Seven Creative (and Easy) Wild-Game Popper Recipes
Take your camp snacks to the next level with these inventive, and delicious, twists on an old favorite
The jalapeño popper—a combination of pepper, cream cheese, and bacon—is a hunting-camp (and tailgate) classic. With either a slice of duck or dove breast, it’s the best way to introduce the uninitiated to just how delicious wild game can be. Still, as good as the go-to popper is, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. To take your popper game to the next level, here are seven inventive (and relatively easy) recipes for preparing the bite-sized flavor bombs, from a simple steak-and-potato combo to a surf-and-turf special.
Hawaiian Duck Poppers With Honey-Sriracha Dipping Sauce
This tropical take on traditional duck poppers trades the bite of jalapeño for the sweet tang of pineapple. But don’t worry: there’s still kick to this Hawaiian variation, thanks to a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, which combines the fiery heat of Sriracha with a healthy dose of honey.
Breast meat of two ducks, skinned
1 lb. thick-cut bacon
Honey-Sriracha dipping sauce (see below)
With a sharp knife, slice the duck breasts lengthwise into ¼-inch strips. Cut the bacon in half crosswise. Place a slice of bacon on the counter and top it with a piece of duck breast. Add a pineapple chunk and roll the popper up tightly, then secure it with a toothpick.
Set up your grill for a two-zone fire, with one side on medium-hot and the other with no coals or fire underneath. Grill the poppers over the hot side, turning often, until the bacon is crispy. If the dripping bacon fat flares up, transfer the poppers to the cool side of the grill until the fire subsides.
Serve with Honey-Sriracha Dipping Sauce (below).
Honey-Sriracha Dipping Sauce
½ cup honey
1 Tbsp. Sriracha, or to taste
1 tsp. soy sauce
Juice of one lime
- Warm the honey by placing it in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. Add Sriracha, soy sauce, and lime juice. Whisk until ingredients are well incorporated.
Chorizo-Stuffed Elk Poppers
These big poppers double down on the heat with the earthy spice of elk chorizo and the kick of jalapeño. Luckily, the cheese filling helps cool things down a bit. The puff pastry is, I admit, really just gilding the lily, although it does keep the filling from bubbling out, and adds a nice crunch. (You can find the elk-chorizo recipe here.)
½ lb. elk chorizo
8 oz. cream cheese
12–18 large jalapeño peppers
1 sheet of puff pastry
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. warm water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the elk chorizo in a heavy skillet over a medium-high burner, stirring well. Meanwhile, stem and seed the jalapeños, and, with the egg yolk and the water, whip together an egg wash. Once the chorizo is browned, transfer it to a large bowl and set it aside to cool.
Once the chorizo has slightly cooled, mix it with the cream cheese. Use a spatula to fold over the mixture several times until it’s completely blended, then transfer it to a zip-top plastic bag. Press as much air out of the bag as you can, and then seal and snip off a bottom corner of it.
Place the jalapeños on a rack or a stand, leaving plenty of space between them. Squeeze the chorizo-and-cream-cheese mixture out of the zip-top bag via the open corner and fill each jalapeño. Should the mixture overflow the pepper, wipe it off with a paper towel.
Cut the puff pastry into 1- to 1½-inch squares. Place one square atop each jalapeño, pinching the corners of the puff pastry to seal it well. Brush the poppers with the egg wash, then transfer them to the hot oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden brown.
You might get accused of out-classing your campmates with this fancy finger food, but once your buddies take a bite, they’ll quit complaining. Creamy and briny with a hard hit of garlic, this surf-and-turf take on the humble popper is exceedingly rich. The prosciutto ups the salt-level, so season the poppers lightly, with just a dusting of black pepper.
1 venison steak
1 cup crab, flaked
¼ cup Boursin Garlic & Fine Herb Cheese blend
8–10 slices prosciutto
Freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the flaked crab and Boursin cheese, then stir until the ingredients are well incorporated.
Cut the venison steak lengthwise into ¼-inch strips. With the strips lying flat, lightly pound them with a meat mallet or rolling pin until they are ⅛ inch thick and about ¾- to 1-inch wide.
Place a slice of prosciutto on your work surface and top it with a piece of steak. Add about ½ tablespoon of the crab-and-cheese mixture to one end of the steak. Carefully roll the prosciutto and steak around the crab mix, tucking in the sides to create a tight package, and then secure it with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining ingredients and then place the uncooked poppers in the refrigerator to chill.
Preheat a grill to medium-high heat. Transfer the poppers to the grill and cook, rolling them often, until the prosciutto is crispy, which should take about 10 minutes. Season the poppers with freshly ground black pepper and serve piping hot.
Deer Steak and Potato Popper
Steak and potatoes are an All-American Meal—and especially so when the meat is a fresh chunk of whitetail venison. (Though feel free to use mule deer, elk, moose, or even antelope.) These poppers come together quickly and cook fast. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, skip the bottled sauce and whip up a homemade recipe that tastes as if it comes straight from a downtown steakhouse.
1 deer steak
15–20 tater tots
Steak sauce (see below)
With a sharp knife, cut the elk steak lengthwise in ¼-inch slices. Depending on the size of the steak, you may also need to cut the slices in half so that each piece is approximately 2 inches in length and about ¾ inches wide. Season the slices with a liberal pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cook the tater tots on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven until they’re crisp, which should take 15 to 20 minutes.
While the tots cook, start your charcoal, or preheat a propane grill to medium-high.
To assemble the poppers, wrap a length of elk steak around each tater tot, securing it with a toothpick. Place the poppers on the grill and cook, turning often, until the steak is cooked to medium-rare or medium.
Plate the poppers and drizzle them with Easy Steakhouse-Style Sauce (below).
Easy Steakhouse-Style Sauce
½ cup balsamic vinegar
⅓ cup ketchup
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ Tbsp. chili sauce
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. allspice
1 knob butter
- In a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, combine all the ingredients except the butter, stirring well to incorporate. Simmer until slightly reduced, then gently whisk in the butter just before serving.
Bacon Cheeseburger Poppers
You’d be hard pressed to dislike a miniature burger dripping with cheddar and wrapped in crisp bacon. Without the bulk of a bun, these poppers leave room in your stomach to pop a dozen or two of them. If you think no popper is complete with a jalapeño, feel free to add a ring of pickled peppers as you wrap them up.
1 lb. ground venison
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
¼ cup French-fried onions
1 lb. thick-cut bacon
Crush the French-fried onion by sealing them in a plastic bag and pounding them with a rolling pin.
In a large bowl, mix the ground venison, grated cheddar cheese, and crushed onions. Take a pinch of the ground meat mixture and roll it between your hands to make a small meatball, about ¾ inches in diameter. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet and press them into miniature burgers.
Cut the bacon crosswise into thirds. Wrap a slice around each burger, securing it with a toothpick. Sprinkle the popper with a healthy dose of Trail Dust Seasoning.
Start enough coals to create a two-zone fire, with one side of the grill medium-hot and the other cool. (Or, set up your propane grill with a hot side and a cool side.)
Grill the poppers, turning often, until the bacon is just crispy. If the bacon grease flares up, move the poppers to the cool side of the grill until the flames subside. Once the poppers are cooked through, serve them with a mustard dipping sauce.
Pork and Green Apple Poppers
Wild pigs and green apples go together like smoke and barbecue, and they give these poppers a flavor straight from south of the Mason–Dixon line. The bacon protects the thin pork medallions from drying out during the extended cook time. For dip, leave the bottled BBQ sauce on the shelf and try a version inspired by Kansas City Barbeque Society recipe instead.
1 green apple
1 lb. thick-cut bacon
Smoky Barbecue Sauce (see below)
Slice the pork tenderloin crosswise into ¼-inch medallions. Core the green apple and cut into ¼-inch pieces. Cut the bacon in half crosswise.
Start a fire in your smoker, or set your pellet grill to 250 degrees.
To assemble the poppers, place a slice of green apple on a pork medallion and wrap it with a half-long slice of bacon. If necessary, secure the bacon with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining medallions.
Place the poppers in the smoker. For the first 30 minutes, cook them under heavy smoke, then reduce the smoke and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the bacon is cooked to your preference.
Serve with Smoky Barbecue Sauce (below).
Smoky Barbecue Sauce
4 cups ketchup
⅓ cup brown sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. dark rum
2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
- Add all the ingredients, except the salt and pepper, to a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until everything is well incorporated. Raise the heat to a slight simmer and cook for another 30 minutes, or until thickened. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Jalapeño Duck Grenades
These little bursts of flavor deliver on the classic popper taste with the added bonus of a satisfying crunch via a crispy buttermilk coating. Though this recipe will make about two-dozen poppers, think about doubling it, since they tend to disappear quickly.
12 large jalapeños
8 oz. cream cheese
½ lb. bacon
4–6 duck-breast halves, skinned
1 quart buttermilk
2–3 cups flour
Peanut or vegetable oil
Set the cream cheese on the counter to soften. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a 400-degree oven until crispy (about 20 minutes). Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate. Once the bacon cools, use your hands (or a small food processor) to crumble it into small pieces. Stir the bacon crumbles into the cream cheese.
Cut the duck breasts lengthwise into slices about ¼ inch thick. Using a meat mallet or the side of a heavy knife, lightly pound the duck into long, thin slices.
Cut the jalapeños in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon or knife to remove the seeds and any white pith. Fill the hollow pepper with the bacon-and-cream-cheese mix. Wrap a slice of duck around the pepper, securing it with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. Fill a shallow plate with flour, and season it with kosher salt and black pepper. Soak the wrapped peppers in buttermilk for a few minutes, then dredge them in the flour for a thick, even coating.
Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees in a Dutch oven, or a deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the poppers in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they turn golden brown. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool before serving.