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How and Why You Should Sous Vide Wild Game

How and Why You Should Sous Vide Wild Game

Sous Vide being used to cook Wild Game

Sous vide can be a great method to enhance wild game cooking, offering both tender perfection in cooking and improved food safety.

Chances are, if you’re reading this during the holiday gift-buying season, someone special has a sous vide on his or her wish list. Let me answer the question that you’re asking yourself: Is a sous vide worth the investment? A sous vide is a must-own kitchen appliance for any hunter who brings home a bird or three, or even big game. 

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Let’s explore why you should add this culinary device to your repertoire. Not only does it ensure a perfect cook every single time, but sous vides also help kill harmful bacteria and are more forgiving than an oven or grill.

The “Every Great Steakhouse Uses a Sous Vide” Myth

I’ve cooked in a few professional kitchens from the tender ages of 15 to 34 and talked with many culinary experts. I can confirm that some steakhouses use sous vides, but a lot don’t. 

Cooking a great steak is an art form. Any quality steakhouse’s cuts are likely perfected by a cook who’s been there for 30-plus years, wears cigarette like it’s cologne, and has forearms latticed with burn marks.

But, for a home cook, does a sous vide make for a better steak or even a better venison backstrap? Perhaps. A sous vide provides greater precision while being more forgiving than a grill when used properly. For example, if you set a sous vide bath for 108 degrees Fahrenheit and use it to cook half a backstrap or a thick beef ribeye, you can leave the steak in there for three to five hours, and that cut will stay around 108 F the entire time. If you forget a steak on the grill for five hours, it’s safe to assume you know what’ll happen.

A venison steak perfectly cooked using sous vide.
A sous vide is an easy way to help ensure a perfect medium-rare venison backstrap every time.

The Benefit of Sous Vide for Steaks

If your bird dog pukes on the carpet or your kids scribble a mural on your new couch, you have time to address these situations if you’re cooking with a sous vide. You don’t risk missing that crucial moment when you must pull the meat out of the bath and cook it. Plus, a sous vide is so precise (they regulate the water bath to 1/10 of a degree) that there is no guesswork like there is when dealing with an oven; oven temps can fluctuate quite a bit.

The Downside of Sous Vide for Steaks

If you’re partial to lots of flavor and mouthfeel when eating steak, you might consider other options besides a sous vide. It’s not that sous vide steaks are textureless, necessarily; they just don’t make crispy steaks. You must finish the steak on the grill or a cast iron to get a nice crust. My favorite steak cooking methods that increase flavor and mouthfeel include cooking a steak hot-and-fast caveman-style directly on the coals of a campfire or a low, slow smoke followed by a reverse sear.

A Sous Vide Shines When It Comes to Cooking Wild Game

Most wild game is lean. Most wild game is also more mature, older, and riddled with a greater degree of collagen than that grocery chicken killed at seven to nine weeks of age. Collagen will toughen before it tenderizes. Over an extended time, low temps will turn that collagen into gelatin, and that meat will flake apart. With a sous vide, you can accomplish this overnight without worrying about burning down your house because you left your oven on. Also, when your game is sealed in a bag, ideally with a bit of liquid, it won’t dry out over the 12 to 14 hours of cooking time it needs to tenderize.

A list of wild-game cuts and how to tenderize them with a sous vide

Game CutTime in Sous Vide / Temp
Pheasant rooster thighs10 hours / 150 F
Pheasant rooster breasts 2 hours / 150 F
Turkey wings 12-14 hours / 180 F
Turkey breast3 hours / 140 F
Turkey thighs9-12 hours / 185 F
Canada goose legs8-10 hours / 195 F
Venison front shoulder roasts10-12 hours / 182 F
Wild hog hindquarter roast6 hours / 137 F

To get the best flavor out of your wild meat with a sous vide, after your meat is removed from the sous vide bag, it should be patted dry, drizzled with high-temp oil (like avocado oil), and seared hot and fast on a grill at 600 F or hotter. This creates texture, caramelizes the outside of the meat, and deepens the overall flavor.

A chamber vacuum sealer for sous vide cooking.
A chamber vacuum sealer allows you to seal in a marinade or other liquids, as, unlike an external sealer, air does not get sucked out of the bag but rather the chamber. Once air is sucked out of the chamber, the sealer equalizes pressure for a tight seal on the bag inside.

A Sous Vide Makes Wild Game Safer to Eat

When meat is held at a certain temperature for an extended period, bacteria, pathogens, and other parasites that could result in a food-borne illness are killed. For example, you can actually keep pheasant at 130 F for six hours, and in doing so, you will kill any chance of food-borne illness occurring. So, yes, thanks to a sous vide, you could serve a pheasant meat medium-rare if you wanted to.

For hunters who add bear, mountain lion, or wild hog to the freezer, trichinosis is a real health threat. While deep-freezing domestic pig meat kills this parasitic worm, wild strains require cooking the meat to 135 to 145 F. Some argue that you shouldn’t take any risk and these species must be cooked to 160 F or higher every time. Yet, with a sous vide, you can cook a wild hog roast at 137 F for 6 hours and be confident that the time and temperature killed any potential trichinosis. Be sure to sear the outside of the meat to form a hearty, flavorful crust.

Three Incredible Wild Game Sous Vide Recipes

Put that magical water bath wand to good use. Here are a few of my all-time favorite wild game recipes that use a sous vide.

How to Cook a Whole Wild Turkey Breast

Pheasant Ramen

Grilled Pheasant with Colcannon and Guinness Onion Gravy

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