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.
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.
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.