Up in Smoke

The ultimate menu for a wild-game barbecue

In summer, some of the most fun you can have outside takes place around the grill and smoker. Friends and family get together. A game plays on the radio. The cooler’s packed with drinks. Maybe some fireworks once it’s dark. And, of course, the food—delicious grub cooked with fire and smoke and smothered in sauce. While there’s nothing wrong with burgers and dogs, this summer you’re going to take your barbecue to the next level with the wild game in your freezer. We’ve enlisted the help of a chef who’s not only a barbecue expert but a lifelong hunter. The menu he’s created will have everyone on the block begging to get into your backyard.

Creole Mustard-Rubbed Backstrap

Creole Mustard-Rubbed Backstrap
The Perfect Side • Ember-roasted sweet potatoes Drink Menu • Blenheim ginger ale, Shiner Bock, or Ramsay petite sirah Photograph by Christopher Testani; food and prop styling by Roscoe Betsill

One of my favorite ingredients for wild red meat is creole mustard. It’s something that resonates with me from my earliest memories of cooking. I love how the vine­gar in the mustard plays with the venison. The additions of salt and smoke leave you with a complex piece of game that can be served sliced on a platter or shaved thin for sandwiches.

Ingredients

  • 5 lb. venison backstrap

For the rub:

  • 2 cups creole mustard

  • ½ cup ground black pepper

  • ¼ cup kosher salt

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary

  • 2 Tbsp. dried oregano

  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

Directions

  1. Make the rub: Mix all of the ingredients until they’re well combined. Generously apply the rub to the ­entire backstrap. Place the backstrap in the refrigerator overnight.

  2. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees. Smoke the backstrap until the internal temperature hits 135 degrees. Let it rest for 45 minutes.

  3. Grill the meat over high heat to reheat and for the extra char and smoke that only a grill can give you. Apply your favorite barbecue sauce. Slice the backstrap against the grain and season with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Whole Smoked Rooster

Whole Smoked Rooster
The Perfect Side • Summer corn salad and marinated tomatoes with cucumbers Drink Menu • Big Red soda, Abita Amber, or Rickshaw pinot noir Photograph by Christopher Testani; food and prop styling by Roscoe Betsill

The rub in this recipe is one of my favorites because of its simplicity. This is what I consider a base rub: You can add to it, but it can also stand alone. To put your own spin on it and give the rub added nuances, try adding dry herbs, curry powder, or smoked paprika. It is perfect for pheasants but also works great with quail, wild turkey, or even frog legs.

Ingredients

  • 5 whole pheasants

For the rub:

  • 3 cups kosher salt

  • 1 cup freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

  • 1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

  • 1 tsp. cayenne

Directions

  1. Make the rub: Mix all of the ingredients.

  2. Preheat the smoker to 275 degrees. You can keep the pheasants whole and cook them vertically on beer cans, or you can spatchcock them: Remove the backbone, then push down on the breastbone to flatten the bird. Use whichever method you’re comfortable with, because both preparations will yield delicious birds.

  3. Generously season the birds with the rub. Smoke the pheasants until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees.

  4. Eat the birds right out of the smoker, or throw them on a hot grill to get that extra bit of char on the skin, and slather with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Goose Ham

wild game cookout
The Perfect Side • Deviled eggs, or simply enjoy with saltines and cheddar cheese Drink Menu • Root beer, Ommegang Hennepin, School House syrah Photograph by Christopher Testani; food and prop styling by Roscoe Betsill

I grew up waterfowl hunting in south Louisiana, so in my kitchen cooking geese and ducks might as well be a religion. This is a great recipe to prepare ahead of time so you can make ham and cheese sandwiches for a summer fishing trip. You can easily substitute duck breast for the goose.

Ingredients

  • 4 goose breasts, skin on

For the brine:

  • 2⅓ cups dark brown sugar

  • 2 cups kosher salt

  • 9½ Tbsp. pink curing salt

  • 6½ Tbsp. whole black peppercorns

Directions

  1. Make the brine: In a large container, whisk the brown sugar, kosher salt, curing salt, and peppercorns into 13 quarts of cold water. Add the goose breasts, and weigh them down so they’re completely submerged. Brine the meat for 48 hours.

  2. Remove the breasts from the brine and rinse under cold water. Score the skin and lay the breasts, skin side up, on a grill rack or sheet pan to dry.

  3. Smoke the breasts at 200 degrees with hardwoods for 1 to 2 hours, or until the internal temperature is 130 degrees.

  4. If you would like to eat right away, slice the goose breast lengthwise and drizzle with cane syrup, honey, or molasses.

  5. You can store the goose hams in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for 6 months. Generously wrap the breasts in plastic wrap, then place in zip-seal bags (vacuum-seal packages are even better). To reheat, heat the oven to 300 degrees. Brush ham with honey, molasses, or fruit preserves. Cover the ham for the first 30 minutes of reheating. After 15 minutes, uncover, glaze again, and raise the temperature to 350 degrees. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.

Read Next: Six Adventurous (and Super-Delicious) Wild-Game Burger Recipes

Wild Boar Ribs

wild game cookout
The Perfect Side • Smothered green beans with tasso ham Drink Menu • Cheerwine, Yazoo Dos Perros, Red Tail Ridge riesling Photograph by Christopher Testani; food and prop styling by Roscoe Betsill

At our restaurant, Blue Smoke, we are known for our pork ribs. Whether it’s baby back ribs or spareribs, I constantly crave the experience of eating a dish made from pork, salt, and smoke right off of the bone. These wild boar ribs fit that description.

Ingredients

  • 3 slabs of wild boar ribs

For the rub:

  • 2 cups light brown sugar

  • 1½ cups kosher salt

  • 1 cup chili powder

  • ½ cup paprika

  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated garlic

  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated onion

  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. ground cumin

  • ¼ cup ground ­fennel seed

  • 2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper

  • 2 Tbsp. dried oregano

  • 2 Tbsp. ground white pepper

  • 1½ tsp. cinnamon

  • 1½ tsp. ground ­celery seed

Directions

  1. Make the rub: Grind the individual ingredients to powder. (It’s best to grind first, and then portion everything out with measuring cups.) Mix them together well.

  2. Generously season the ribs with the rub. Smoke the ribs at 210 to 220 degrees for approximately 2 to 4 hours, depending on size of the slabs. The meat should be fork tender and not completely falling off the bone.

  3. Slather the ribs with barbecue sauce and enjoy right out of the smoker.