It turns out that popular depictions of hungry bears in children’s cartoons (think Yogi and Pooh Bear) may not be that far off the mark. Even if they’re not eating honey straight out of the jar, bears are always scrounging around for the proverbial picnic basket at the campsite — as any hiker in the Northeastern woods has likely learned the hard way!
Thankfully, though, that’s about where the cute and cuddly similarities end. In the wild, bears are prolific omnivores, eating everything from grasses and grains to berries, nuts, seeds, and any food left carelessly unguarded by campers and picnickers. Depending on where an individual bear lives and the season, their diets can vary widely — an important bit of information that we’ll discuss in detail later.
If you’ve been curious about tasting bear meat for the first time, you’ll have your work cut out for you: Since they can’t be farmed, bears must be hunted for their meat. Especially now, with hunting’s continual rise in popularity, bear meat will often be in short supply.
That’s why we’ve taken the time to study up on all things bear meat, and bring you this guide on where you can find it to buy online, as well as how to cook a simple and straightforward black bear roast that shows off the meat’s unique flavors.
What Does Bear Meat Taste Like?
Pinning down an exact taste description of bear meat is a difficult task, indeed. Because as the old saying goes, “you are what you eat” — and what a bear has been eating will change so much about the flavor, texture, and fattiness of its meat.
Generally speaking, though, North American black bear meat — the only type you’ll be likely to find available for sale in the U.S. — has a taste similar to wild venison, with a deep ruby red color and a texture closer to pork. Don’t just take it from me, though: What follows are descriptions of the taste of bear meat from hunters and sporting men both classic and modern.
Frank Forester, an English journalist and sporting man of the 1800s, had this to say about the taste of bear meat in his book Frank Forester’s Field Sports of the United States, and British Provinces, of North America:
The flesh of the bear is savory, but rather luscious, and tastes not unlike pork.”
He then goes on to explain that –
it was once so common an article of food in New York as to have given the name of Bear Market to one of the principal markets of the city.
Even Theodore Roosevelt wrote of the similarities between the meat of young American black bears and pork, saying in his Hunting Trips of a Ranchman that it was not as coarse and flavorless as grizzly bear meat.
Lastly, modern Canadian hunter George Gruenefeld, in his article titled “Dining on Black Bear” (source) notes that the flavor of spring bear meat “tends to be rather mild” compared to the “strong but pleasant flavor” of bears hunted in the fall, as well as warning that “a bear that’s been scarfing down fish… reeks worse than low tide on a hot August afternoon.” Well said, George!
How to Cook Bear Meat
Cooking bear meat — or any wild game meat, for that matter — requires extra special care as compared to meat that you might get from the supermarket. Because wild animals eat from a larger variety of food sources than farmed animals, they’re more prone to infections from parasites. In this case of black bear meat, this comes in the form of trichinosis: An infection by parasitic roundworms that remain in the meat of wild game even after it has been killed.
Luckily, there’s an easy and foolproof solution that eliminates this risk: Just thoroughly cook your black bear meat, and any parasites will perish as a result of the increased cooking temperatures. Take it from the Mayo Clinic: “Cook pork and meat from wild animals to an internal temperature of 160 F throughout… Don’t cut or eat the meat for at least three minutes after you’ve removed it from the heat.”
And what’s the best way to ensure a thorough, high, even temperature throughout a large cut of meat? With a roast, of course!
- 1 black bear roast, 4 to 6 pounds
- 1 onion, sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- 2 to 3 cups broth (beef, pork, or vegetable)
Instructions for preparation are amazingly simple: Just add everything to a slow cooker or Dutch oven, set it on high, and cook for 4 to 6 hours. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer before serving, and then enjoy the rich and tender meat with your choice of mashed potatoes or bread and a vegetable side.
Here’s an interesting YouTube video on cooking & storing fresh black bear meat.
Where to Buy Bear Meat
Unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous, hunting for black bear meat will be outside of most peoples’ abilities — but this doesn’t mean you’re out of luck for buying and tasting this elusive meat.
ElkUSA is a ranch-based natural meat company, offering a wide selection of uncommon, exotic, and wild game meats such as buffalo, reindeer, elk, and yes: bear! You can keep an eye on the bear meat section of their website here, but as of the time of writing they were out of stock for most cuts of bear meat due to the difficulty of procuring it during the pandemic.
A smaller scale, hometown operation based not far outside of Chicago acts as a fine distributor for all sorts of wild game meats as well: Czimer’s Game & Seafood. Though their product availability varies with seasonal and market fluctuations, they have a full list of black bear cuts available in their catalog.
If you are interested in hunting for black bear, be sure to check your State’s Wildlife Agency website for regulations. Bears usually have very specific regulations and legal areas for hunting. You will likely have to travel or find a hunting friend to introduce you to prime habitat.