Meet the MeatEater: Q&A with Outdoors Expert Steven Rinella
Get tips and insights from the award-winning author and television host on hunting, living on wild game and even a delicious recipe.
Steven Rinella not only documents the “field-to-plate” lifestyle in his award-winning books and on his hit television show “MeatEater," but he lives it himself every day. The only meat Rinella and his family consume comes directly from the field.
It may seem extreme to the average American, but it’s simply a way of life in the Rinella household.
“Speaking statistically, on a national scale, it’s incredibly rare to eat a strict wild game diet,” Rinella says. “But from my own personal perspective, it seems to be awfully common. Many of my closest friends eat only wild game in their homes. And that’s part of the reason that I hang around with them. We all seek out like-minded individuals in life and that shared interest in wild game is part of the glue that binds me to my buddies.”
What are some of your methods for caring for wild meat and keeping it fresh?
Get your animal cooled down as quickly as possible. Get it gutted and, if necessary, skinned out in order to shed the body heat. I have good luck packing game quarters into YETI coolers alongside 2-liter soda bottles full of frozen water.
In the backcountry, I use game bags to protect my quarters and hang them in the shade where they can get some breeze. Never put off processing when temperatures are warm. Your game meat will age just fine in the freezer within a couple of months. You don’t need to age it before freezing.
Is there anything in your kitchen you couldn’t live without?
One of my most valuable kitchen tools is my meat grinder. After a lifetime of messing around with weak, frustrating grinders, I eventually got a professional-grade machine and I love it. I do a lot of sausages and burgers in my kitchen and it makes the job go quickly and smoothly. Right now, I’m running a 1-horsepower Weston grinder that is pretty slick and very easy to use.
You once contracted trichinosis. Can you tell us if that changed anything in your approach to preparing meats?
I contracted trichinosis from eating undercooked black bear meat. Trichinosis can be found in the meat of omnivorous or carnivorous animals, including pigs and bears. To kill it, you need to cook the meat to 165 degrees. I knew this, of course, but was careless on a rainy backpack hunt for black bears in central Alaska. About a month later I got pretty sick for 10 days. It’s not horrible, but it’s not something I want to happen again. From now on, I’ll make sure to properly cook ALL of my meat [at that temperature] from bears and wild pigs.
Can you walk us through your thought process when setting up on an animal and making the decision to shoot or pass?
For me, it’s really quite simple: I don’t take a shot at a big game animal unless I’m certain that I’m going to hit it where I want to. I don’t guess. I don’t do Hail Marys. There’s still plenty that go around, but I like to rule out any problems that might occur on my end.
Do you have any tips for hunters who find themselves in debates with people who opposes the hunting lifestyle?
Stay calm. Never get mad. Never resort to insults. Know your history and understand the biology of the wildlife that you hunt. Stress your passion for wildlife and explain the tremendous and positive impact of the hunter-based conservation movement.
What sort of advice would you give someone who is coming into hunting later in life? How should they go about getting involved?
I’d suggest joining local or national conservation organizations. Not only will you be helping to fight for wildlife and our hunting heritage, you’ll meet a lot of dedicated hunters who are generally willing to help others out.
Are there any hunts or outdoor adventures left on your “bucket list”?
Someday, somehow, I’m going to hunt for a bighorn sheep. Every year, I apply for a bighorn tag in pretty much every western state through the lottery systems. It’ll eventually happen. And when my name does get drawn, I’ll be ready to roll.
RINELLA'S WILD GAME RECIPE
Want to impress your dinner guests with your wild game cooking skills? Rinella has the perfect recipe. “Every hunter should make osso bucco with the shanks from their deer or elk,” Rinella says. “The dish’s name translates to 'hole in the bone.’ Make it and you’ll see why.” Here is Rinella’s venison osso bucco recipe.
- Two whole venison shanks, sawed into discs about 1.5 inches thick
- One cup flour
- Three tablespoons vegetable oil
- Two tablespoons butter
- One or two medium onions, depending on taste, finely sliced
- Four cloves minced garlic
- Three medium carrots, diced into fine cubes
- Two stalks celery, diced
- One tablespoon tomato paste
- Two 8-ounce cans of vegetable stock, beef stock, or water
- One 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- One tablespoon each of finely chopped rosemary, thyme, and oregano (optional, but strongly recommended)
- Two tablespoons chopped parsley
Set oven temperature at 325 degrees.
Over a medium-high stovetop burner, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven or similar sized cooking vessel. Dust the discs of venison shank in the flour. Then, working with three or four at a time, brown them on all sides in the oil. Set the browned discs aside on a platter.
Melt the butter into the same Dutch oven and sauté the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery for about seven minutes over medium heat or until softened and slightly browned. Then lay the pieces of shank flat side down over the bed of vegetables, so they form a single layer.
Pour the crushed tomatoes over the meat, along with the tomato paste. Add half-teaspoon salt and half-teaspoon pepper, then pour in enough of the stock or water to bring the liquid up to the top of the shanks. Do not submerge the meat, just barely cover it.
Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it into the oven. Let it cook for a minimum of three hours, preferably four. Check on the dish approximately every hour to make sure the liquid level doesn’t drop too low. If it evaporates to a point that the shank pieces are only half-submerged, add some more stock or water to bring the level up to the three-quarter mark. It’s done when the meat can be picked away from the bone easily with the tip of a fork. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve each disc of osso bucco over a bed of couscous or polenta (available in most any grocery store). If you want to get fancy, add a bit of minced parsley. It’s worth the extra effort. And make sure to dig out the little bit of marrow in the center of the bone and spread that on a toast point. You’re in for a treat.