A primer on Jackson Hole’s signature cuisine.

DSC_0215Pull up your chair at any number of Jackson Hole restaurants, and one of the first things you’ll notice on the menu is a big emphasis on wild game. From bison chilis to elk tenderloin, valley chefs continually find new ways to creatively highlight traditional western cuisine and the animals that, quite literally, graze in our backyards.

But how does wild game differ from regular beef?

Turns out, it differs in many ways. Diners ordering game for the first time should be happy to know that the meat from wild game tends to be leaner than the meat of domesticated animals. This is due to the higher activity levels of the animals during life – all that foraging and ranging means that they build up less stores of fat. Even compared to the leanest cut of beef or pork, a cut of venison has about one third less calories, and the overall levels of fat are lower, too. In terms of cholesterol, wild game meat also falls on the lower end of the spectrum.

What game has more of? Lean protein, iron, and zinc. Guilt-free indulgence, all the way.

How does wild game taste?

Of course, the best way to find out is to try an order for yourself! Because of its smaller fat content, wild game tends to be more packed with flavor. Jackson Hole’s restaurateurs know how to source the highest-quality meats, and to prepare them in ways that best communicate their unique tastes and textures. Rest assured: the complaint of “too gamey” has no place in these dining establishments.

Rather than a radical departure from the cuisine you’ve tried in the past, wild game tastes like a delicious, zesty new twist on old favorites like steaks, burgers, tenderloins…even spaghetti sauce!

The Best Way to Order Wild Game

If you ask any local server worth his salt about how to order a cut of wild game, he will likely repeat the same refrain: Err towards the rare side. Due to its lean composition, a well-done burger or steak will simply sizzle away much of the flavor and contribute to a less appealing, dry texture. For this reason, we recommend that bison burgers are prepared medium to medium-rare, and bison steaks medium-rare to rare.

Elk tenderloins, another local recipe mainstay, should also be ordered rare. Usually prepared quickly over high heat, medium-rare to rare brings out all the complex, bold flavors of this popular dish. Same goes for recipes featuring deer.

If you’re feeling intimidated by venturing to the new frontier of wild game, there are many other options at hand beyond filets and tenderloins: stews, chilis, and burgers can all be fantastic—and low-stake—ways to try wild game for the first time without needing to worry so much about how it’s prepared.

Where can I try game?

We’re glad you asked! We’ve got some suggestions here, and a full range of listings to get you started on your culinary quest in Jackson Hole.