Like a few other game animals–antelope chief among them–bear garners one of two opinions when it comes to the question of whether it’s edible or not. Those who say it’s not, many of whom haven’t actually eaten bear but aren’t shy about passing along second-hand information, provide a host of reasons of why bear meat is bad. Many will tell you it’s greasy. Or gamey. Or that it has trichinosis and will kill you. Some will even cite apocryphal stories about Indians not eating bear because they look human.
Not only is bear edible, I’d argue it’s delicious done right. Yes, bear meat can have trichinosis, but so can pork and that’s doesn’t stop people from eating pork chops. I’ve personally never had greasy bear meat and, in fact, would compare bear to very lean pork.
Because bears are omnivores, it is true their meat can vary wildly in taste depending both on diet and time of year, but I don’t know that I’d ever call it gamey. The best bear meat is almost sweet, though I’ve also eaten bear that is rich in flavor. Like anything, preparation is the key. Bear meat is a great candidate for braising. It makes delicious carnitas and is a good substitute for venison in chili or stew. I’ve been told bear hams are wonderful, but haven’t had the chance to try them yet. They make good sausage, fresh or cured. In short, bear meat is like any other wild game: Take time in both the care and cooking and you’ll be rewarded.
I’m off to Alaska this week for a week of bear hunting. If I’m lucky, I’ll be bringing back a few boxes of bear meat (along with some halibut) and would love some suggestions from Wild Chef readers who have a favorite bear recipe.