Lazy in Advance

Back in the day my family vacation and my fathers’ summer time elk scouting was rolled into the same week. We would pack up the wagon and hit the road. Camp would be located after about three hours on back roads. We would set out our stuff and let dad and my older brother go for a hike in the morning. (I was too little at the time to go scouting) When they would get back my mom, sister and I would have a big breakfast ready. Well, we would try to have a breakfast ready.


What would normally happen is some catastrophe that involved the cooking equipment. Some pipe on the stove would break; we would run out of gas or maybe we just forgot the coffee. It was always some sort of camping travesty; it never worked out as planned.

To try and solve this problem my father started to do a little pre camping in the backyard. He would set up all the equipment and test it out before setting out on the vacation. His buddies would make fun of him and call him overly prepared – he just said he was being lazy in advance. Plus he knew my moms cooking ability or lack there of. Dad would fix what needed it, buy what he had to, and then he knew he would get a hot breakfast when he got back. (Honestly, I think mom just wanted to eat at the café in town.)

The pre camping taught me a great lesson that seems rudimentary – check your equipment before you go camping/hunting. Fast forward to the present and I find myself asking simple questions. Did the hole in the tent from last fall magically fix itself? Nope. Did I buy fuel for my burners? No, then why would I expect to have any now. When was the last time my sleeping bag got used? Christmas when my brother got drunk and slept on the couch. Get the gear out and give it a test, maybe even a wash.

Ryan Cooking Ribs

The little details that make camping and hunting enjoyable need to be thought of before leaving or they will turn into big problems. (Kinda like the time we made it four hours up a logging road to find out we didn’t have any plates for my family of five. Nothing bonds a family like sharing a meal out of one pan…) To be honest, my wife does a better job than me with making sure we are prepared.

When testing the gear nothing gets me more ticked off than cooking equipment that is not working properly. In my case I have had a few of those fancy “grill-burner-griddle” contraptions over the years and none have truly impressed me. The griddles have hot spots and the grill is just a waste of space that gets everything messy. I like the idea of an all in one cook top but I am not sure I have used a functional one yet. Plus, those pictures of the perfectly cooked pancakes just piss me off. I am a chef and I can’t even come close to making those.

For most of my camp cooking I use, and don’t judge me now, is those little burners you see the omelet cooks at convention center using. The single burner propane cook tops. Last time I checked they are like $20 bucks at the Restaurant Supply store and like $35 bucks at the sporting goods store. I have four of them that make it camping with me. They stack into a tote with my utensils and I know as long as I have butane they are ready to cook some food. They are cheep, light, quick to pack and store well. Plus, clean up is a breeze.

Another great idea is to have a cleaning kit for all your cooking supplies. I use a rectangle Tupperware that my wife thinks the dog ate. I keep soap, a few shop towels, a sponge, paper towels and an old butter knife. The old knife is for scraping the sides of the pan in the morning.

Keeping cooking equipment clean and sanitary while camping is hard, but not impossible. Hands get muddy, that black stuff from the four-wheeler grips gets on your hands – it is part of the fun of camping. You don’t need to be clean to be a member of the group.

Don't want your stuff to mess up!That said, look at the guy who is making dinner, and then look at his fingernails. Ask him if he washed his hands before cutting those onions. Then ask if he washed after he peed. You won’t want the answers. Somehow sanitation just seems to fly out the window while camping. Frankly, that is a dangerous proposition.

Food that is not handled right and is contaminated becomes a hazard to eat. If you are making sure to cool the deer meat hanging in camp then make sure you wash your hands after you gut him. Follow the basic rules of sanitation and no one should get the squirts during elk camp or the summer vacation.

I make double sure to do a little backyard camping with my backpacking equipment. When I am seven miles from the nearest road lord knows that I need my equipment to be working right. My boys also love to look at all my cool gear spread out on a tarp in the back yard. Take the time to clean it and store it properly and it will last a lot longer. The family will enjoy the time fidgeting with all the stuff and you can sleep better knowing that your belly will be full.

A cost saving favorite of mine is using the large box retailers for backpacking food. I buy the dehydrated chili mix and then take it home and vacuum pack it into smaller and manageable portions. Same with dehydrated hash browns. I do the math on the amount of water each one will take and write it on the side with a permanent marker. You can get a whole meal for a buck instead of six. It is a good deal.Late Night Cooking with Dave

To me backpacking food is for backpacking and that is it. Eating that stuff when I have access to a cooler and a truck seems like sacrilege. I hate it when I show up to deer camp and someone is eating dehydrated “chicken teriyaki”. Don’t get me wrong I have downed a couple hundred of those over the years but they are not what I consider food. They are fuel. Dehydrated food is simply calories that just so happen to have to pass over my tongue to get into my belly.

A few things can make dehy food a little bit more palatable. First I like to add actual protein to the dish. This past bear season I packed in a 12oz pack of country ribs off a wild hog I shot a few years back for dinner. I browned off the ribs very well and then added the dehydrated food (Chicken and Rice) to my pan along with the suggested amount of water. I turned off the heat and let it all sit for a while and then – like magic – we had real food. The meat had a little extra seasoning and gave the whole pot substance. I fed three people with just a little package of meat and a little Mountain House.

Getting the equipment out is also a surefire method for back yard adventure. Take the kids out and listen for frogs in the backyard. While it might not be the wilderness the family will enjoy the time and you will know that your equipment works.

Interview with Corey Fair, Butcher and Baker

I was fortunate enough to be able to get an interview from Corey Fair, owner of a website dedicated to all things foodie. Aside from being a nice guy he is a born and bred hunter as well. Check out the whole interview below. Sections from this will be published in the Boise Weekly in an upcoming feature about wild game meat processing.

Butcher and Baker

Randy King (Q): Tell me about Butcher and Baker?

Corey Fair (A): I started working on Butcher & Baker back in 2006. I was frustrated that there wasn’t really anything on the market that reflected my lifestyle as a chef and food enthusiast, and I knew there was a large market out there of hunters, home cooks, bbq enthusiasts, bartenders, etc., that all shared the same likes, but didn’t really have anywhere to go that was for them. We want great ingredients in everything we do, not just in the kitchen, so we took that philosophy and applied it to streetwear, home goods, and pro goods. Thus B&B was born.

Q: What trends are you finding in wild game butchery?

A: I’m starting to see a movement towards learning how to use all of the various cuts in better ways. When I was growing up, it was pretty much back strap, roast, and stew. Now you have guys like Jesse Morris at Killerchefs creating dishes like Teal Tom Yum Soup, Duck Gumbo, or Sous Vide Goose. Experimenting with all of these types of cooking methods mean you really have to know how to break down the animal and what cuts go best where and with what technique. This is good because it means in the long run people will become more familiar with Wild Game and more willing to utilize the natural bounty that their areas have to offer.

Q: What is your favorite wild game (open ended, sorry) to butcher?

A: I grew up on White Tail, Antelope, and Axis, so I’ll always be partial to that, but I’d like to get my hands on a bison.

Q: What is your history with wild game? Eating, cooking, butchering ect.

A: I was raised on it. We had a few Quarter Horse ranches and a wild game ranch that my dad worked. Every hunting season we were there, wether it was Quail, Duck, Turkey, Deer, or Wild Boar, we hunted it, broke it down ourselves, cooked it, and lived off of it.

Q: What do you think of this new wave of foodies turned hunters? Is it a trend or a new way of life?

A: I hate when great things are labeled as trends, especially when it comes to the “foodie” movement.  I prefer to think of it as a time when people are hungry for more knowledge and a better way of living. There’s nothing wrong with that. At their core, every hunter and chef is a foodie. We all appreciate and want better products, we want to know how to best use them, and we want to get back to a better way of life. Sure, there are some food snobs out there that I wouldn’t want to be at the table with, but they have their place in the world. If it’s moving the ball down the field and helping people to understand the lifestyle we chefs and hunters have enjoyed, then it’s all good to me. To answer your question though, I think for many it will be a new way of life, and for some, they’ll do it for a while and move on. I’ll welcome the new ones and wish the best to those that found it wasn’t really for them.

Q: Jackson Landers or Hank Shaw? Debate…

A: I think they both have their place and are both unique. Hank is definitely golden in the kitchen and in the garden, and Jackson brings a wealth of knowledge about hunting and the topic of preservation. If the two of them do a hunt and a dinner together, I’ll buy a ticket.

(I completely agree. A double ticket would be great!) 

Q: What is your favorite new cookbook?

A: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat. Joshua Applestone is doing a lot for the industry and educating a whole new generation of butchers and home cooks that want to learn the art of whole animal utilization and sourcing better quality, responsibly raised meats.

Q: What about your favorite gun?

A: The Marlin 336XLR. I like the lever action and have always been a fan of .30-.30 since my father started me on them in my second hunting season as a kid.

The Best Backstrap Ever…

Like this post? Check out my book on Amazon – Chef in the Wild

Much love and come back soon! 

My whole life one creature has reigned supreme in the diet of my family, the Mule Deer. I have consumed more mule deer meat than any other wild game animal, by a long shot. Taco meat, hamburgers, meat loaf, stuffed peppers – all using venison. Don’t forget the steaks, the roasts and stews. Mule deer is a very known quantity in my house.

As such I fantasize about other deer meat, mostly elk. But it has been told to me, over the years, that whitetail deer meat is the bee’s knees. Yet, I somehow have escaped eating whitetail for my whole life, not to my knowledge has whitetail meat ever passed over my lips. I have this belief that eating it will somehow make me a convert and I will never mule deer hunt again for meat. It scares me. I am not against sitting in tree stands looking down but I like spot and stalk hunting too much!

But in the fall of 2012 I was given, as Dr. James Swan puts it in his famous book In Defense of Hunting, the sacrament of wild game meat. My buddy, Leon Reams, handed me a back-strap from a button buck whitetail he had taken in northern Idaho. He exalted the qualities of the meat to me, the tenderness, the flavor, ect. I argued that a young mule deer would taste just as good. We did not see eye to eye on the topic.

I decided, then and there, that I needed to settle this whitetail vs mule deer edibility discussion. As a chef that does frequent product demonstrations I have developed the ability to blind “cut” products against each other with relative ease.

However, to properly compare the meats I needed a similar piece of mule deer back strap. Cutting a button buck whitetail against an old and sage brush fed mule deer was a not fair comparison. Conveniently, I tagged out on a spike mule deer that was living in my uncles corn field.

Full disclosure time, I was actually duck hunting when my buck jumped up at about 4 yards from me, my son and my dog. He did not make it past 5 yards. Size two steel at that range is lethal to just about anything. This buck is known around the house as “the duck buck.”

With my battling back straps in the freezer I needed to set up a panel of judges to compare the meat. I figured the panel should be a diverse group of individuals. Hunters, non-hunters, foodies ect.

First on my list is a friend and fellow writer Guy Hand. Guy is the former food critic for the Idaho Statesman, a radio show host for a program called “Edible Idaho” and is now the editor for Edible Idaho South Magazine. The second person on my panel was Ryan McDaniel; a fellow hunter and best man in my wedding. Third was Bowhunter Sean Cook, a backcountry bull buster. Fourth was Karin Raffo a wild game novice but huge foodie. Fifth was Kelly Grindstaff the Executive Chef of Red Fish Lake Lodge.

Each team member was given a sheet with a grading scale from 1-10 on the following areas – appearance, color, smell, texture, taste, “game” flavor and overall impression. A notes section was also provided.

The comparison was blind, none of the participants knew if the meat was whitetail or if it was mule deer until the tasting was finished (well, Sean knew the difference. A lifetime of eating both whitetail and mule deer gave it away. He kept quite about it, however.) The meat was pan roasted in canola oil and only seasoned with salt and pepper. Each loin was served at medium rare. The meat was served hot, side by side, allowing a direct comparison between the meats.

This all seamed quasi-scientific enough to settle the debate for me, for now.

The Results –

The long and short of it is the whitetail we ate was better tasting than the “Duck Buck” mule deer. My worst nightmare had come true. I could find a better meat but I would have to leave the high dessert that I often hunted. It is time to venture into the forest. Maybe even sit in a tree stand, but I am afraid of heights.

In almost every category the whitetail measured higher than the mule deer. The only time that the mule deer performed better than the whitetail was when overcooked. Below is a breakdown of the scoring for each animal.

Mule Deer Whitetail
Appearance 8.2 8.2
Color 7.8 8
Smell 6 7.4
Texture 6 9.2
Taste 6.2 9.4
“Game” 6 6.4
Overall 6.4 9
Overcooked 5.6 5
Average   Score 6.53 7.98

Most notably was the comparison of textures of the whitetail meat vs the mule deer. It was common consensus that the whitetail had a much finer grain to the meat and that finer grain meant a tenderer chew. The mule deer had longer and tougher strands that Ryan McDaniel noted “are ideal for longer cook times, like braising or stews.”

Chef Grindstaff thought that the whitetail was definitely a better “introductory” deer meat than mule deer. He noted that whitetail was more like a meat he would want to serve in his restaurant and is better suited for medium rare cooking than the mule deer.

Across the board whitetail was considered better meat for the table. It really was the Bee’s Knees of small deer meat. Next cutting – elk vs moose. (Anyone have any moose meat I could cook?)

The Perfect Backstrap (Whitetail or Mule Deer)

1ea 12oz section of back strap

Kosher Salt

Fresh Cracked Pepper

1 T canola oil

1ea Digital or Probe Meat Thermometer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To get a tender and juicy backstrap I recommend that most home cooks stop cutting it into steaks. Cook it like a roast and then slice it into medallions. One whole chunk of meat will holds its moisture better even if it is slightly overcooked. A single steak that is over cooked basically becomes a hockey puck.

To increase the tenderness of a backstrap make sure to completely peel off any silver skin with a sharp tipped knife. Slid the knife directly under the silver skin and then turn the blade up at about a 20 degree angle, slide the knife under the sliver skin leaving meat behind. (See photo) Removing the silver will increase the tenderness and palatability.

After peeling a little salt and pepper might be all the meat will need before cooking. Rub salt liberally over the meat and then use fresh cracked pepper, not the fine ground stuff they sell in tins at the grocery store. Salt and pepper enhance flavor for most cuts of meat, use them liberally.

Heat a medium sized oven proof sauté pan on medium high for about 3 minutes. Add the canola oil, the oil should almost be smoking, and brown the backstrap on all sides. Place the pan and the backstrap into the oven.

Depending on the size of the deer killed the amount of cooking time will vary each time. That said the meat should be cooked to temperature and not time anyway. Heat the meat, via the oven, until it is 115 degrees F on the thickest part.

When it reaches that temperature remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meat to a plate. Let the meat “rest” for about 5 minutes before slicing. This will allow the juices to settle and gives much moister piece of meat. Resting the meat will also allow for what is called Carry Over Cooking. Meat does not stop cooking immediately when it comes out of the oven, on average it gains 17-22% more degrees. So a backstrap removed at a rare temperature, ie 115 F, will finish cooking itself after a few minutes out of the oven to about 125 F, a perfect medium rare.

Slice the backstrap into ½ inch medallions and serve with your favorite side dishes.

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Venison Meatloaf

It is that time of year when the freezer is empty of steaks and all that is left is the ground venison. Well, good folks, I have a great recipe for that. My Momma didn’t make much meatloaf growing up but when she did it tasted like this. Enjoy and happy hunting!

 Venison Meatloaf


 3# Ground Venison

1/4 cup ketchup
2 ea eggs
1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup Worcestershire
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leafs (1 teaspoon if dried)
2 Tablespoons garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1/2 red onion, diced into ¼ inch squares
1 carrot, diced into ¼ inch squares
1 cup caned tomatoes, diced and seeded
a few dashes of Tabasco

Salt and Pepper to taste

1# of North West bacon, Falls Brand in Twin Falls, ID and Hill Meats in Pendleton, OR both make quality products.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients together, except the bacon, in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.  Using a bread loaf pan line the inside with bacon with two slices barley overlapping on the bottom. The bacon should be draping over the edge of the bread pan. Repeat until the whole bottom of the pan in layered in bacon. Then place the meatloaf mix in the center and press it into the corners of the pan. With the draping bacon make a crosshatch pattern over the top of the ground meat. Bake in the oven at 350 until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Pull from oven and let rest for five minutes to rest.

 Serve with Idaho roasted potatoes.