Bears are like shadows in the forest–to quote a famous Idaho publication. They are cautious, shy, and seldom seen. Bears are omnivores of the highest order, preferring a patch of berries to hunting a deer, but never turning down a meal. They can be bold, they can be predictable, but for me, bears are most often a black butt running over a hill.
Every now and then I get lucky in the woods and see a bear that does not run. I catch the wind right, spot it a mile off and slowly sneak up…or just stumble upon one. I vividly remember being fifteen years old and walking a canyon floor with my buddy Mickey during deer season. We rounded a corner and heard the “woof” sound made by threatened bears. On our left was a bear standing on her hind legs looking at us. To our right was a trio of cubs. My heart raced and I nearly needed a change of undershorts. We were, essentially, a meat sandwich at that point. We slowly nocked arrows, and even more slowly backed out.
That same year my uncle killed his first bear. He and my late aunt made several varieties of sausage from it, and I was enamored with the meat. It tasted more like beef than any other wild meat I had eaten. I ate more than my share whenever the opportunity arose.
My father was not impressed. He has forsworn bear meat since time immemorial (same with Canada goose and jackrabbit–it is my personal mission to prove him wrong on all of these animals). Not having a use for bear meat, my father never took us bear hunting. As I grew older, stories about Daniel Boone and his bear hunting adventures, mostly for the meat, became a part of my knowledge base. I yearned to really know what the meat tasted like. I set out to take a bear and eat it. I made the right choice.
Thus far I have harvested two bears and my son has harvested one. Let me just say that bear meat is delicious. By far, my favorite was a fall bear that I shot in a berry patch; it still had berries in its mouth when we found it. The fat was three inches thick in places, and the meat was fall-apart tender and flavorful. It made the best sausages ever!
I rendered the bear fat, like the old timers used to do. I made bear bacon, I made roasts, and I slow-cooked the shoulders in BBQ sauce for sandwiches. The highlight–the reason I go back into the woods each fall and spring with a bear tag and my longbow–is bear ham using the big muscle groups from the hind quarters. I brine them for a week, smoke them over apple wood, and then enjoy grilled cheese and bear ham sandwiches all winter long. They are flat out delicious!
Give this recipe a try. You will not be disappointed.
- 4 quarts hot water – divided
- 1.5 cups salt
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar (or honey)
- 1.5 oz. insta-cure #1
- 1/2 cup pickling spice
- 20 crushed garlic cloves
- 10-15 pounds of bear hind quarter meat, 3-4 pound muscles each
Note: Trim the hind loins of as much fat and connective tissue as possible before attempting the recipe. The cleaner the meat going in, the better it will be coming out. The recipe can also be used on other game animals as well. I do a variation of this recipe for wild turkey breasts and for venison.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a 4 quart sauce pot. Next, stir in the salt, sugar, brown sugar and insta-cure #1. All the solid particles should diffuse into the water. Then add the pickling spice and the garlic cloves.
Add the remaining 2 quarts (cold) water to the mixture. That will drop the temperature of the brine. Transfer the mixture, now called a brine, to a large plastic container or non-reactive pot. Add the meat to the brine and let it soak for one week in the refrigerator. Make sure that all the meat is submerged. (I often put a plate over the meat and weigh it down with a few unopened cans of beans.)
Remove the bear meat from the brine, pat it dry and let it rest on the counter until it comes to room temperature. Smoke-cook the bear ham for about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. If you are not a fan of smoked ham, simply bake the ham at 375 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Reaching this temperature is critical with bear meat to avoid trichinosis.
After it’s cooked, let the ham cool completely before cutting into it. This will help retain the moisture.
Slice it thin, like deli ham, or roast it whole for a special occasion. The ham will last up to a week in the fridge, and over a year in the freezer. Basically, just eat and enjoy.
Editor’s Note: For more great wild game recipes visit Randy’s website www.chefrandyking.com.