Bear meat is not only edible; it is quite good if it is properly prepared. If a person hasn’t tried it yet, there are a few things that they should probably know first so that they can set their expectations appropriately.
This is meat that is sweet, and it usually has a high-fat content, similar to pork in both regards, although the flavor is quite different than pork. Animals that are harvested in the fall normally have a substantial layer of fat under the skin. Because of this, the hunter should take care to remove as much of the fat as possible, after skinning the bear. Otherwise, the meat may tend to be overly greasy when it is cooked.
The good news is that the fat can be easily rendered into lard by simply cooking it down and straining it. Because of its sweet but unique flavor, bear lard is exceptional for making donuts and pastries.
Even without the layer of fat, bear meat tends to be oily. This can be overcome in several ways, depending on how it is prepared. For example, steaks should be cooked in such a way that the oils from the fat can drain away. This can be done on a barbecue or by using a ridged frying pan that is designed specifically for that purpose.
Many old-timers, when cooking roasts and stew from the bear meat, prefer the cook-chill-skim-cook method. The idea is to partly cook the meat and whatever vegetables have been added, and to then chill the result. Like most animal fats, the chilling causes the oils to solidify at the top of the container. In fact, this is lard. The excess lard can then be removed, and the dish can then be returned to heat and cooked until the dish is finished. Using this method removes a great deal of the fat, resulting in a meal that is far less greasy. It should be noted that except for older specimens, bear meat tends to be tender once it is cooked.
Bear heart and liver is also quite edible, cooked in the same ways that venison or elk heart and liver are cooked, such as dredging in flour and frying it. A disclaimer is in order, though. The bear liver is known to be exceptionally high in iron, so a person should be careful not to eat a lot of it in one sitting. It is possible to overdose on iron if too much is eaten.
Like man, as well as pigs and hogs, bears are true omnivores, eating both meat and plant material. This makes the meat rich.
According to the Nutrition Data website, a pound of bear meat yields about 180% of the daily requirement of protein, 134% of the RDA of riboflavin, 114% of the RDA of vitamin B12, 46% of the niacin and 40% of the vitamin B6. It is high in phosphorus, potassium, copper and contains a whopping 165% of the RDA of iron and 190% of the RDA of zinc. This meat is also quite high in cholesterol, both the good and bad types and the pound of meat contains 90% of the RDA value. Still, it is also high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered to be important for guarding against and fighting cancers.
This isn’t meat to eat rare, however. Since bears are omnivores like we are, they can be infected by some parasites that can be transferred to man. The most common of these parasites found in bears is Trichinosis, and one may run a risk if the meat is not cooked properly. Cooking the meat well is the way to prevent any potential problems. Again, the same thing is true of pork. It doesn’t mean that the meat needs to be cooked to the consistency of shoe leather, but rather that it needs to be cooked all the way through. Never eat bear meat if it is undercooked. When it is properly cooked, it is seldom more of a problem than well-cooked pork.
Properly processed and prepared, bear meat is both healthy and tasty. It can be used in most recipes that feature pork, yet the flavor is unique. A healthy adult black bear, the kind most often hunted, often weighs over 250 to 300 pounds and it can render over 10 gallons of lard in the fall. It is certainly worth trying if you have the chance. Don’t forget to try donuts cooked in the bear lard. There are few more fantastic treats, and the best thing is that they can be served as a dessert for that perfect bear meat meal.
Image by Mads Johansen