Wednesday, January 30, 2013

At What Point Does an Animal Become Food?

I've always wondered...  "At what point does an animal become food?"

When does a deer become venison?

When does a feral hog become pork?

(As an aside, how come some animals are still called by the same name regardless of their current state?  Squirrel is still called squirrel whether it is in a tree or on a plate.  Turkey and ducks are still called turkey and ducks on the table.  ???  Inquiring minds want to know!)

The normal course of events would be something like the following:
See game.
Shoot game.
Gut game.
Transport game.
Skin game.
Quarter game.
Process game.
Freeze game.
Thaw game.
Prepare game.
Cook game.
Eat game.
At some point along this timeline, an animal becomes food.  (It probably makes a transition into meat along the way too.)  I'm no expert but to me, it seems to make the transition at the point of processing.  Here, the animal looks more like the hunks-o-meat most people would recognize from the local H.E.B and less like an animal on the hoof.

Below are two pictures of the same deer from this past December

Few people would question that this is still a deer.

Is this now venison or just lean, trimmed, succulent deer parts?

Below are two shots from a recent axis deer hunt which resulted in two feral hogs meeting their demise.  (Yes, I know the difference between the species.)

Hogs, pork or food?
It seems few people would call the above "food".  But what about the following?

Hog, pork, meat or food?
(The trained observer will note this particular hog either only had 3 legs or might conclude poor shot placement resulted in too much damage to a shoulder.)

(Yes, I know that is a BIG cutting board and before you ask whether I'm trying to compensate for something else....  I simply got tired of being limited by little, tiny cutting boards so I started a company that makes and sells these.  Check out to learn more (or even buy one if you like.))  (Shameless self-promoting plug now over).

Other food related questions to ponder in the future:

  • Where does the bread go when the toaster produces toast?
  • Why do the same people who get squeamish or upset about seeing the results of a butchered animal have no qualms about ordering a steak or boiling a lobster alive?

A Man in the Woods

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Men Who Cook - Venduckel

I really enjoy eating.... almost as much as I enjoy hunting.  As a result, I also like to cook, learn from others with more kitchen talent and experiment in the kitchen or over the grill.

I've always, however, struggled with cooking wild game.  Sure, there are the standards like fried venison backstrap (loin) or a simple stew with cream of mushroom soup in a crock pot which are both good and hard to mess up.  But most wild game, at least to me, is challenging since it is very low in fat.  Cross cut a venison roast and you will see no intramuscular fat (i.e. marbling).  As a result, it is very easy for most game to dry out and have the texture of boot leather.

Classic Turducken!
For years, my favorite Aunt has prepared a Turducken for Christmas or Thanksgiving.  For those of you who have never experienced this delight in gastronomy, a turducken is a boneless chicken stuffed in a boneless duck which is all then stuffed in a boneless turkey.  These often have Cajun seasonings and the worst I've ever had was incredible.  They can be bought ready-to-cook or prepared yourself.

A friend of mine from Southern Louisiana (and world-class cook) and I have joked for years about other such odd meat-combinations but never pulled the trigger to make it happen.  Recently, I took the plunge.

Ladies and Gentlemen... I present to you.....the Venduckel.

What is a Venduckle?  A VENison roast stuffed with DUCK which has been stuffed with squirrEL.  Odd?  Perhaps.  Tasty?  Better than I imagined.

Before proceeding, please understand that I prefer to cook by "feel" versus rigid recipes.  The following is a loose guide.  There are 1,000s of options to season or modify your Venduckel.  Experimentation is encouraged.  Please share your stories.


  • 5-6 squirrel quarters (@ room temp*) (not 5-6 squirrels but 5-6 individual quarters or pieces)
  • 3-4 duck breasts  (@ room temp*)
  • ~1/2 of a venison backstrap (tenderized a bit with a hammer or knife-like tenderizer (@ room temp*)
  • ~1/4 stick of butter
  • course black pepper
  • Cajun seasoning
  • some type of meat rub (I like Adams Reserve "House All Purpose Rub")

Prep Time
2-3 months depending on the season, how good a shot you are and if you do not have a well stocked freezer.  Otherwise, ~25 minutes.

General Steps
1.  Plan, hunt, kill, gut, clean and prepare the first 3 ingredients.

2.  Debone the squirrel quarters.  A really sharp knife helps since these little guys can be tough.  I simply cut around the tendons at the major joints since it is like eating those little rubber bands used by kids with braces.  Betcha never thought those high school biology dissection skills would come in handy!!!  Set aside.

Squirrel quarters for Venduckel

3.  Butterfly the duck breasts.  Cut them as evenly as possible about 95% of the way through so they open like a book.  Set aside.

4.  Do the same with the venison roast.  You might need 3-4 cuts so the entire roast will lay flat like a small, meaty blanket.  Set aside.

Venison blanket - a bit sloppy.  Try to uniform thickness (not what I achieved here).
5.  Melt the butter and drizzle about 1/4 on the squirrel.  Add a reasonable about of the meat rub and Cajun seasoning.  Don't go crazy here.  The goal is to complement the flavor of the meat, not cover it up.  Ensure the squirrel is well coated and the ingredients are well mixed.

Squirrel prep.
6.  Lay out a blanket of duck breasts with the edges overlapping a bit.  Drizzle butter and season as you did with the squirrel.  Place the seasoned squirrel in the middle and wrap as tightly as you can in the duck.

Duck blanket pre-squirrel.
7.  Repeat with the venison but only season the "inside" side (I'll explain later why).  Season, drizzle with butter and wrap the duck/squirrel roll in the venison blanket.  You are going to have a buttery, slippery nasty looking roll-o-meat so pin it with toothpicks or bamboo skewers.  (Meat twine would work too.)

Rolling up the Venduckel - make it as tight as possible.
I'll let you insert your own comment here as to what this might look like!

8.  Place the venduckel in a deep baking dish.  (A deep dish should help to contain juices and any associated spatter.

9.  Drizzle the remaining butter on the outside.  Place the venduckel in a preheated 425F.  

10.  Cook for about 20-25 minutes to brown the outside.

11.  Reduce the heat to 350F.  Sprinkle a bit of season on the outside if desired.  Again, go light.  (The seasonings on the outside can burn at the higher temp and add a bitter flavor.)

12.  USE A MEAT THERMOMETER and bake until the internal temperature is ~140F.  Make sure the probe is directly in the center of the venduckel.  (The LAST thing I think you'd want is to eat Squirrel tartare (raw if you are from East Texas).  Time is not cricital here.  The internal temperature is however.  It cooked quicker than I thought it would.

If you don't use a thermometer, you are very likely to overcook it.  It will be dry and generally not good.

13.  Once you hit the 140F degree mark, remove the venduckel from oven and baking dish AND LET IT REST FOR 15-20 MINUTES on a cutting board.  The meat will adsorb some of the juices.  Don't skip this part no matter how good it smells.

14.  Cut into 1/4 - 1/2" slices with a razor sharp knife and serve with some worthy sides.

Note the Venduckel is moist throughout.
Wish I would have plated this better but you get the idea!!!

15.  Enjoy.  

My kids and I devoured this while standing in the kitchen.  My wife could not get past the squirrel. (How someone can eat a chicken but not a squirrel is beyond me.  Chickens are arguably the most disgusting animals on the planet.)

* For an EXCELLENT overview of roasting venison and many other cooking tips, please check out my new favorite blog called Honest-Food.  Hank has many, many excellent ideas, recipes and tips there.  It is from his blog that I learned about the difference that starting with room temperature meat can make to the end product.  (I'm not saying leave it out all day, just don't place it in the oven while really cold or the inside temperature will not come up to 140F before the outside burns.)


A Man in the Woods

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Snakes... oh My

I was in the garage recently working on my brand new Honda ATV (insert short maniacal laugh here).  Not sure how I made it through 44 years without this machine!!!

The youngest child proclaims that she wants to clean up the play house so she can, in fact, play in it later.  I stick my head in the diminutive structure for a general safety check.  

Dust... check.  Dirt... check.   Pretend kitchen appliances with free-range wasp nests along with free-range wasps... check.   Coast looks clear; dad's jobs is well done!  

I return to the garage to curse Honda's engineers and their tiny, little hands under my breath.

A few minutes later the 7 year-old dictator marches through the garage, into the house and recruits her 11 year old sister to "help".  I do not know what means with which she accomplished this but I'm sure it involved bribery, deceit and possibly physical harm.

Garbage cans were moved.  Brooms were shouldered.  General cleaning was officially underway.

Minutes later, quality garage-time peace and harmony was shattered with screams which actually could curdle blood.  A bear? A chupacabre?  An Ax-wielding killer awakened from a long sleep?  Surely someone is bleeding or unconscious!  With these sorts of screams, I'm expecting to see a femur, grey matter or at least a tooth.


There, buried in the bowels of a long-forgotten pink backpack was a garter snake.  Not even a big garter snake.  This poor, harmless snake has probably used this particular backpack as a home for months.  He is now deaf.

The next several minutes were spent wiping the blood from my ears, convincing the 7 year old that the snake does not need to die and that it is not, in fact, a black mamba (or any other mamba) while at the same time convincing the 11 year old that she did not "almost die" and that we are not going to move.


A Man in the Woods

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ever have that "Not so fresh" feeling?

The Art of Manliness is becoming one of the Man in the Woods favorite blogs.

You just never know when you might pick up some useful tidbit of information.


A Man in the Woods