March 24, 2016
As anyone who's hauled one out of the woods will attest, moose and elk are not deer. Sure, they're related, and in the kitchen they are similar in flavor, but let's face it: Moose and elk are big. Really big. So big that when you're butchering your animal, you'll need to think beef instead of lamb, as you would with a typical whitetail.
But that's a good thing. The variety of cuts you can get from a moose or an elk opens up a whole new world for you in the kitchen, especially if you are used to handling deer.
Start with the Almighty Backstrap: Many of us leave this primo cut in long lengths, typically netting only four meals per deer. I cook whole and slice into medallions to serve. But on a moose, you can actually cut proper steaks, which in my world are at least an inch thick, preferably two inches. What's a medallion on a deer is a ribeye on a moose or elk.
But your options go well beyond that. Take the ribs. On a deer, you pretty much either trim the meat off for burger or cut them into whole, pork-sized racks. On a moose or elk, however, you can cut real-deal short ribs. Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of beef: big, meaty, and rich with connective tissue and fat. Try them and short ribs may well be your new favorite cut.
The flanks of a moose or elk will give you several good-sized flank steaks. That long, triangular flap of pure muscle just inside the ribs? That's the skirt steak and, in my opinion, the best cut of beef on the animal. Both are great for grilling or for tacos. And if you are careful when you gut your moose or elk, you can save the hanger steak that separates the gut cavity from the lungs and heart. Beef hangar steak is one of the trendiest cuts of beef right now, as it offers skirt steak richness with the tenderness of ribeye.
What about the legs? Well, ever have a blade steak? It's a nice cut of meat from the muscles that nestle into the pocket made by the animal's shoulder blade. If you trim it out correctly, you get a sizable, triangular piece of meat split lengthwise by a thick layer of sinew. Separate the meat from the sinew and you get two blade steaks per shoulder.
Get Creative With Your Moose And Elk Butchery
On the hind leg your secret prize is the eye round, which some butchers call the hidden tenderloin. You find it by butchering your hind leg into its component muscles, a process called seam butchery, which I do with all of my big-game animals. The eye round is nestled between the rump and tip roast; I call it the "football roast" because, well, it looks like a football. It's a cylindrical muscle that's only about eight inches long in a typical deer, but can be twice that in a moose. The grain of the muscle runs horizontally, so eye round is a great cut for medallions or to air-dry for bresaola.
Finally, there are the shanks. I love whole deer shanks, but on a moose or elk, the shanks are so big you'd have to be Conan the Barbarian to eat one whole, not to mention have a cauldron to cook it in. So do what beef butchers do: slice the shank into cross sections for osso buco. Braised, the shanks are almost as good as short ribs.
Bottom line: Get creative with your moose and elk butchery. And remember, these cuts are worth seeking on truly large deer and caribou, too. It will spice up your winter meals and give you a whole new appreciation for the biggest of our big-game animals.