There is no greater pleasure at peak hunting season than sharing your harvest with friends and family. Fewer things pair better than wild game and grilling — when everyone can spend time together outside, eagerly awaiting the story about how dinner was caught. 

However, preparing wild game is a process that goes beyond grilling or smoking. It’s an excellent source of protein loaded with natural flavor and tenderness that you won’t get from store-bought cuts.

Before you invite everyone over for dinner, you have to clean and cut your wild game. You can always choose to bring your hunt to a commercial processor, but butchering it yourself allows you to customize your cuts of meat as you prefer and make the most of your catch. Here are four helpful tips for preparing game for a cookout.

  • Gather the Right Tools

Processing wild game is messy — after all, you’re dismembering a once-living animal. Ensure it goes as smoothly as possible by collecting quality tools, such as the following:

  • Sharp knives: Purchase a sharp fillet knife for delicate cuts and trimming and a larger blade for steaks. A camping knife set is also helpful to have on hand outdoors.
  • Bone saw: Regular saws won’t do the trick. A bone saw is designed specifically for cutting through bones.
  • Hanging equipment: You’ll want a sturdy hook to hang larger game you catch, such as venison.
  • Game bags: Game bags come in handy for separating meat cuts, preventing leaks and deterring insects. 

You’ll also need durable latex gloves to protect your hands. Other essential items include a cooler designed for wild game and citric acid for preserving the meat from flies and bacteria.

  • Cool Wild Game

Cooling the animal is the first essential step for preparing game for a cookout. You’ll want to refrigerate or freeze it to prevent spoilage, bacteria and foodborne illnesses.

Set your refrigerator or freezer below 40 F and use a thermometer to verify the correct temperature. This isn’t low enough to kill bacteria, but it will slow its growth, giving you time to make the cuts. 

Cooling the meat is a challenge if you’re outdoors on a hunting trip. Use your camping knife set to remove organs as quickly as possible and begin the cooling stage — also known as “field process.”

  • Keep It Clean and Dry

It’s essential to clean wild game thoroughly and pat it dry, whether you’ve cooled it in the field or indoors. Compared to butchering, this step only entails rinsing and inspection. 

Use water to remove all debris and dirt. Otherwise, you may find residue in your food when you cook it. 

Drying the meat off as much as you can is critical, though. You don’t want your catch to stay wet for too long, especially since moist game is more likely to get contaminated or spoil. 

  • Carefully Tend to Organs and Muscles

There are two important rules for butchering wild game: Avoid internal organs — particularly the stomach and intestines — and preserve the muscles. 

You risk spilling half-digested food over the carcass if you puncture the stomach. Likewise, intestinal punctures could lead to feces contamination. Wash the game immediately and thoroughly if you pierce the stomach for your health and safety. However, toss the entire carcass if you puncture the intestines.  

Look to preserve muscles in the carcass when processing. In addition to making cleaning more manageable, you could cut them into steaks or roast them whole. 

Keep in mind that cleaning can be strenuous in the summer heat. That’s why you should begin planning your meal before temperatures rise midday. 

The Joy of Cooking Wild Game

Aging and curing your meats, concocting your famous secret rub and turning your harvest into a meal to be shared is the best part of preparing wild game.

There are several ways you may attempt cooking your wild game, or you may already have a technique or recipe passed down in your family for generations. However, grilling is often a popular choice, as is smoking it for a distinct flavor and extra tenderness.

Some people may like roasting wild game over an open campfire. A savvy outdoorsman knows it’s best to wait about 45 minutes for the flames to cool to proper cooking temperatures before putting the meat on. 

Regardless of your cooking method, wild game should never be over- or undercooked. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is 165 F, as anything under is a potential health risk.

Preparing Game Is Not an Exact Science

Preparing your meat from kill to table is a learned process. However, each experience allows you to develop your skill, make mistakes and find techniques that work best for you