Recipes & Cooking  |  12/15/2021

Gamebird Gourmet // Grinding Your Upland Birds


Harness universal appeal and extreme versatility by grinding your gamebirds

By Lukas Leaf

Ground meat may seem like the easy way out when it comes to cooking wild game. But universal appeal and extreme versatility make grinding an MVP in the culinary world, especially for the home cook. Think tacos, burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, chili, pasta, the list goes on. It’s no wonder we love having a good stash of different ground in our freezers.
Using the whole bird is essential. With some extra knife work, you can add quite a bit more meat to the grind pile. Thighs and legs present a substantial amount of meat. It takes a little extra time to trim that dark meat, but the wonderful effect on taste is worth it.
Included here are two recipes that are flavorful and easy. A good Sloppy Joe is classic and always reminds me of family get-togethers. Meatballs are perfect for any occasion. Spice these up however you like and add them to your favorite red sauce, turn the whole lot into Swedish meatballs, or call an audible and cook the mix as a meatloaf.
Tips and Tricks for Grinding and Cooking
Any type of meat can be ground, and you can substitute any kind of ground meat for what is called for in a recipe. But leaner meats like pheasant can quickly become overcooked and dry. Adding extra fat or cutting with fatty meat will ensure that the mix remains moist and flavorful, which is why there is pork butt in the meatball recipe. This action isn’t necessary, but it sure helps.
Temperature is important when grinding. Chill all the equipment that the meat will touch to below 40º F. That action helps the meat and fat combine properly. Additionally, place meat back in the freezer once you cut the meat into chunks. Extremely cold or partially frozen meat runs through the grinder much easier. Lastly, grind the meat into a bowl set over ice water to keep the fat chilled.
Bottom line: Cold meat and cold gear will give you the best possible product.


Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Serves: 6-8

  • 1 pound ground pheasant (or other gamebird) breast, thigh and leg meat
  • ¾ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup green pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil, such as canola or vegetable
  • Sandwich buns
  • Mayonnaise
  1. Grind the gamebird breasts, thighs and leg meat through the small die into a bowl set over ice and set aside.
  2. Mix all liquid ingredients into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add the cooking oil. Add the meat and cook until browned. Add the onion, green, pepper, garlic and dry spices. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the liquids. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Slather each side of the buns with mayonnaise and toast in a large pan. Spoon sloppy joe mix onto the buns. Serve with pickles, potato chips, and yellow mustard if you prefer.


Cook Time: 1 Hour
Serves: 6-8 (makes 24 3-ounce meatballs)

  • 2 pounds ground pheasant (or other gamebird) breast, thigh and leg meat
  • 1 pound ground pork butt and fat
  • 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup grated parmesan
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup yellow onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh herbs, chopped: parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano, thyme
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Grind both types of meat through the small die into a bowl over ice.
  2. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, buzz the fresh breadcrumbs, and purée the chopped herbs into the milk. Keep separate.
  3. In a standing mixer or large bowl, add the ground meat. Now add all remaining ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Roll the balls into three-ounce portions. Place the desired amount onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze the rest for later use.
  5. Bake the meatballs at 400º F for 20 minutes or until they reach 160º F. Transfer the pan under the broiler for 3-5 minutes for some browning. Remove from the oven and let the meatballs briefly rest. Serve with your favorite sauce.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to see more delicious upland recipes in the pages of Pheasants Forever Journal, become a Pheasants Forever member today!