why does my beef taste gamey

People perceive meat as gamey or too strong in flavor due to cooking methods. High temperatures and long cooking times make it tough and strong. Low temperatures and longer cooking times make it tender and mild. Seasoning and marinades enhance or overpower meat’s natural flavor.

Anyone who has ever served wild game to someone unfamiliar with it has probably heard them say something like, “This is… gamey.” So-called gamey meat is the bane of a hunter’s existence, but putting your finger on what is and is not gamey is no easy task.

There are two sources for gaminess in meat: Unfamiliar flavors, and meat that is tainted or otherwise “off.” I’ll go into both here.

First and foremost, gamey meat is, well, game. Hunted meat. Mostly. Several farmed animals, notably lamb (mutton), older goats and guinea hens can also be perceived as gamey.

That said, over the decades, I have heard pretty much everything called gamey, even rabbit and quail, which I think are the mildest of all meats. I once heard a contestant on the TV show “Top Chef” extoll the flavor of farmed quail because of how gamey it is. Uh… dude. Farmed quail is so flavorless and mild, it’s the closest thing to Soylent Green I’ve had other than maybe tilapia.

At its core, gamey meat means meat that tastes differently from standard, store-bought, farmed meats. It is neither good nor bad, although I’ll get to cases where is it most definitely bad.

This is the primary reason. Supermarket meats are fed almost entirely on corn. And corn lends a specific flavor to meats, one we now regard as standard. It is a bland, approachable flavor. Fat from corn-fed animals is firmer and more saturated than those eating most other things, notably nuts or grass. You can see this clearly in pork. Corn finished pork fat is strikingly harder and milder than fat from hogs finished on nuts.

For the most part, wild animals eat things other than corn. And yes, I know there are lots of wild animals that do eat corn, notably whitetail deer, ducks, geese, pheasants and hogs. But even these animals don’t subsist entirely on corn, which is why a pheasant doesn’t taste like a chicken, even though they are cousins.

Gamey meat is almost entirely a function of the flavors in skin and fat. Most of the stronger aromas we perceive in meat are fat soluble and reside in that fat. A prime example is in waterfowl. A scoter eats mostly clams, and its fat is pretty nasty (to most people). But if you skin this bird, its meat is not terribly different from that of a similarly skinned mallard. Ditto for spoonies, the northern shoveler.

Most striking, at least to me, are ptarmigan and spruce grouse. These birds’ diet of berries, forbs, lichen and conifer needles makes them the most pungent and powerful of all game birds. You either like them or not, but gamey they are most definitely.

For big game, I’ve noticed that the diet of a Coues deer, a little subspecies of whitetail that lives in the Desert Southwest, alters its fat enough to where it does not coat your mouth the way fat from a grain-fed whitetail in, say, Illinois would. I’ve had very sagey mule deer, and mild ones. It’s the fat.

And if you manage to remove all the fat from a slab of mutton, it will be much more mild than one with its fat cap. Interestingly, one main reason lamb is thought of as gamey is because of all our domesticated meats, lamb is the one most often raised entirely on grass. Only Colorado lamb is commonly finished on grain.

A second, important reason for so-called gamey meat is the fact that wild animals are older and are far more athletic than their domesticated counterparts.

Typically, hunters bring home deer that are several years old, and elk, bear and moose can push 10 years old or more. Most birds killed by hunters are young of the year, but waterfowl can live beyond 30 years old, and five-year-old turkeys are not impossible.

And even young-of-the-year birds are typically older than their domestic cousins. A fryer chicken can be as little as five weeks old. No quail, pheasant, partridge or duck is that young. In fact, the youngest wild animal we commonly hunt is a dove. In some rare cases, month-old doves can be shot in warm places, where their parents raise up to six broods a year.

Furthermore, even young-of-the-year game animals work for a living. Their tendons are stronger, their meat is denser, and they are normally far leaner than their couch potato relatives in the barnyard. All of this has an effect on flavor.

Now consider an old Canada goose, which can be up to 30 years old. Its flavor will be radically different from a five-month old domestic goose, and even the youngest wild goose will be six months old.

In all these contexts, “gamey meat” equals meat with character, with depth, and with flavor wholly of itself.

Now consider an old Canada goose, which can be up to 30 years old. Its flavor will be radically different from a five-month old domestic goose, and even the youngest wild goose will be six months old.

All of this can apply to wild game, too. You can certainly dry age venison for a month, and it will start to take on some of those richer, more savory, almost cheesy tones. Venison won’t get as cheesy as beef because it lacks internal fat, but it will change, profoundly, if properly aged. (Read my detailed tutorial on dry aging meat – even without a fancy dry ager – here.)

For big game, I’ve noticed that the diet of a Coues deer, a little subspecies of whitetail that lives in the Desert Southwest, alters its fat enough to where it does not coat your mouth the way fat from a grain-fed whitetail in, say, Illinois would. I’ve had very sagey mule deer, and mild ones. It’s the fat.

A red wine soak is a good call, too — if you are planning to cook your meat in a stew or somesuch. One important tip: Boil the wine first, then cool. If you don’t do this, you will get a weird, metallic flavor that I believe comes from the alcohol, which is burned off by the boil. You can soak gamey meat in pre-boiled red wine for several days in the fridge.

There are two sources for gaminess in meat: Unfamiliar flavors, and meat that is tainted or otherwise “off.” I’ll go into both here.

I hear people frequently talk about grass fed beef and how “gamey” it is. This frankly confuses me to an extent because this has never been an issue with our beef. I’ve never had a batch of our beef come out game-y but it got me thinking, what do we do to prevent that flavor from coming out? There are a lot of factors that contribute to flavor of beef. Age of the cow, gender (bull or cow and steer vs bull as well), conditions of the actual slaughter house/how the animal is butchered, hang time, how/what they are fed, how they are treated during life, etc. Older cows honestly taste better in my opinion. The beef is literally “aged”. (Think aged cheese. Much richer flavor) I actually heard/read somewhere recently that chefs for upscale restaurants are looking to get beef from older cows because the meat tastes sooo much better and richer. Gender matters and whether it’s a bull or a steer (fixed bull). Bull meat CAN be more game-y because of the testosterone still in the system of the animal. Doesn’t always make a difference, sometimes it does. Unfortunately, breed also plays into this. We had an angus bull (beef breed) processed and the meat was sweet and rich and not gamey in the slightest. We had a milking short horn (dairy breed) bull butchered, totally different flavor. A little more gamey than the angus, but still not enough to be off-putting. If the animal is not treated well or eats substandard grasses or hay, it may come out gamey. If the animal doesn’t have a good place to rest or is constantly fighting for food or dealing with other stresses, it will taste gamey. If the animal does not have easy access to good water (whether that be pond/stream or human-provided water source), it will cause the meat to be gamey and tough. Feeding, I think, probably is biggest factor. You can’t just throw a cow out there and hope the grass it has is enough. You honestly can’t even buy just any ol’ hay and feed them that. You need to control what they are eating at all times in order for the meat to come out tasting good. We always ensure that our beef cows (and our dairy cows too, of course!) have access to good quality hay, highly nutritious grasses, legumes, etc. and a good variety within their pastures. This helps ensure the beef from those cows will taste the absolute best! If the animal is stressed immediately proceeding the actual slaughter, adrenaline will rush into their system and ruin the meat. It will be tough and gamey. If the slaughter house conditions are substandard, this causes stress which causes gamey flavor. How the animals are handled at the processor is very important. The processor we have selected is the best we’ve found. They don’t use a shock stick, don’t yell or whack the animals, they’re calm and gently move the animals into the pens. Hang time also effects flavor. Warning: if you’re unfamiliar with the process of butchering, this may seem graphic. When an animal is processed, the first step is the actual killing. The blood is drained, the organs are removed (and in some cases like ours, saved to be packaged up later) , the skin is removed as well as anything else that is not the actual “meat” of the animal. This is called the carcass of the animal and it is left to hang in the cold storage for an amount of time. Pigs for example usually hang for about 3-4 days. They don’t really require much longer than that. Beef needs to hang for quite a bit longer in order for the beef to get good and tender. Yep, that’s what this step does: makes the meat tender. We never hang our beef for less than 12 days. I’d prefer 21 days but it’s hard to get a processor to hang it this long cause they gotta make room for more product. Once the hanging is done, the meat is cut into the cuts selected (such as roasts, steaks and ground meat, etc.) It’s packaged and ready for pick up!

There are probably more factors that I am not thinking of at the moment that contribute, but these are the basics of what makes grass fed beef good or bad. You should always feel completely comfortable asking the local farmer you intend to purchase from about any of these things. I know I personally am always happy to answer any questions that folks have and if I don’t know the answer, I’m happy to find out! ~JoAnna

People perceive meat as gamey or too strong in flavor due to cooking methods. High temperatures and long cooking times make it tough and strong. Low temperatures and longer cooking times make it tender and mild. Seasoning and marinades enhance or overpower meat’s natural flavor.

FAQ

Why does my beef have a gamey taste?

If the animal is not treated well or eats substandard grasses or hay, it may come out gamey. If the animal doesn’t have a good place to rest or is constantly fighting for food or dealing with other stresses, it will taste gamey.

Why does my beef have a weird taste?

It’s possible that the ground beef you’ve been consuming recently has gone bad or spoiled. Changes in smell and taste, particularly when it comes to meat products, can be a sign of spoilage.

How do you get the gamey taste out of meat?

The distinct game flavor of either birds or animals will be milder after soaking the meat overnight in the refrigerator in either a salt or vinegar solution. 2. Vinegar solution – 1 cup per quart of cold water. Use enough solution to cover the game completely.

How do you get rid of a strong taste in beef?

Choose an acidic marinade. The buttermilk soak can serve as a marinade, but if you prefer to do a more traditional marinade, choose one that contains an acidic ingredient like vinegar, fruit juice, or wine. These acidic bases will counteract the gamey taste of the meat.

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