Before the invention of electricity, aluminum siding, penicillin, taxes, or Twitter, the greatest discovery known to man, one that would propel him toward his glorious future, was fire. Fire provided light, warmth, protection, and perhaps most importantly, it cooked his food. Cooking not only made food safer to eat but changed it from simple sustenance needed to survive to cuisine. Cooking and eating has become an art form and, thanks to the internet, we now have thousands of recipes at our fingertips to make our food more enjoyable. This love of cooking has extended into the hunting world, with hunters trying a variety of recipes to make their wild game more delicious—although it often just makes things more complicated. Fancy recipes have their place, but sometimes the best way to eat wild game is the same way our ancestors did when they figured out rubbing two sticks together gave them fire: in the field.
Cooking in the field is the simplest and fastest way to start enjoying your game. While it generally goes against popular belief, you don’t have to be a chef—or even have a kitchen—to make some truly fantastic meat. From roasting a piece of meat on a stick to frying up a panful, there are a variety of recipes and techniques hunters can try that require very little equipment. (Though, unless you’re planning on tearing off a chunk of meat and roasting it on your knife blade, some equipment is necessary.) This varies with personal preference depending on what cut of meat you prefer and how you choose to prepare it.
For me, field cooking only requires five things: a frying pan, cooking oil, flour, salt, and pepper. I am a man of simple tastes. Can you pack more cooking gear, fixings, and seasonings? Of course. But remember that what you’re carrying is going to be banging around in your backpack or jacket for most of the day, so it should be light and easy to transport. I prefer a small, collapsible, eight-inch pan made of aluminum or another extremely light material that I can fit easily in my bag. I carry the cooking oil in a small plastic water bottle and the salt, pepper, and flour in an empty prescription bottle. This keeps everything light, easily packable, and above all, spill proof.
There are an array of ways I like to cook meat when I’m on the hunt. The first of these is probably the most basic and iconic method: roasting meat on a stick. When I’m cooking this way, I prefer to use more tender cuts of meat, such as a loin or backstrap. After removing them from the carcass, I give them a quick rub down with light oil, salt, and pepper, then thread the meat onto a sharpened green stick. I always make sure to have built the fire early so I’ll have a good bed of coals ready by the time I’m ready to cook.
Meat seared over flame sounds good, but sometimes it gives the meat an off-tasting flavor. Instead, position the meat over the coals and roast it slowly, turning it every minute or so until it’s cooked to your satisfaction. This method doesn’t have to be limited to big game, either; it’s an excellent way to cook small game such as rabbits and squirrels, too. First, skin these smaller animals and then put them on a spit. After the animal is on the spit, take smaller green sticks and thread them into the shoulders and hips of the animal, bracing them against the spit in a sort of cross to keep the carcass open and help it cook evenly while staying securely on the spit.
The second method I like to use involves the frying pan. I carry the pan primarily to cook organ meats such as the heart and liver, since they don’t fare so well when roasted over a fire. I’ll put oil in the pan first and then lay it on a bed of coals. I’ll slice hearts thinly and sprinkle them with salt and pepper before searing them in the pan. Liver, on the other hand, is a bit stronger flavored, so I’ll usually remove it first and soak it in water for a bit while I butcher the rest of the animal. Afterward I cut the liver into pieces, toss it in flour, salt, and pepper, and then brown it on both sides. It makes for a hearty and replenishing meal, perfect when preparing for a long packout. The frying pan also comes in handy if you’re not a big fan of roasting meat on sticks or if you’re in an area where there are no good sticks to be used for that purpose.
When it comes to cooking wild game, you can go as simple or as complicated as you want. Part of the joy of hunting is planning elaborate feasts with all of your friends and family after you have gotten your trophy home, butchered it, and put it in the freezer. Yet, if this is all you do, you might be missing something. There is a simple satisfaction and connection found only in that moment after your hunt ends and you find yourself sitting beside a crackling fire, enjoying that first taste of a successful hunt.