I’m a huge fan of smoking meat and between the combination of woods and marinades it’s stunning how many flavors you can get out of chicken, beef, pork, and common meat protein sources, but sometimes you get a chance to taste something a little different, and I’m not one to pass up on an opportunity like that! While there are always arguments and taste preferences on what the best exotic meats to smoke are, there are some animals that just keep showing back up on the list and this can tell us a lot about what exotic meats are best to try smoking first.
I’m a firm believer that versatility is the spice of life and smoking exotic meats not only provides an opportunity to stretch your knowledge of the craft of smoking meat and improving your backyard barbecue game to the next level, but it also gives you a chance to experience a delicious and unique flavor experience that you can also share with others.
In general, the following 10 meats all agreed upon from professional barbecuers as some of the best exotic meat to smoke out there:
- Wild Boar
- Pheasant (or other game birds like Quail, Partridge)
- Elk (or reindeer)
- Deer (Venison)
Some of these exotic meats are trickier to smoke correctly than others, but none of these are far exotic ones that require extreme specialty experience (like rattlesnake or python) to cook well. However, these are just some of the many awesome options for smoking exotic meat and give a good range of meat types that will give you the experience to
For example, I found rabbit and venison to have several similarities because they tend to be lean meat that you need a really light touch with to avoid overpowering when it comes to smoking. While the taste profiles are different, knowing how to treat one extra lean meat when smoking helped me avoid some potential mistakes when working with another one.
While that list of ten meats are a great starting list (and I adore smoked bison, bear, and pheasant), there are so many exceptional options when it comes to smoking something exotic.
A small list of other exotic meats to consider smoking include: Caribou/Reindeer (yes they are the same animal – just different names), Elk, various birds, jellyfish, kangaroo, escargot, moose, tarantula, yak, horse, rabbit, and snake.
There are surely others I’ve missed, especially in various regional areas. Needless to say, there are plenty of options that are attractive for adventurous grillers and curious eaters alike. We’ll dive into how to choose the best cuts for smoking, how to prepare these special meats, and how to serve them for a memorable meal.
- Discover the world of exotic meats for a wide variety of unique and flavorful experience
- Have patience as it can take time to learn how to smoke some of these meats well
- Learn to choose, prepare, and smoke exotic meats to bring out and compliment their natural flavors best
- Share the joy of a truly exotic smoked meat barbecue meal!
How to Choose the Best Exotic Meats to Smoke
When selecting exotic meats to smoke, there are plenty of options and it’s important for you to look at the options available and choose the best exotic meat for what you’re experienced with and interested in tasting. If you’re new to smoking exotic meats consider looking at options that are higher in fat and marbling to help make sure the meat remains tender.
Next, make sure to line up your wild meat cuts with wood that flavors well with the flavor profile of that meat. By comparing the exotic meats to the closest common protein (chicken, pork, beef) you will be able to get a good idea of the types of wood that are likely to fit in best with the flavor profile of the meat. Adjust accordingly to add a smokier, nuttier, or slightly sweet fruity flavor.
This is a good place to start and then as you get more and more used to smoking less unconventional cuts of meat, you will be able to increase your knowledge, your skills, and get even better at successfully smoking unique, unusual, or exotic types of meat.
Best Exotic Meat Smoking Options for Beginners
Bison brisket is an excellent choice for smoking as it takes an exotic meat similar to beef and smokes it in a familiar form, keeping things as simple as possible for smoking this type of meat for the first time. Bison is leaner than beef but has a rich and slightly sweet flavor.
Bison brisket comes from the chest of the animal and has a thick layer of fat that keeps it moist during smoking. You can expect the smoking process to take around 10-14 hours at 225°F, resulting in a delicious and tender meal that knocks your socks off the moment it comes out of the smoker – delivering on the wonderful aromatic smells and then some.
Another option for smoking that is pretty beginner-friendly is wild boar shoulder. Wild boar is similar to pork but has a more intense and gamey flavor, but any preparations that work for pork will also work for wild boar, which is why it’s a great gateway meat for backyard barbecue smokers. The shoulder is a tough cut from the front leg that is high in both fat and collagen which not only break down during smoking, but they help keep the meat juicy and moist, meaning you can be very happy with the tender and delectable dish that comes out as a result.
Generally speaking, when you are smoking wild boar shoulder, plan for it to take about 8-10 hours at 225°F.
These are a couple of easy options, but what about the top ten beginner-friendly exotic meats for smoking? Based on my experience, and those of other barbecue specialists, here is a cheat table listing each meat, its taste profile, what it tastes most like to give you a comparison, and various tips or tricks on techniques and best woods to use to get awesome results.
So enjoy this exotic meat smoking table to help you get started!
|Tastes Most Like…
|Best to Smoke With…
|Lean and low fat meat, tastes a lot like the dark meat from chicken with a dab of fishiness thrown in when smoked. Can be tough or rubbery if improperly prepared.
|Chicken (dark meat specifically)
|A light fruity or nutty wood that is gentle and not overpowering. Smoking with pecan wood is a great choice for gator.
|Lean white meat that is a regular part of the diet in parts of Central and South America, can be a touch greasy and grainy but actually is very similar to pork in many ways (or Possum, to keep it exotic).
|Any woods that go well with pork go well with Armadillo including hickory, maple, and woods with a light nutty flavor. If in doubt, cook a touch longer.
|Tends to be a bit on the gamey side – and there’s always going to be a hint of that. Depending on diet of the bear, the taste profile can be gamier or fruitier – so it does vary based on bear to bear. Think “Gamier Beef.”
|Maple, mesquite, and applewood are some of the best. Woods that add distinct flavor to help balance out the gaminess work best.
|Surprisingly lean red meat that needs to treated with a bit more care than other popular red meats like beef. Tender and tasty, it tastes like a high quality lean beef.
|Flavorful woods that add flavor but don’t overpower it. Cherry is a good choice, as is pecan or oak. A light touch of hickory can be good – but don’t overdo it!
|Versatile lean red meat that has an earthy, succulent taste. It does have a taste of gaminess, but it isn’t unpleasant. Has layers of taste that are quite good – treated a lot like beef but a lighter flavor that takes subtle seasoning very well.
|Beef (extra lean)
|The loin or backstrap are the best parts of a deer to smoke since they’re thicker. Oak, Hickory, Walnut, and Mesquite are all great wood choices. I prefer to soak the venison in a saltwater brine before placing on the smoker to avoid drying out lean meat.
|Gamey red meat that isn’t as thick as beef, but is thicker than deer. Clean, slightly sweet, and takes flavor from smoking well meaning you can use stronger smoking woods for a great final flavor profile.
|Elk is a great exotic meat to start with because it can take a variety of marinades, rubs, and takes smoke from stronger smoking woods well. Hickory, Mesquite, Aldar, and Maple are all great flavors. If you like fruitier or nuttier flavor profiles, Elk can take that on well.
|A bold red meat that is gamey and does hit you harder than you’re expecting – I’ve had goat that was gamier than moose or bear. Can be tough when prepped conventionally, making smoking and barbecue a great option.
|Better liquid flavoring and barbecue versus dry rub, you want stronger flavor woods for smoking. A lot of mesquite, acacia, ash, and walnut are all good options. Go more smoky or nutty versus fruity with goat.
|Extremely lean red meat that surprisingly tastes far more like beef than chicken.
|Ostrich dries out easily, so marinade, spritz, inject, use a favorite fat rub, and prepare accordingly. Wrapping in bacon is also a good way to keep moisture in. Consider maple, oak, or apple wood for smoking.
|Pheasant is a delicious game bird that is traditionally roasted with red wine marinades. Has a texture more like dark turkey or dark chicken.
|Chicken (dark meat – and it really is way different)
|Fruity woods are best when smoking pheasant, or most other wild game birds for that matter. Cherry and apple are both great options for smoking pheasant. Make sure to marinade or baste to avoid over-drying.
|Basically pork but tastes better, is healthier, and tends to have a nuttier and more in-depth flavor to it than farm-raised pork.
|Pork (I know, shocking)
|Pretty much any conventional smoking wood will do. Oak, walnut, hickory – if you want nuttier or fruitier flavors just adjust to a wood type that gives that flavor profile and it will work.
How to Prepare Exotic Meats for Smoking
When it comes to smoking exotic meats, a few key preparations really can make all the difference when it comes to achieving that perfect smoky flavor and tender meat that makes your experiment a success. Let’s dive into some of the other important preparation prep steps that can help you make sure your exotic meat smoking experience is a positive one and not a disaster.
Trimming the Meat
The first step to prepare your exotic meat for smoking is trimming. Carefully trim off any excess fat or skin from the meat. While you will want some kept on for both better flavor and moisture but if you have too much there can be flareups from fat and grease dripping.
A little bit goes a long way and trimming off thick chunks will lead to a better final product when it comes to your smoked meat.
Seasoning the Meat
Once you’ve trimmed your cut of meat, it’s time to season it. Every chef whether a newbie, a backyard barbecue all-star, or a professional has their preferred spice and seasoning mixes, and I’m not afraid to say mine involves a lot of salt, black pepper, white pepper, and garlic powder, just for a starting base.
Depending on the flavor I want maybe I’ll go with fresh garden rosemary, thyme, and oregano, or I might go with a soaking in marinade that involves a wide array of other potential options. There are plenty of options, but with exotic meats you still want to use your spice mixes as a good smoked meat still needs its dry rub, marinade, or barbecue seasoning to come out with the perfect smoked meat.
Preparation should start a minimum of four hours before putting in the smoker, although I’m in the group that says if you can marinade them in the fridge overnight, that’s even better!
Once you’ve done these steps you are suddenly in good position to make sure that your experience with cooking new and exotic meats will be a good one that opens up new flavor combinations…and hopefully a new favorite protein to grab when you have the budget and find something exotic that’s actually available.
Happy meat smoking!
Rubs & Marinades
When smoking exotic meats, using the right rubs and marinades can make all the difference. Not only in flavor and taste but also how tender and juicy the meat is. Having the right rub, sauce, or marinade matters! They can help in achieving a delicious smoky flavor while tenderizing the meat. Let’s explore some examples of rubs and marinades for exotic meats such as bison, wild boar, and ostrich.
Coffee Rub: A blend of coffee grounds, brown sugar, salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin. This rub adds a deep and complex flavor that pairs well with bison brisket. Rub the mixture generously onto the meat before smoking, and the coffee flavor will complement the natural taste of the meat. This results in a tasty, smoky flavor that’s perfect for BBQ enthusiasts.
Mustard Based Marinades
Mustard Marinade: A mixture of mustard, apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and garlic. This marinade adds a tangy and sweet flavor which works great on wild boar shoulder. To prepare, simply mix all the ingredients and coat the meat evenly. Allow it to marinate for a few hours before smoking, and you’ll enjoy a mouth-watering, tender piece of meat.
I’m personally a big fan of a good mustard marinade, but it has to be done right but when you can pull it off it’s something incredible.
Teriyaki Style Marinade
Teriyaki Marinade: A combination of soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. This marinade adds a savory Asian flavor to ostrich leg. Ostrich meat is quite lean, so this marinade helps to keep it moist while infusing it with a delectable teriyaki taste. Combine the ingredients, marinate the ostrich leg for a few hours, and then smoke it to perfection.
Wine Marinades: Wines can make for amazing marinades. Whether it’s a cheap lemon pepper Greek wine for $3 that I wasn’t going to drink…but it made for some tasty chicken, or a red wine marinade for pheasants
When smoking exotic meats, don’t be afraid to experiment with different rubs and marinades to find the perfect combination that enhances the flavors and tenderness of your chosen meat. Whether you’re smoking pork ribs, beef ribs, or trying something more adventurous, the right rub or marinade can make all the difference in your BBQ experience.
How to Smoke Exotic Meats
When smoking exotic meats, you’ll want to follow a few key steps to ensure a delicious result. First, preheat your smoker to 225°F and select your preferred wood chips or chunks. Good options to consider are hickory, mesquite, oak, alder, pecan, or cherry. The choice ultimately depends on the desired flavor you want to achieve.
Place the meat on the smoker rack with a drip pan underneath to catch any juices. It’s important to monitor the internal temperature of the meat throughout the smoking process, so insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part. To keep the meat moist, spray or mop it with water, broth, juice, or vinegar every hour.
The smoking time will vary depending on the specific type of exotic meat you’re cooking. As a general rule, aim for an internal temperature of at least 145°F for bison and ostrich and 160°F for wild boar. Every meat will be a bit different so do your research for each one to see if it’s one of the averages or if there are variations for certain meats that yield better results.
Once the desired temperature is reached, wrap the meat in foil and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing or shredding.
To ensure your exotic meat-smoking experience is successful, remember these helpful tips and tricks:
- Use a water pan or a spray bottle to add moisture and humidity to the smoker. This prevents the meat from drying out and enhances its flavor and texture.
- To minimize heat loss and cooking time, invest in a digital thermometer with a remote probe or wireless app for monitoring the internal meat temperature without having to open the smoker door.
- Rather than using foil, try butcher paper or peach paper to wrap the meat. This will allow some steam to escape, preventing the meat from getting soggy.
By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to smoking exotic meats like a pro. Enjoy the adventure, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different wood types and flavor profiles to find your personal favorites!
Best Ways to Serve Exotic Meats
When it comes to serving exotic meats, there are numerous ways to achieve mouth-watering results. One fantastic method is to slice or shred the meat and serve it on a platter with your favorite barbecue sauce, bread, pickles, and coleslaw. This presentation not only looks appealing but also allows your guests to savor the unique flavors of the smoked meats.
Another option is to make sandwiches or tacos with the exotic meat. Top them with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, or any other condiments that suit your taste buds. This gives you the creative freedom to mix and match flavors and textures, offering a customizable meal for everyone at your gathering.
You can also make salads or bowls with the exotic meat, adding greens, grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and dressing. This lighter option showcases the smoked meats while providing a variety of colors and flavors in one dish.
Now, let’s explore some specific dishes or recipes that use exotic meats:
- Bison brisket sandwich: A thick slice of smoked bison brisket on a toasted bun with barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, and crispy onion rings. This hearty sandwich is packed with flavor and satisfies even the hungriest of carnivores.
- Wild boar taco: A soft tortilla filled with shredded smoked wild boar shoulder, cabbage slaw, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice. The combination of tender meat and fresh, zesty toppings creates a tantalizing taco experience.
- Ostrich leg salad: A bed of mixed greens topped with sliced smoked ostrich leg, roasted beets, goat cheese, walnuts, and balsamic dressing. This unique salad offers a delightful array of textures and flavors, balancing the rich taste of the ostrich with the earthiness of beets and tangy balsamic.
Feel free to use these recipes as a starting point and don’t be afraid to experiment with different meats and combinations. Exotic meats like alligator, elk, emu, goat, and venison can also be incorporated into other traditional smoked meat dishes, such as pulled pork, ribs, brisket, pork butt, or even whole chicken and turkey.
The possibilities are endless, so have fun exploring the delicious world of exotic smoked meats!
Tips for Smoking the Best Exotic Meats
Here’s a quick few bullet points to give you an idea of how to get the best results from smoking each of these popular exotic meats.
- Brine alligator meat overnight to add moisture and prevent the gator meat from drying out while smoking. You can use a simple but tasty brine of water, salt, sugar, and spices.
- Remember that the tail is the most popular part of a gator to cook and has a mild flavor and firm texture. The ribs are more fatty and have a stronger flavor. The legs and tenderloins are smaller and more tender.
- Alligator meat can be smoked at a low temperature of 225°F for about an hour per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.
- Smoke with pecan for a delicious nutty flavor with mild smoke – and consider adding bacon for moisture via fat…not to mention the flavor that bacon always adds to any dish.
- Cajun or Creole spices are a classic option for a rub.
- Alligator meat can be served with your favorite sides, such as cornbread, coleslaw, baked beans, or potato salad. You can also make tacos, sandwiches, or salads with the smoked meat.
- Remember that although bison is similar to beef it is leaner – so marinate accordingly.
- Choose the right cut. The best cuts for smoking bison are the brisket and ribs, which have more fat and connective tissue than other parts meaning they will easily become both tender and juicy after a long slow cook like the kind they’ll get in a smoker!
- Season the meat well. Bison has a natural sweetness that can be enhanced by a simple dry rub of salt, pepper, brown sugar, and coffee. You can also add some spices like cinnamon or cumin for extra flavor, though I’ve never found that necessary – but season to taste! Rub the seasoning all over the meat and let it sit for an hour at room temperature before smoking.
- Smoke at a low temperature because of the leanness of the meat as in general bison should be smoked at 225°F (105°C) for about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size and thickness of the meat.
- Hickory and pecan are excellent wood chip choices for bison.
- Brine the meat before smoking. This will help retain moisture and add flavor to the meat.
- When in doubt treat wild boar like pork, knowing the techniques should work perfectly for smoking the meat but the wild boar is likely to taste even better!
- Use a low and slow cooking method. The ideal smoking temperature is between 200°F and 225°F, and the ideal target temperature for the meat is 180°F for shoulder cuts or 160°F for leg cuts.
- Wrap the meat in foil or butcher paper after it reaches 150°F – this will prevent the wild boar meat from drying out and losing too much moisture.
- Focus on keeping moisture in the meat so it doesn’t dry out – marinate it, soak it, spritz it, etc.
- Choose a cut of ostrich meat that has more connective tissue since this will break down and help create great moisture and texture when cooking with a smoker – think cuts like the thigh, the tip, or certain cuts of steak.
- Use mild woods for smoking
- Consider using bacon or even prosciutto to wrap the ostrich to keep it from drying out.
- Smoke the meat for about 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 F (63 C) for medium-rare.
- Let the smoked ostrich meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Pheasant is a very lean meat so make sure to brine the pheasant before smoking to help tenderize the meat and keep it moist.
- Longer marinade times work better for pheasant before smoking
- Consider a wine marinade for flavor – red wine marinades go very well with game birds
- Smoke the pheasant at a low temperature for about 3 hours, keeping in mind that the ideal smoking temperature is 200°F (93°C), and the target internal temperature of the pheasant breast is 145°F (63°C), while the leg or thigh should be around 175°F (80°C).
- Use woods that give a mild and sweet flavor for smoking like apple, pecan, or cherry.
- Let the pheasant rest before serving. After smoking, wrap the pheasant in aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute and the meat to relax.
- Dry brine the elk meat overnight with kosher salt as this is great for enhancing the natural flavor and keeping moisture – but be sure to wash off the extra salt before smoking or it will be overpowering.
- Inject the elk meat with a marinade of your choice as elk can use the extra juiciness and you will want to dilute the gaminess with a flavor you enjoy.
- Elk is lean so consider bacon or pork fat to wrap the elk and help keep the moisture in.
- Smoke the elk meat at a low temperature of 225°F for about an hour per pound. Use a thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the meat. You want to aim for 130°F for medium-rare, or 140°F for medium.
- Trim off as much fat as possible from the bear meat, as it can have a strong and unpleasant flavor – this is contradictory to most other types of meat for smoking but in this case it’s good advice.
- Bear meat is EXTREMELY gamey – something I learned from when I lived in Alaska, so you will want to treat the meat for multiple days ahead of time – like brine for multiple days prior to using the smoker
- Smoking bear meat should be done at a low temperature (180 degrees always worked well for me) and wood chips that give a strong smoky flavor are great because they help cancel out the natural gaminess of bear meat
- When smoking the meat think low and slow for a long time, and make sure that internal temperature is past 155 degrees
- Choose a cut of goat meat that has some fat and connective tissue, such as the shoulder, leg, or ribs. These cuts will become tender and juicy after a long and slow cooking process which helps as full grown goat can have tougher meat that’s harder to keep moist and tender.
- Brining the goat meat overnight in a salt/sugar solution in the brine for extra taste and flavor
- You can go a bit heavier on spices with goat meat for better flavor
- Smoking the goat meat at 225 to 250 for several hours (smoking time varies based on thickness of the meat) and the internal thermometer should be a minimum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Baste the meat every few hours while it’s smoking to prevent it from drying out.
- Trim off excess fat and silver skin from the venison, as they can give it an unpleasant taste and texture. This is bigger deal in some states than others.
- Brine or marinate the venison for a minimum of several hours or overnight if you have the time – which is good for juiciness, moisture, and getting rid of gaminess with better flavor
- Have a light touch with the spices because venison is a delicate meat and can get overpowered easily
- 225 degrees is a good heat for smoking venison, assuming you properly soaked the deer meat in brine to prepare it.
- A meat thermometer is your friend and if you want medium rare the internal temp is 140 degrees, 150 for medium, and 160 for well done
- Make sure to let the venison rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing and/or serving
- Smoke over low heat, but make sure you have the meat thermometer as you don’t want to eat any armadillo where the internal temperature is under 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Armadillo takes on a lot of the same brine or marinades that work well with chicken – so keep that in mind while preparing the armadillo for smoking
- Cook at 225 degrees and don’t eat the armadillo rare for safety reasons
- A good rule of thumb is to smoke for 2 hours for every pound of meat in the smoker.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the best and most commonly asked questions about smoking exotic meats. Take a look to see if your most pressing question is answered on this list.
What exotic meats taste great when smoked?
Alligator, ostrich, game birds, and bison are some exotic meats that taste wonderful when smoked. Due to their distinct flavors, these meats can be an exciting addition to your smoking repertoire. But don’t stop there; feel free to explore other options like kangaroo, elk, and wild boar!
Which exotic meats are best for smoking on a pellet grill?
Pellet grills are versatile and can handle various exotic meats, such as alligator, ostrich, bison, wild boar, and elk. Keep in mind the size and shape of your pellet grill when selecting your meat, as some cuts may be more suitable than others.
What are some top-rated exotic meats for smoking?
Some highly-rated exotic meats for smoking include ostrich, alligator, bison, game birds, and kangaroo. These meats are prized for their tenderness and unique flavors, making them an excellent choice for your next smoking session.
Where can I find high-quality exotic meats to smoke?
High-quality exotic meats can be found at specialty butcher shops, online retailers, and even some farmers’ markets. Do your research and look for reputable sources to ensure you are purchasing ethically and sustainably sourced meats.
What are some recommended exotic meats to smoke for a large group?
When it comes to smoking exotic meats for a large group, consider options like wild boar, bison, and game birds. These meats typically come in larger cuts, making them an appropriate choice to accommodate several guests. Make sure to account for the additional time needed to smoke larger cuts, and plan your event accordingly.
Which exotic meat sampler is best for smoking sessions?
If you’re looking to try a variety of exotic meats in your smoking session, consider a sampler that includes alligator, ostrich, wild boar, and game birds. This selection will allow you to experience different flavors and textures, making for an exciting and memorable smoking experience. Just make sure to adjust your smoking times and temperatures based on the specific requirements of each exotic meat.
Exotic Meat Smoking: Final Thoughts
There’s an entire world of animals out there that taste delicious coming off the barbecue or the smoker, and the sooner you start looking into all the amazing options out there, the more you realize that as varied and delicious as the world of chicken, pork, and beef is, there’s so much more out there. With this guide you will be well on your way to getting started and experiencing all the amazing flavors that the best exotic meats to smoke have to offer!
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