Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: September 8, 2022

I’ve been on a carnivore diet for years and tried all kinds of meat during this time.

Gamey meat remains one of my favorite meat cuts. But, many people are put off by the gamey meat taste.

I spent hours researching and talking with hunters to find out what makes game meat taste gamey.

Here’s why you should know about gamey taste and how to improve the flavor of gamey meat.

Quick Summary

  • There are several reasons why meat has a gamey taste. This happens both for natural and human-caused reasons.
  • You can prevent the gamey taste in several ways, such as field dressing and skinning straight after the kill.
  • You can mask the gamey taste by soaking wild game in different liquids, using seasonings, and cooking wild meat with other meats, such as bacon.

6 Reasons Why Meat Tastes Gamey

Here are the most common causes of gaminess.

1. Diet

A huge chunk of meat on a cutting board with different spices

Diet, i.e., what wild animals eat, is the main reason they have a game flavor.

Domestic animals are fed mostly corn. Corn gives a specific flavor to red meat, which we’ve come to see as standard. For example, corn-fed animals have firmer and more saturated fat than animals that eat grass.

Some wild animals eat corn, such as deer, ducks, hogs, and others. But, most wild animals don’t eat corn, or at least don’t eat only corn. In fact, many wild animals feed on forest plants.

Smaller game, such as fowls and partridge, eat berries, and spruce buds, which results in pungent flavor, and a very strong fat smell and taste, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Bigger game, such as deer, eat a lot of twigs and tree branches, which results in a gamey flavor.

The gamey taste also depends on the subspecies, where the animal lives, and what it eats. For example, a deer in the Southwest will taste different than the one in Illinois.

2. Age and Exercise

Another reason wild meat is gamey is the animal’s age and exercise. Wild animals are usually older than domestic ones, and they are more athletic.

The average age for shot deer is several years old, while elk and moose can even be older than ten years.

On the other hand, birds that hunters kill are usually young. Still, even these young birds are older than domestic ones. For example, a chicken can be as little as five weeks old. However, no game bird will be that young.

Moreover, domestic animals are cared for, so they don't have very developed muscle tissue. This also means they have less myoglobin, which helps the muscles use oxygen and makes the meat darker [1].

"So blood is going to be surging through the animal’s body at a much more intense level than if it were farm-raised. The type of animal doesn’t matter as much as the environment that it is living in. A domesticated animal is going to have a more subdued taste because it is living a more subdued life."

- Daniel Volponi, Chef

However, even young game animals have to work for a living, and they have to avoid predators. This means they’ll have strong tendons and dense meat, which all affect the flavor. Plus, they’ll have more myoglobin, which results in darker and less tender meat.

3. Hormones

A close up image of a slice of meat with rosemary on top

Gamey taste also depends on the animal’s hormones. For example, a mature buck deer will taste gamey because the buck has testicles that produce hormones that control antler growth and the buck’s scent.

On the other hand, a doe won’t have the same strong meat scent because it hasn’t given birth yet.

This is also true for a domesticated animal. A bull has a strong meat scent, while a cow’s scent is much milder.

4. Not Processing on Time

All the above reasons why meat gets a gamey taste were due to nature. But, animals can also taste gamey because of human errors. One of the biggest human errors is if the hunter waits too long to process the meat after the kill.

If you kill a doe or a moose, process the meat after the kill with proper cleaning and store it in a cool place, it won’t taste very gamey.

But, if you make a kill, throw it in the back of your vehicle, and drive with it the rest of the day while you make more kills, you’ll end up with gamey meat.

This is especially true during hotter months, as air temperature impacts the game meat.

5. Overcooking

Overcooked meats on a grill

Another reason for gamey meat is overcooking. Many people think gamey meat should be cooked for longer.

This isn’t true. In fact, the longer you cook game meat, the stronger the flavor.

No matter your cooking method, you shouldn’t cook gamey meat past medium-rare or risk it turning tough and livery.

In general, game meat cooks fast because there’s little fat.

6. Hanging

Finally, meat tastes gamey because of aging or hanging. For example, if you dry-age venison steaks for a month, they’ll get savory notes.

This goes even more for birds. A fresh pheasant will taste like chicken. But, a well-aged pheasant will be gamey.

The best aging time is between 5 and 14 days. Make sure to keep the meat in a cool place. Check it from time to time, and add more ice. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a gamey tang.

Tips for Making Gamey Meat Taste Better

You can make gamey meat taste better in several ways.

1. Field Dressing and Skinning

A chef skinning a huge meat

The first step in preventing meat tasting gamey starts right after the kill. You need to gut the animal and cool it as soon as possible.

This can be done on the property where you’ve made the kill, or you have to take it home.

The longer you leave the animal in the field, the gamier it’ll taste. This happens because enzymes break down inside the animal; the hotter the weather, the faster it happens. This is why I like to skin the animal on the field if I can.

If you have to transport the animal far away, field-dress it first. Make sure not to puncture any organs. Hang the animal once you’ve arrived at your skinning location.

Some hunters think it’s necessary to hang and bleed an animal for a few hours after gutting.

If you shoot through the vitals, it’ll bleed out naturally, but if you notice blood remains in the muscles, you should get rid of it. Blood in the muscles will make the meat taste gamey.

Here’s how to skin the animal to avoid gamey and metallic flavor:

  • Cut with the blade pointing away from the meat. This avoids hair getting all over the meat.
  • Don’t puncture any organs, or the acid can get into the meat.
  • Don’t take too long. You should put the meat on ice as soon as you’re done skinning.

2. Soak and Brine Game Meat

You can brine deer meat in a ratio of 1/4 cup of kosher salt and 1 quart of water. Leave the meat in the brine overnight. Saltwater brine is a popular choice because it sucks out the gamey flavor. Don’t forget to wash the meat before cooking, or you’ll have an overpowering salt taste.

You can also soak the meat in the milk. This works especially for organ meat of big game animals. Leave it in the fridge overnight.

Or, you can use a red wine soak. This is a good solution if you plan to cook deer meat in a stew. Boil the wine first, then cool before placing the meat in the soak.

You can leave the wild meat in the red wine soak for several days in the fridge.

Many hunters also like to soak game meat in vinegar. But, my advice is to be careful with vinegar because it often dries out the meat and makes it very tough.

Instead of vinegar, try soaking in buttermilk, especially if you have backstraps.

Finally, you can buy a premade marinade. There are several available on the market. These can also help remove blood from the meat, so you only have the tissue.

3. Remove the Skin

A person wearing gloves removing the skin of a meat

You should remove the skin and connective tissue before cooking game meat, especially if you’re cooking game birds, such as pheasant.

If you don’t remove these in big game meat, you can end up with very strong tissue.

Use a small knife or a fork and remove the fat from the meat. We are used to fat adding flavor to the beef. However, that’s not the case in game meat.

Deer fat can make the entire house smell bad, and people with sensitive stomachs won’t be able to eat it.

4. Shot Placement

Shot placement is a matter of expertise and luck. But, if you make a clean shot, the animal dies quickly and won’t ruin your meat.

Another place to avoid shooting is the digestive system or a gut shot. Even if you clean the animal quickly and cool it down, bile and acids can soak into the meat and make it taste gamey.

I advise avoiding headshots because they can get messy and smelly. Instead, aim for behind the front shoulder, heart, or lung.

FAQs

What Does It Mean When It Tastes Gamey?

When something tastes gamey, it means it has an unfamiliar taste and a unique texture. Word gamey can also mean something tastes bad or richer than what you’re used to.

What Types of Meat Are Gamey?

Gamey types of meat are:

  • Bird game —  Pheasant, Squab, Quail, Guinea Fowl, Partridge, Duck, Turkey.
  • Small game — Hare, rabbit, squirrel
  • Big game — Elk, deer, bison, venison, buffalo, boar.

What Causes Gamey Taste in Deer?

Diet, exercise, and age cause gamey taste in deer. Deer meat can also taste gamey if it’s not processed correctly or if it’s left unprocessed for too long after the kill.

How Do You Keep Meat From Being Gamey?

You keep meat from being gamey by using soaking liquids. Popular soaking liquids include buttermilk, vinegar, milk, lemon juice, and more.

You can also mask the gamey flavor with seasonings, bacon, onions, garlic, and more.

How Do You Get the Gamey Taste Out of Beef?

You get the gamey taste out of beef by soaking the beef in buttermilk overnight. Place the meat in a bowl with buttermilk, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and keep in the fridge overnight.

Buttermilk has lactic acid, which makes the meat tender and draws out the gamey taste.

What Do You Soak Deer Meat in to Get Rid of the Gamey Taste?

You soak deer meat in buttermilk to get rid of the gamey taste. This pulls out the blood from the meat and removes the gamey taste.

Does Grass-Fed Meat Taste Gamey?

Yes, grass-fed meat tastes gamey. This happens because grass-fed meat has a high level of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Does Wagyu Beef Taste Gamey?

Wagyu beef can taste gamey to some people because it has an intense flavor. It also tastes like a strong beefy flavor because it has a lot of fat, which gives it a strong flavor and tenderness.

Why is Meat Gamey: Final Thoughts

Meat has a gamey taste because of several reasons. These can be natural, such as diet, age, exercise, and hormones, or man-made, such as overcooking, hanging, shot placement, and more.

Luckily, there are several ways in which you can get rid of the gamey taste. The easiest one is to soak the meat overnight. Also, make sure not to overcook wild game.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature, and only cook until the meat is medium done.

If you’re looking for a good meat supplier, including exotic cuts, check out our roundup of the 10 best game meat delivery services.

Each of these businesses only sells sustainably sourced meat. Plus, they have a wide range of meat — everything from beef and pork to exotic cuts such as venison, deer, elk, and more.


References:

  1. https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/meat/INT-what-meat-color.htmlanged.
  2. https://www.tctimes.com/news/wild-game-is-the-healthiest-meat-one-can-eat/article

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