What’s in a name? Well, in the case of elk, quite a bit — because depending on whether you’re from Europe or North America, the term “elk” can refer to one of two species from the deer family. In today’s article, we’ll be discussing the North American elk: Larger than a common deer, but smaller than a moose.
While elk today are native to North America and East Asia, at one point in history their population would have ranged across much of Europe as well. They’re exceptionally hardy and adaptable creatures, and have been imported to Argentina and New Zealand for breeding and hunting.
In this guide, we’ll be taking a close look at what makes elk meat special: What it tastes like, potential health and environmental benefits of eating elk meat, and two surefire ways to cook elk meat that will leave your taste buds in awe. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a list of our favorite online purveyors of elk meat, so you can get a taste of it in your own home!
What Does Elk Meat Taste Like?
Because most elk meat is produced from wild game animals, it’s helpful to consider the diet and feeding habits of elk in their natural habitat. Like cattle, elks are ruminants and natural grazers — often munching on grasses year-round. But like deer, elks will also browse or forage for food, supplementing their diets with tree bark in the winter or tree sprouts in the spring.
This sort of diet, combined with the elks’ constantly on-the-go lifestyle, produces a lean and flavorful meat that is similar to beef, but also has much of the fresh flavor of grass-fed game, bison, or wild venison. It is naturally low in fat and cholesterol, and an excellent source of protein — making it a healthy alternative to the often fattier farm-raised beef.
Dark and coarsely grained, elk meat is regarded as being the sweetest meat in the deer family. It is less gamey than wild venison, and more tender than moose meat. Generally, it can be directly substituted for beef in any recipe — though its lower fat content means that you’ll need to be careful not to overcook it.
Overall, elk meat is unique among red meats in that it has a clean, interesting taste and wonderfully tender texture while still being a good choice for your health. In fact, it compares favorably to America’s top three meats (beef, pork, and chicken), with more protein and less fat and cholesterol per serving than any of its competitors.
Elk Meat Nutrition
Elk meat is low in fat, calories and cholesterol. It contains almost the same amount of iron as beef but less fat, more protein and fewer calories. A 3-ounce portion of elk steak provides about 179 calories with only 137 from fat, while a similar cut of braised beef chuck has 218 calories with 205 from fat.
Here are some of the benefits that come with eating elk meat. Elk meat has less cholesterol than other types of meat. It is also an excellent source of protein to help your body grow and be strong. The elk meat provides a great amount of amino acids which are essential for metabolism, muscle development, and the development of bone tissue.
Risks and Considerations For Eating Elk Meat
The most significant risk of eating elk meat is the potential for foodborne illnesses. There is a chance that you can contract a disease from handling or consuming raw or undercooked meat, so it is important to handle your meat with care. Furthermore, it’s important to keep your meat refrigerated and fully cooked in order to avoid any problems.
Another consideration when eating elk meat is the sodium content. A 3 oz serving of elk has around 318 mg of sodium. This is not recommended for people on a strict reduced-sodium diet. However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 1500 mg of sodium per day and one serving is usually less than 15% of this.
How to Cook Elk Meat
Because of its similarity to both beef and venison, elk meat has a wide range of applications in the home or commercial kitchen. You’ll occasionally find it offered as a specialty meat in restaurants, where talented chefs will perfectly grill or sauté elk steaks, or grind them into densely flavorful and nutritious elk burgers.
Though you can certainly substitute elk meat for beef in any classic recipe, we’re most fond of preparing elk in one of two ways: As an elk roast cooked down with the sides you’ll be serving it with, or perfectly seared as elk steaks. Let’s take a closer look at each recipe below.
Because of its low fat content, elk especially benefits from a slow roast with plenty of liquid. This simple recipe is well suited to being prepared in a crock pot or slow cooker, where it will provide an entire dinner for four with leftovers for roast elk sandwiches the next day.
- Elk roast, 2 to 3 pounds
- 12 to 16 fingerling or baby red potatoes
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- Vegetable stock, to cover.
- Mixed herbs, to season
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Prepare your onions and carrots by roughly chopping them, then set aside.
- If using a slow cooker, add the onions and carrots with the olive or vegetable oil and cook for two hours on high. If using a soup pot instead, simmer onions and carrots over medium heat until tender and translucent, about 20 minutes.
- Add the elk roast and potatoes to your slow cooker or pot, and reduce the heat to low.
- Add just enough vegetable stock to cover the carrots and potatoes, then sprinkle liberally with black pepper and mixed herbs.
- Cook everything on low for 8 to 12 hours in a slow cooker, or 6 to 8 hours in a soup pot. Add more stock if necessary to prevent the dish from drying out.
- Reserve salt for just before serving, and adjust to personal taste.
It’s hard to imagine a dish more emblematic of American summer times than steaks grilled over a roaring hot barbecue. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, or just a way to deviate from your usual food choices, elk steaks can be grilled over an open flame or sautéed in a pan to great effect.
- Elk steaks, about 1 pound each
- Olive oil
When cooking elk steaks, three things are essential: Steaks that have cooled to room temperature, a sufficiently hot cooking surface, and minimal seasoning. Let’s discuss each of these in further detail, so you’ll know exactly how to get the best flavor out of your elk meat.
Allowing your steaks to come up to room temperature will make it easier to achieve a crisp sear on the outside, and a more even cook through to the center. We recommend taking your elk steaks out of the refrigerator at least two hours prior to cooking, making sure to cover them with a plate or plastic wrap to prevent oxidation or contamination
Whether using a grill or a sauté pan, giving your cooking surface plenty of time to warm to an even medium heat will yield the best results for cooking elk steaks. You can test for appropriate heat by flicking a few drops of water onto the heated surface; if they sizzle and evaporate immediately, you’re ready to throw your elk steaks on.
Thanks to its low fat content and refined flavor, elk steaks are easier to overcook than beef steaks. Err on the side of caution, searing for 4 to 6 minutes per side, and avoid over seasoning with marinades or spices. If you follow all of these suggestions, we’re confident that you’ll see why elk enjoys a great reputation among steak lovers.
Types of Meals to Make With Elk Meat
Elk meat is not only delicious, but it can be used in a wide variety of meals to give you what you need. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner there are many different ways to make this food.
Breakfast – Elk meat makes great sausage patties and casseroles. It can also be made into sandwiches with eggs and cheese.
Lunch or Dinner – Elk meat is great for burgers, stews, chili, pasta dishes and lasagna. It can also be used in sandwiches and served on a bun with lettuce and tomato.
Where to Buy Elk Meat
Shopping for elk meat online couldn’t be easier, as this is the web is one of the main retail outlets for elk farmers today.
ElkUSA stands out for their variety of cuts and affordable prices. Keep in mind that you’ll need to order fairly large quantities to get their best value, though.
Fossil Farms is a great alternative to our first recommendation, especially if you’re only looking to purchase smaller quantities of elk meat. Their ground elk burgers are especially affordable, at just $12/pound at the time of writing.
Lastly, consider checking for options in your local area using the tools at Eat Wild. Their directory is organized by state and type of meat, and could lead you to environmentally-friendly options that allow you to support local farmers with your purchases.
FAQs about Elk Meat
Here are some common questions about Elk Meat.
What is elk meat called?
Elk meat is called elk meat. There is no culinary term like venison is for deer. This has less to do with any culinary reason and more to do with how the English language developed and borrowed words from Latin languages like French. In Latin, venor means “to hunt” – so technically, elk meat is also a type of venison…even though that’s not how most people use the term.
What flavor does elk meat have?
Depending on how it’s prepared, elk meat can have a range of flavors from sweet and nutty to more gamelike with a beef-like taste.
Elk should be an acquired taste that takes time to get accustomed to because it has a different flavor then other meats. As you start experimenting with different spices and cooking methods the flavor will change depending on what you make. Depending on where elk is raised, its indigenous foods will affect its natural flavor as well. Some people describe the flavor of elk meat as similar to venison or venal which is deer meat. Elk meat can also have a gamy smell because they eat primarily plants while deer primarily eats other animals so there smells are going to be drastically different.