19 Types Of Game Meat, Explained

Humans and wild game have been intertwined since the dawn of time. The primary reason for early populations hunting wild game was, of course, survival — since protein helped promote satiety and sustain hunter-gatherers as they moved across the land. Once animals became domesticated, many cultures continued to hunt wild game as sustenance and to maintain generations of traditional recipes.

The two primary sources of game meats include animals that are hunted because they can't be grown in captivity, like moose and bear, and those that are farm-raised but were once free-range, such as pheasant and quail. There are key differences between the taste and texture of domesticated meats and game meat. Game meats are typically leaner than standard domesticated meats — like chicken, turkey, beef, and pork — because wild game can range longer distances and eat a more "natural" diet. Game meats also have a more intense flavor that folks describe as "gamey," — meaning that the flavor tastes borderline sour because of the animal's foraging behavior during its lifetime.

If you want to purchase game meat from a butcher, you should always ask your butcher about the flavor, texture, and preparation methods needed to make your choice of game shine. Here are some of the most popular game meat consumed in the United States, as well as a few essential tips for working with them in the kitchen.


Elk meat has surged in popularity recently because of its flavor and texture. Research conducted by Datassential, as reported by Nation's Restaurant News, notes that the meat's presence on restaurant menus has risen 115% in the last four years. The elk sold in butcher shops or at restaurants has been farmed since the '70s. Since farm-raised elk are fed a forage diet similar to that of cows, including alfalfa and grasses, the meat can taste like ground beef. Wild elk is considerably lean and has a slightly more gamey flavor than farm-raised varieties. It is considered less gamey and fatty than its cousin, venison — otherwise known as deer. Elk is also high in iron, zinc, and phosphorous. 

Elk is available in numerous cuts, as well as in food products like jerky. The most flavorful cuts of elk include the tenderloin and the loin, but you can also purchase prime rib, sirloin butt, or top round. Regardless of the cut, elk should be cooked to between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit; anything higher may dry out the meat.


Bison has a similar taste profile to grass-fed beef. It is also known to have a slightly less greasy flavor than beef, which makes ground bison a good swap for lean beef for burgers. Bison contains fewer calories than lean beef too, but it is susceptible to overcooking because of how little fat it contains. The key to making a good bison burger is to keep is to remove it from the heat as soon as it finishes cooking, rather than letting it continue to sit on a hot pan or grill.

Most bison is free-range on farms rather than harvested via hunting. As a result, bison is one of the most accessible types of game meats; you can purchase ground bison in most grocery stores. You can use ground bison to make chilis, meatballs, or tacos instead of ground turkey or beef. A bison brisket is a good option for stews or braises, while sirloin and inside rounds should be pan-seared to avoid drying them out. 

Wild boar

Wild boar is one of the gamier types of meats on the market. Boar has a nutty undertone with a more robust flavor than other red meats, as well as a darker red color as compared to pork's pink hue. This meat is a good option for folks looking for high-protein meat with less cholesterol; 100 grams of boar contains less cholesterol than 100 grams of chicken, with almost six grams more protein.

There are several ways to prepare boar, including ribs, dehydrated bacon, and ragu. The nutty taste of the meat pairs well with sweet and acidic flavors like tomatoes, barbecue sauce, and brown sugar. You can also braise the belly of the boar to bring out its buttery flavors. Regardless of the method you choose to use, you should continually heat the meat until the internal temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit for whole cuts and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground boar. Reaching the precise internal temperature is also essential to kill off any trichinella parasites from the meat (via Petersen's Bowhunting). 


Venison, or deer meat, is one of the most popular game meat consumed in America today. Venison is typically hunted, rather than farmed, so if you're looking for this meat, it's best to ask neighbors or family members who regularly hunt, or just go to a specialty butcher. The meat is akin to beef in color and has a slightly less fatty flavor. 

You'll want to avoid overcooking venison because it can create rubbery meat with a gamey flavor. Soft cuts of venison, like tenderloin, should be served medium rare at the most. The shoulder, shank, and neck can be braised, while the hind end chuck can be cubed or ground. Because venison is so prolific in the world of game meat, there are tons of recipes out there for how to prepare it. You can make venison chili with ground venison, beans, corn, and your favorite chili seasoning, or, if you want to change your next tortilla-inspired dinner, try adding tender venison medallions to your favorite fajita recipe


Pheasant is one of the best game meats for beginners because it is a versatile protein that can easily absorb flavors and sauces. Pheasants are small birds, weighing no more than three pounds. The meat is very lean and should be cooked with additional moisture to avoid drying it out. Depending on your preparation method, the whole bird can be cooked — or you can cook the legs and main cavity separately. Pheasant also works well with the confit method often applied to duck — which involves simmering the meat with fat and herbs for several hours to lock in moisture.

Pheasant has a gamier and slightly smokier flavor than chicken.. Specifically, wild pheasant has a more robust flavor depending on the fruits and insects they eat, while farm-raised pheasant tastes more akin to chicken. Since it's so lean, individuals with high cholesterol or heart disease can consume pheasant as a low-fat source of protein.


Bear was a source of protein for indigenous people, frontiersmen, and settlers, but it does not have nearly the same popularity as other types of game meat. One of the main reasons is that hunted bear is illegal to sell to restaurants or stores. So, if you want to get your hands on bear, you'll have to ask around the hunting community — or bag it yourself. 

Bear meat is often associated with being tough and greasy. The meat is also flavored like the last meal the bear ate — so your meat may taste slightly fishy if it caught a salmon before it was killed. But, several preparations of bear meat keep it moist, soft, and juicy. Most of these methods are stews, chilis, sausage, or braises. It's uncommon to see bear steak because of the high risk of the Trichina spiralis parasite in undercooked bear meat (via NPR). 


Alligator meat is a white meat found frequently in Creole and Cajun cooking and Southern regional recipes. The alligator can legally be hunted in Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and South Carolina, so that's also where you'd find alligator farms. 

The alligator tail is one of the softest, most tender cuts of the animal, and the tenderloin from the tail is commonly cut into small medallions and served as an appetizer alongside a rich side sauce. The tenderloin is the alligator's most approachable and chicken-like cut, while the legs and body are slightly gamier in flavor and constitute a darker meat. The legs of the alligator can be fried and made into "alligator wings" or mixed with other meats into a sausage. Since the alligator is a big animal, another standard cut is the ribs — which are often marinaded and smoked for several hours before serving.


Snake meat can range in flavor from chicken-like to frog-like depending on what the snake ate for its last meal — thus earning it the title "desert whitefish" (via A-Z Animals). The texture is stringy and chewy, which sets it apart from other game meats. Several types of snakes can be eaten (provided that you're brave enough to catch it), including the most popular rattlesnake or the diamondback. The rattlesnake's meat is rubbery and white like alligator meat, with a mild taste like gamey poultry. 

Snake is also popular globally; the Chinese eat watersnake or python soup, while indigenous Australians have been known to prepare several different types of snake as a source of protein. It's cooked after being de-headed, skinned, and cut into 3-inch chunks. Snake meat can be grilled over an open flame, deep fried, and added to tacos, sautéed, or baked. Since the meat is so thin, it does not require much tenderizing. 


Wild duck is considered game meat, while farmed ducks are not. The flavor difference between these two categories is significant because of the poultry's diet. Farmed ducks are fed a diet of corn and soybeans and get considerably less activity than their flying, migrating, and constantly moving cousins. As a result, farmed duck meat is fattier and more tender than wild duck. Wild duck is much tougher, depending on the bird's age, and more flavorful, depending on its diet before slaughter.  

You can prepare wild duck the same way as a farmed duck. Popular cooking methods include roasting the whole bird, making a confit with the legs, or cooking the breasts separately. The size of the bird means that the breasts will cook at a different rate than the legs. The website recommends roasting the Mallard — one of the most common types of wild duck eaten — by removing the legs when the breast is done, so that you can pop them back into the oven to crisp up while the breast rests.


Rabbit is generally considered a high-quality protein because it contains fewer calories and fat than other domesticated meats like poultry, beef, and pork. The meat has a stronger, earthier flavor than chicken and can be prepared similarly. One of our favorite ways to prepare rabbit is to braise it with crème fraîche, bacon, and quince. Slow cooking infuses a lot of moisture and flavor into the meat, but rabbit can also be flash-fried for a spin on "fried chicken." 

Much of the rabbit sold to restaurants or stores is farm-raised. Wild rabbit is slightly tougher in texture and has a darker color. Like other farm-raised animals, the farm-raised rabbit will have more fatty deposits and a softer bite since the rabbits are slaughtered at a younger age than wild rabbits. This is why wild rabbit meat needs to be cooked for much longer than farm-raised meat. 

Wild turkey

If you want to spruce up your next Thanksgiving dinner, why not try wild turkey instead of the domesticated, Butterball kind? Unfortunately, a 1-to-1 swap between a wild turkey and its obese, farmed cousin is impossible because of how tough wild turkey meat is. The breast meat of the wild turkey is noticeably dry and easily overcooked compared to farmed birds, too. 

If you're cooking wild turkey, we recommend butterflying the turkey breast or cooking it at a low temperature until the internal temperature reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Wild turkey breast does not lend well to grilling because of how dry it can get. In addition, the wild turkey's legs, thighs, and wings are full of collagen and must be cooked low-and-slow to tenderize the meat. This means you'll need to allocate at least three hours to braise the bird's extremities — plus, extra time for smoking for an added layer of flavor. 


The quail's taste is between a chicken and a duck. The most significant difference between quail, duck, and chicken is the quail's size — which is only about half a pound. The quail bones are tiny and tender, meaning that many of them can be eaten — but you can also purchase semi-boned meat at butcher shops or through special purveyors. Farmed quail can be bought fresh, frozen, or boneless at most grocery stores. These farm-raised birds will taste more like chicken than gamier meat — since their feeding regime is more closely controlled than a bird that is allowed to forage for berries and insects.

There are numerous ways to prepare quail, including braising, broiling, grilling, and sautéing. We recommend serving the quail with warm, earthy accompaniments like farro and winter squash. If you prefer to grill, this recipe for grilled quail with red chile hot honey is guaranteed to result in moist, succulent meat with a spicy kick every time.


Squab is a small pigeon with a flavor unlike any other game bird. These birds are farmed from the start and typically only reach four weeks old before slaughter, so the meat is tender and soft. The bird is entirely dark meat because of high concentrations of myoglobin — the same chemical that turns blood red when exposed to oxygen. The meat is not as tough as duck or goose and is rather sweet. Properly cooked squab has a texture like a fibrous sautéed foie gras. 

Squab can be broken down, or kept whole and grilled. It can also be stuffed, roasted, braised, or sautéed. Chinese deep-fried squab, Zha Bok Gop, is famous around Chinese New Year Celebrations and holidays. This preparation method involves removing the internal organs and de-clawing the bird, but leaving the legs, tail, and head intact. The bird is then simmered in a broth, coated in a maltose and vinegar seasoning, dried, and deep-fried.


Ostrich may not be on the top of the list for birds you want to try eating, but this fowl's meat is considered a delicacy. Ostrich is classified as red meat because of the high levels of myoglobin in the animal. The dark color of the meat resembles filet mignon rather than a ribeye steak, which has characteristic marbling. We liken the meat's flavor to beef more than poultry — just with the leanness of venison. The taste profile of ostrich pairs well with the same flavors often used with beef, including red wine, rosemary, and garlic. 

Ostrich are often farmed for their eggs as well as their meat. Ostrich eggs contain 2,000 calories, 100 grams of fat, and 235 grams of protein, and the eggs weigh almost five pounds each. These eggs are described as being more buttery and sweet than chicken eggs. If you can find an ostrich egg at your local farmers market or an online seller, ensure you're okay with eating scrambled eggs for the foreseeable future. 


Due to their nomadic lifestyle and size, moose are exclusively hunted rather than raised in captivity. Since moose travel so much, the meat is generally considered tough with minimal fat. Moose meat is also darker in color than beef or bison. In addition, moose has an undercurrent of floral flavor— since the species often eat willow buds as a significant food source. The varied diet of the moose causes the taste to be a little more unique and gamey than other large mammals.

The moose can be cut into similar pieces, including the shank, rib, chuck, sirloin, and brisket. The animal's skin, legs, and hooves are inedible. Because the moose is so large — the average animal is 6 feet tall and weighs over 1,000 pounds — its meat can last a long time if stored correctly. It is illegal to sell moose meat in the United States, but it can be legally sold in countries like Finland, Russia, Canada, and Sweden.


Caribou are often confused with elk and moose, but these animals are actually all separate species. Reindeer and caribou, however, are the same animal. Caribou has a taste akin to beef, with a milder gaminess than venison. Like other types of deer, caribou do not have any fat marbling on their meat. 

There is often a gamey perception around caribou and other types of venison meat because of rut meat. The bulls (males) tend to taste more like liver during the mating (rut) reason because of the changing hormones. The cows (females) are not known to change taste during this time. Caribou has a texture similar to that of veal. The soft flavor and mild texture are altered through cooking, freezing, or drying. It can be used to make sausages or jerky — which can be preserved for long periods of time. Other caribou parts, such as the tongue, eyes, bone marrow, and heart, can be used to make soups, braises, and stocks. 


A grouse is a cross between a pigeon, peacock, and chicken. These small birds are hunted for sport or food. The taste depends on the type of grouse; Ruffled Grouse are known for a more gamey flavor, while Snow Grouse have a more pronounced flavor than other types. The taste overall is pheasant-like, with the gamiest parts of the body being the legs. 

Grouse is also leaner than other game birds and requires particular emphasis to preserve its tenderness and keep the meat unctuous. One popular method for this is wrapping the bird in bacon or lard to promote moisture and flavor. Roasting the bird is the most popular choice, resulting in a small grouse being ready to eat in less than half an hour. Older grouse may require tenderizing to ensure the bird is soft and moist; these grouse are best braised or cooked in a pot roast to lock in moisture. 


According to Wild Meat, more than 1.8 million Americans hunt and eat squirrels; it's even received high praise from chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver.  If the squirrel is cooked correctly, it is juicy, tender, and similar to rabbit meat. There is also a slight nuttiness to squirrel meat — likely caused by the mammal's diet. The meat is delicate, sweet, and bright pink. 

Brunswick Stew, a traditional Southern recipe from the 19th century, is made with okra, squirrel, tomato, and lima beans. It can also be slow-cooked with wine, vegetables, and stock to enhance its flavor. If you roast squirrel, you should be wary of its dryness and regularly base the meat with fat to promote flavor and moisture. Squirrels can also be par-boiled to remove the carcass before being dredged and fried in breadcrumbs. Regardless of the method you choose to cook the squirrel, you should always be sure to cook it to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the risk of trichinosis (via the CDC). 


Beaver meat is dark in color and characteristically gamey. Occasionally, the flesh might taste a bit fishy, but the overall taste of the meat is similar to rabbit. The meat is not greasy either, with the breast being the driest part of the animal. While it may not be as lean as poultry, the beaver is leaner than beef and pork. Some cuts — notably the feet and the tail — resemble the chewiness of jerky. The tail itself can be removed and rendered separately to create lard. 

The tail muscle sits behind the pelvis and before the flapper, and is considered a delicacy. Because the meat is dense and rich, the cut resembles a beef shank or oxtail. The cheeks of the animal can be braised, or sous vide for optimal tenderness. If you want to get your hands on beaver meat, you'll have to trap it yourself or purchase it from a reputable seller.