The Cure for Sharptails—and any other bird you don’t particularly love to eat unembellished
From Upland Game Bird Cookery (Hard cover, 100 recipes, with lots of game care photos, $20)
A few years ago, John and I were hunting upland birds on the prairie, and ran across a rather large covey of sharptail grouse gorging on a little coulee full of buffalo berries. John was excited. I was torn, because as much as I love hunting sharptails, I’m not fond of eating them. But meat is meat and we each took a limit, cleaned and rinsed the little birds and put them on ice.
After aging them in our garage fridge for a week at 38⁰F, we decided to test the waters, so to speak. We cooked one shartail breast on the grill, naked, to medium rare and each and every morsel was delightfully mild tasting and sweet—the result of several days of buffalo berries rather than their usual fare or any marinade. That only happened once.
The usual sharptail we put in our freezer is a bit more problematic to cook. But a simple marinade of soda is often all they need to mellow out. My friend Sil Strung always used orange soda, but I prefer ginger ale. Use the sugary version, though, not the low-cal, zero calorie variety. Between the citric acid and sugar, you might just learn to really enjoy eating our robust feathered friends. This also works for sage grouse, and any other bird whose flavor isn’t to your liking, as long as you multiply the marinade by a suitable amount for a larger bird.
You’ll need to start this marinade a few days ahead of time–as long as 3- 4 days in the ginger ale and spices to really tenderize and mellow out these wild plains birds. And I always use a ginger ale I like to drink—like Vernor’s or Canada Dry.
- boned breasts of 4 sharptail grouse or prairie chickens
- 12 ounce can ginger ale
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
- 1 sweet green Bell pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 8 strips bacon
- Rinse and dry the boned breasts with paper towels. Pour the ginger ale, salt. pepper and basil into a quart-sized resealable plastic bag. Dump the breasts in and massage the bag a bit to get everything well mixed up.
- Place the bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, turning it morning and evening to keep all the pieces of meat well mixed in ginger ale.
- Preheat your barbecue to medium high, about 600F at cooking level. Drain the ginger ale off the breasts. Dry the breasts with paper towels, and cut them into 6-8 bite-sized chunks. Cut the pepper and onion into about equal-sized chunks.
- Arrange the bacon on 8 spits with the chunks of sharptail, peppers and onions. Start by spearing one end of the strip of bacon, then alternate the meat with vegetables. End by wrapping the bacon around the kabob, and spear it at the other end to secure it.
- Place each kabob on the grill, cooking about 8-10 minutes total, turning 3-4 times as they cook. Spritz fat fires with a water pistol as necessary, so the fat flare-ups don’t burn your dinner.
- When the bacon is done, so is everything else. Gently push the grilled meat and vegetables off each spit onto a plate, and serve with corn on the cob.