Having some specific items in your deer camp kitchen can help you create better and more flavorful meals with your hard-earned venison.
If you’re accustomed to hunting at a cabin or other camp, chances are good that the cooking falls into one of a few categories similar to what you’d find just about anywhere.
One is that everyone is pretty much on their own. Someone may whip up a pot of chili, but otherwise if you want a ham sandwich and canned beans or a ride into town for the Slurp ‘n Burp Buffet, that’s on you.
Second is the Camp Cook In Charge, often an older gent who may be in that stage of his hunting career where he enjoys doing for others. He’s the first one up, rarely lets anyone help in the kitchen and has his ways of doing things. Sometimes these guys are great cooks and other times you dream about what’s on the menu at the Slurp ‘n Burp.
And finally, it may be you and yours in the kitchen handling things. I always enjoyed hunting with my father when I was a teen because in our tiny pull-behind trailer in southwest Alabama, he’d have the basics: eggs for frying or scrambling, bacon and sausage, biscuits with orange marmalade or homemade peach preserves, sandwich stuff, ground beef and canned goods for a giant skillet of “goulash,” cornbread, and maybe a little deer roast our local barbecue joint had smoked for us.
My cooking now runs about the same, to the basics. I enjoy good food and, sometimes, snooty food, but always love the basics. It’s hard to beat eggs, bacon and biscuits, right? One other thing my father did that I still do is to clean up afterward: wash the dishes, let them dry and be ready to go the next meal. Why have to wash up before the next meal, or add to the stack of dirty stuff. Just clean it and be done with it when you’re through eating.
With summer here, if you have a camp and cook regularly then it’s a good time to take stock of your kitchen items. Go find a grill on sale to replace that nasty piece of mess you’ve talked about replacing for a few years. Get some new spatulas, forks and utensils; they’re inexpensive at someplace like Dollar General. Do it now so you’ll be ready for summer work days and then the big season-opener.
Some things I’d put in my kitchen or add to my “Take To Camp” list:
I’ve seen these in action down in Louisiana and to say they’re unbelievably useful is an understatement. Add the rice, water, turn on the unit to your desired settings, close the lid and then you’ll have rice for supper in no time. You don’t have to worry about watching a pot of boiling water, having it boil over on the stove and all that mess. These are great to have in camp. Check out these top five picks and then do your own shopping.
I sometimes find a little plastic bottle of something powdered in our home pantry, give it a shake and nothing happens. Then I check the expiration or “Best If Used By” date and it’s four years old. That happens sometimes when your spices get buried behind other stuff on the shelf. Old spices suck, too. They do. Remember that fresh is best — buy some rosemary or basil at the store on the way to camp, or better yet just plant some around camp in pots. Very simple to do! If that’s not up your alley, get some fresh spices. Old spices suck. Don’t use old spices.
Salt and Pepper
Same as the spices for your salt and pepper; throw out all that old stuff and have good, fresh containers. A little bit of salt boosts flavors in everything. If you douse everything before tasting it with enough salt to cause slugs to wither, well, I feel sorry for you. That’s a bad habit you should break. Fresh pepper – not the giant can from six years ago – also helps enhance flavors. Don’t go crazy, though.
Really, now, I mean c’mon. You have to have butter for the cornbread, muffins, to drizzle over the grilled tenderlions, to have a dollop for the scrambled eggs. Butter has fat, fat makes things tastier and that’s that. Get unsalted butter and make sure it’s fresh.
Tongs are easier to work with if you’re grilling meat or have a big skillet with chops or burgers. Tongs are safer than trying to flip stuff in oil or grease. They’re better to use than a fork, so you’re not sticking the fork into the meat or burgers or whatever else. Tongs give you a little bit of safety since they’re 6 or 8 or 10 inches long. Get some tongs at Dollar General or Fleet Farm or one of the “mart” stores and you’ll see what I mean.
Dull knives saw through things. Sawing is bad. Saw through a roast and it’s neither enjoyable nor appetizing. Saw through tomatoes for summer sandwiches on white bread with mayo and salt and pepper, and you’ll get a tomato mess on your counter. Either sharpen your knives and get them back in good working kitchen shape or throw them away and get new ones. Sharp knives make your life easier in the kitchen, just like sharp knives make cleaning and skinning easier at the shed.
Cast Iron Skillets
I love cast iron skillets. My great-grandmother used them, my grandmother used them, my mother used them and now I use them. They’re sturdy, transfer heat evenly and well, are virtually bulletproof and if you take care of them they’ll last for decades. That’s not a misprint. I have a couple of old ones and also some from Lodge Cast Iron, the 121-year-old Tennessee-based company that has great stuff.
Other Skillets and Pans
My wife bought some Rachel Ray cookwear a few years ago. It’s inexpensive and works well. If you’re a doofus and use metal spoons and scratch the coating, or you use them for several years and the coating wears out, go get some more. Did I mention they’re inexpensive? You’re not buying Calpalon or Le Cruset.
Duh. Get one. They’re great. And don’t worry about burning down the camp unless the camphouse was wired in 1958. If so, you probably should have bigger concerns than a slow cooker on the counter. Slow cookers are super for everything from roasts to stews.
These are great to have and help you keep meat or veggies fresh. After skinning and cleaning a deer, and letting it cool you can seal and freeze the meat to work on later. Or if you’re thorough and have the meat completely prepped, like a roast or backstrap steaks, seal them and they’ll be good to go when you’re hungry. A vacuum sealer is invaluable.
After all this kitchen planning, we’re hungry. This super recipe would be tasty now or later in summer when the fresh pears and apples hit the ground.
Elk Sausage With Apples & Pears
A few weeks ago we had a recipe for figs, and now Scott Leysath gives us a great one for apples and pears. Substitute the elk sausage with deer sausage, unless you have elk (which is good!), and you’ll be good to go.
4 pounds chilled elk meat (or deer meat), trimmed
2 pounds chilled pork shoulder
1 Tbsp. dry thyme
1 Tbsp. dry oregano
1 Tbsp. dry sage
2 Tbsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped garlic
2 cups apple, peeled, cored and minced
2 cups pear, peeled, cored and minced
1/2 cup crushed red chili pepper flakes (optional)
10-15 feet of sausage casing
Grind meat separately then mix together in a large bowl. Mix the ground meat together with all the seasonings. Place sausage casing on feeder horn and force mixture into casing. Twist sausages in alternating directions every 6-8 inches. Freeze for up to one year or refrigerate for 3-4 days. For best grilling, par boil for several minutes, cool and then grill until fully cooked.
For more recipes and prep tips from Scott Leysath, check out his great Better Venison Cookbook. It’s filled with his years of experience and is super for camp, and also for Christmas gifts! See it here …