will tell you when it’s time to remove the meat from the smoke. There are all sorts of online guides for internal-temperature for different meat varieties. Even the USDA Food Safety and Inspection department has a guide online.
Other than the smoker itself and fuel, you will need your traditional grilling tools, a great brush and heat-resistant gloves
Smoking Deer and Bear Meat
Smoking deer meat
Due to our game-meat diversity and rotation, I turned to smoking deer meat years ago. To be totally honest, my in-laws were the ones who pushed me to try it. They are the type of old folks that still practice the old ways, and in fact, they built their own smoker.
Soak and marinate the meat
Before I smoke deer loins, I soak them in a salt water brine for up to 10 hours. It helps to draw out blood, but also to salt the meat. I use ¼ cup of salt per 1-quart water. When the soaking is done, I drain the water and blood and let the meat sit in a marinade.
When it comes to soaking the meat, you can experience with any marinade you want. There are hundreds of recipes online. I pour the marinade in a 1-gallon zip-top bag and place the loins in the bag. I shake them meat until it gets entirely coated. After this, I let it marinate between eight to 12 hours.
Once I maintain the temperature in the smoker between 150° – 200° F, I add the loins to the smoker. I recommend setting it atop tinfoil to catch the tasty juices. I also place a water-filled pan on the meat rack to avoid the meat from getting too dry when smoking. For extra flavor, Brush the meat with the leftover marinade and go on about your business.
You will need to periodically check progress making sure the temperature is the proper one. Monitoring the internal temperature of the meat becomes mandatory. The meat should reach 160°F to be well-done.
When the temperature in the smoker is slightly above 200°, I let the loins on the smoker for about 6 hours. Every hour or so I brush the meat with juices and add a chunk of wood. The secret to success is to maintain a consistent temperature using the vents. Adjusting the vents properly is a game of patience. You will need to be making minute vent adjustments.
When it comes to internal temperature I follow these ratings:
- 135° for rare
- 145° for medium-rare
- 160° for well done
Once the temperature reaches your desired rating, remove the meat from the smoker. I use a crock-pot to serve the meat before it cools. Just put water in the bottom and set the temperature dial on high. Set it off to low heat once the pot is hot.
Remove the loins and slice them across the grain, into serving size medallions. You can set the medallions in a bread pan, then place it in the crock-pot. This will help separate the meat from the water. It also helps the meat stay moist while staying at serving temperature.
Related article: How To Preserve Waterfowl Or Small Game – Making Confit
Smoking bear meat
When I prepare the meat for smoking, I usually leave a quarter of the fat on the meat. Bear meat is greasier and heavier than what you’re probably used to, but it’s great for smoking. Bear meat is red and it has a texture similar to pork meat. When cooked fast, collagen shrinks and tightens the meat, giving it a tough, rubbery texture. Slow cooking melts the fats, effectively rendering it between the muscle tissues, providing a tender texture and juicy flavor. When done correctly, a slab of bear meat hot off the smoker has the texture and flavor of beef brisket.
Seasoning the meat
I use shoulder meat for smoking although some people don’t consider it a high-quality cut. Usually, I clean the shoulder and trim off any excess fat, but I leave a little for flavor. After this procedure is complete, I apply salt, pepper and onion powder to the entire shoulder. I also add barbeque sauce or any other sauce that my family likes. I also let the meat marinate for about 24 hours if I have the time.
Smoking the meat
For bear shoulder cuts weighing almost 10 pounds, I cook the meat at 225° F for up to 12 hours As a general rule, a lower temperature for longer periods of time will provide a more tender meat. I recommend using a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature. A safety guide recommends cooking the meat at 145°F or higher to prevent the risk of trichinosis. The final cooked temperature meat I use as a safety mark is 190°F.
Once you rubbed the meat with the ingredients of your choice, place it in a smoker that has been preheated at 225°F. I use around 8 to 10 pounds of charcoal, half in the first two hours and the other half in the second two hours. This helps me keep the temperature stable. I also put a good amount of wood on top of the charcoal to create enough smoke. If you are using an electric smoker, you will not have to bother doing this.
Baking the meat
The bear shoulder is left to cook in direct smoke at 250°F for about four hours. After that, I take it out, cover the pan with foil and place it in the oven for slow cooking. Make sure the oven is preheated at 250°F and set the timer for four hours. If you are using larger cuts of meat, you will need to cook it for longer periods of time. To make sure you’re not doing it wrong, the temperature should be between 200° – 225° F.
Once the meat is properly cooked, I let it sit for at least 30 minutes before I start slicing it. You can slice it against the grain as you would do for brisket. You will need to chop some parts of the shoulder since they can be tougher.
A last word
If you’re tired of burgers, roasts and stake consider smoking deer and bear meat. I guarantee that with a little practice, the results will amaze you. Your guest will enjoy something new and taste, and the flavor will surprise everyone. Smoking deer and bear meat is not complicated, it’s a methodical process. For our family, it has become more like a pastime and a hobby. It’s a good way to preserve meat and you will diversify your diet with some quality meat.