Nothing says summer like BBQ, outdoor dining, and a delicious smoked pheasant salad atop a toasted bun
Every summer during my time working as a line cook at The Elk Public House in Spokane, Washington, we opened up the outdoor patio in Browne’s Addition. With that full patio came a full rail of food tickets, with many spilling out of the printer in what we called a “rat tail.” It was the cold Pacific Northwest beer and likely our rotating weekly special menu that brought in the large crowds. Among one of my favorites was our Barbecue Chicken Salad with crumbled bleu cheese and bacon bits. With this upland game version of that popular summer meal, I went a step further by using smoked pheasant and a few additional ingredients; diced apples and crushed pecans definitely add something special to this salad.
While you don’t have to smoke your pheasant for this recipe, I do recommend it for purposes of flavor. I covered how to maple-smoke pheasant in a past piece, but you can smoke however you prefer as long as the final product has the breast meat at an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and legs anywhere between 180 F and 190 F.
While this particular recipe calls for pheasant, you can use any white-meat upland bird to make this dish. Got a spring gobbler in the freezer? That breast meat would be perfect here. Do note that smoking wild turkey legs gets a bit trickier compared to smaller birds like pheasants. I typically braise my wild turkey legs and thighs for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, then smoke to add texture. A standard smoke for wild turkey legs will likely take 14 hours before they tenderize, as the smoking method is very similar to beef brisket and also requires wrapping the meat in pink butcher paper once the internal temperature hits 150ish.
In terms of barbecue sauce, I leave it up to you, but I used Bearded Butcher Blend BBQ Sauce. If you have a favorite, roll with that. Just make sure to buy actual bleu cheese crumbles (usually in small tubs), not the creamy dressing. I also recommend thick-cut bacon from your butcher versus that thin, commercially packaged stuff you find in most grocery stores.
One final tip: heating up honey for 10 seconds in the microwave makes it pour far easier versus trying to get it out of the bottle when it’s cold.
Bleu Cheese and Bacon Barbecue Pheasant Salad SandwichJack Hennessy
- 7 brioche buns toasted
- 1½ lbs smoked pheasant hand-shredded
- ½ lb thick-cut bacon diced and crisp
- ¾ cup bleu cheese crumbled
- ½ Honeycrisp apple finely diced
- ½ cup pecans crushed
- ¼ medium yellow onion finely diced
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup barbecue sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper freshly cracked
- Brine pheasant meat (likely 1-1/2 pheasants worth of meat) according to the brine instructions. Brine should take 6-8 hours.
- For extra flavor, you can smoke according to these instructions.Or you can roast or grill, cooking breasts to 160 internal temperature and legs to 180 or 190. Smoking can take upwards of 2 hours to fully cook the pheasant.
- Hand-shred pheasant when it’s cool enough to do so and add to large mixing bowl
- Dice bacon and dust with freshly cracked black pepper. Cook to crisp texture and drain grease. Add bacon bits to large mixing bowl with pheasant.
- Add remaining ingredients (bleu cheese crumbles, finely diced apple, crushed pecans, finely diced onion, mayo, barbecue sauce, honey, and salt and pepper) to large mixing bowl. Mix ingredients thoroughly.
- Toast the buns and add 5 ounces of pheasant salad to each bun to serve. Feel free to drizzle extra BBQ sauce over the top.
Jack Hennessy grew up in the South Suburbs of Chicago and didn't start hunting until he attended graduate school in Spokane, Washington, at the age of 26. Hennessy began work in professional kitchens in high school but didn't start writing wild game recipes until he joined the Spokesman-Review in 2014. Since then, his recipes have appeared with Petersen's Hunting, Backcountry Journal, Gun Dog Magazine, among many others. He now lives with his wife, daughter, and Wirehaired Vizsla, Dudley, in Wichita, Kansas.