Why you need to try black bear meat now

Why you need to try black bear meat now

When it comes to eating, bear meat gets a bad wrap in hunting circles. But it shouldn't. Bruins aren't as tough eating as they look. Taking bears that have been feeding on the right kind of diet can fill your freezer with meat that can have an underlying sweetness—as if caught with their paw in the honey jar. Here's why you need to try black bear meat now and discover what you've been missing.

The best bear I ever ate ambled out of a New Mexican oak mott, as if it were more curious about my squealing predator call than actually interested in eating. Pulling back its tawny, blonde-tipped fur revealed a layer of exquisite fat, the consistency of jelly and white like a piano's ivory keys. No animal with backfat like that could taste bad, and the meat from this bear was amazing—a sweet, yes, almost nutty, flavor that lent itself well to a whole host of recipes, from simple grilled steaks to slow braises that really pulled out the taste of the acorns it had been feeding on.

The second-best bear I ever ate dropped at the shot, nose first into the high-tide line of kelp and seaweed it was feasting on along Alaska's southwestern coast. It was mid-May, and considering the bear's last meal, its meat could have been nasty. Instead, the spring bear tasted as briny as the Bering Sea, almost like a good oyster pulled fresh from cold water. Each bite reminded me of the waves crashing along the rocky beach as my hunting partner and I pulled the heavy beast to the waiting Zodiac.

Bears feeding on mountain berries or grasses and grains reign supreme in taste over dumpster-diving bruins.

As you may have deduced from these two examples, the quality of bear meat is the direct product of the animal's diet, even more so than a corn-fed whitetail or sage-eating antelope. While I personally have never eaten a bad black bear, the records are ripe with gut-churning reports of the salmon-eating bears of fall and their horrible fish-tainted taste. And lest you think that may be based solely on the tales of housewives, consider the state of Alaska which requires the salvage of all edible meat from black bears only during the spring season.

Still, when hunting bears—and we're talking exclusively black bears here—it pays to consider their diet more than the calendar. That blonde-tipped bear from the Land of Enchantment that ranks above the half-dozen or so bears I've tagged and eaten was killed and cut in September. High-country bears shot in the fall are ripe with the flavor of wild mountain berries, and low-country spring bruins are often grassy and, yes, even grain fed, particularly those from the prairie provinces of Canada. Perhaps only dumpster bears, scavenging on the soiled scraps of the crap we humans eat should be avoided.

Of all the different variations bear meat can possess, there is a singular theme accenting all those wide and varied flavors, and that is the meat's sweetness. Not cloyingly so, like a flower's perfume, but just an underlying layer as if infused with just a hint of sugar or, to be cliché, honey. The flavor is there on the tip of tongue, or the back, rather, a pleasant surprise in the otherwise meaty bite of every black bear.

The other universal truth about bear meat is its consistency. While an animal exhibiting that kind of power could be expected to have a tough chew, even the biggest bruins are typically tender. That Alaskan bear, a heavy boar measuring more than six feet from nose to tail, had roasts that were practically soft, with lengthy muscles fibers that lent themselves well to a long braise in a low oven. It's true the surface fat found on bears is exceptionally slippery, but the meat itself is no more greasy than a well-tended pig.

When hunters describe bear meat to the uninitiated, they most often compare it to pork. It's a misguided notion, however, one that likely comes from the physical resemblance and foraging habits of both quadrupeds. Once the skin is flayed, the idea that pork and bear meat is similar falls away. Though not deep red like the meat of deer, elk, or even cattle, it's much darker than "the other white meat." The flavor, too, is also far from that likely secondhand comparison to pigs.

Black bears have a thick layer of fat over their meat. Plan on saving and using it as an exceptional cooking ingredient.

There is one similarity between hogs and bruins, and it's worth noting anytime the discussion turns to eating bears. Both animals can be host to a virulent parasitic worm Trichina spiralis, best known as trichinosis. While the parasite has all but disappeared from domestic pork, it's all too common among bears. In fact, of all the cases of trichinosis in humans each year, most, if not all, can be traced to eating bear meat. Luckily, trichinosis is easy to beat: simply requiring the meat reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees and held there for several minutes. That means no medium-rare bear steaks, but anything cooked above that temperature will be just fine.

Although the pendulum is swinging back, game meat gets a bad rap in many social circles, including those inhabited by hunters. And bear meat probably gets the worst, as information, mostly wrong, gets spread second- and third hand by hunters who have never tasted bear meat, let alone cooked it themselves. Those in the know, however, rate the meat of a black bear shot off a berry patch, or in my case, a pile of nuts, among the best.

Although black bears are found all over North America, they have an Old World aura around them. Not surprisingly, bear meat is a natural fit for many Central and Eastern European recipes. In this recipe, a bear roast gets the traditional sauerbraten treatment with a long marinade in red wine and vinegar, with a slightly sugary sauce that pairs with the natural sweetness of the meat.



4 lb. bear roast

11/2 cups red wine

1 cup red wine vinegar

2 onions

(1 grated, 1 chopped)

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

6 juniper berries

4 bay leaves

4 cloves

1 tbs. black


Kosher salt

3 tbs. bacon fat

2 tbs. butter

2 tbs. flour

1 tbs. sugar

¼ cup golden raisins

¼ cup chopped parsley


  1. Bring the red wine, vinegar, grated onion, carrot, and celery to a simmer in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Tie the juniper berries, bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns in a small cheesecloth bundle and add this bouquet garni to the pot. Remove the marinade from the heat and let cool completely before pouring over the bear roast. Marinade for a minimum of 24 hours.

  1. When ready to cook, remove the bear from the marinade and pat the roast dry with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and let rest. Meanwhile, heat the bacon fat in a Dutch oven and sauté the chopped onions until translucent, about 3–4 minutes. Add the bear roast and brown on all sides.

  1. Strain the marinade through a fine-mesh sieve and add the liquid to the Dutch oven. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover and transfer the pot to a 325-degree oven. Braise for 2ó–3 hours, or until the roast is very tender but not falling apart.

  1. Transfer the bear roast to a platter and keep warm.

  1. To make the sauce: Strain the remaining liquid and reserve. Melt the butter in the Dutch oven and stir in the flour and sugar to create a roux. Stir for 2–3 minutes then whisk in the reserve liquid a little at a time. Add the golden raisins and simmer until slightly thickened.

  1. To serve, cut the bear roast into thick slices and pour the sauce over the meat and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Plate with traditional dumplings or spaetzle and red cabbage.

Recommended for You

North America

The Best Units for Hunting Elk, Mule Deer & Antelope

Chuck Smock

These are the must-apply units for trophy elk, mule deer, and antelope in the West.

North America

From Bucks to Bears to Ducks, Saskatchewan Is a Hunter's Heaven

Lynn Burkhead - February 05, 2019

Whether you're looking for a whitetail, bruin or waterfowl adventure, Saskatchewan can be the...

North America Big Game

North America's Toughest Black Bear Hunts

Brad Fitzpatrick

These four hunts will test your endurance.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Have a freezer full of ground elk venison from your fall hunting trips? Never fear, the folks at Camp Chef have a great SHOT Show recipe that is lean and mean, easy to prepare, and a crowd-pleasing favorite!

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 11: Wheelgun Buffalo

Host Craig Boddington lays claim to hunting more than 100 Cape Buffalo over the course of his 40 plus year career, but he never took one with a handgun. That changed in South Africa when Craig faced down "black death" with a magnum wheelgun.

Cheeseburger Poppers

David Draper shares his recipe for making delicious cheeseburger poppers with wild game in this edition of "Fare Game."

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

North America

Best States To Hunt For Black Bears

Joseph von Benedikt

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great...


Is the .308 a Viable Long Range Cartridge?

Keith Wood

We evaluate the four factors in determining whether a cartridge is viable for long-range...


How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

See More Stories

More Recipes


Petersen's Hunting Holiday Recipe Guide

Petersen's Hunting Online Staff

From a classic Christmas goose recipe to some non-traditional, yet festive options, such as a...


Pheasant Cock-a-Leekie Soup Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Try this recipe the next time you have a few pheasant carcasses you don't have plans for.


Squirrel Ravioli Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Who knew one squirrel could make such an elegant meal? This ravioli recipe is candlelight...

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.