Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Smoked Pheasant (Bacon Wrapped)

Pheasants are only one letter away from being a true working-class bird (Pheasant -> Peasant... get it?  See what I did there?).  Honestly, pheasants do work for a living.  They're wild, they typically eat swamp grass, seeds, and buds, and they don't have any fat on them, whatsoever.  They are a beautiful bird, however, and they do present quite a challenge to hunters so; many a home-cook has been presented with a clutch of these birds to "cook for the family meal." 

Since plucking the bird is rather time consuming, most hunters simply peel the skin off.  As the cook,  you're presented with a skinless, super-lean, fairly small bird, and you're expected to turn it into a moist and delicious "Family Dinner" masterpiece?  That's a challenge!

You Will Need:

  • 2 whole pheasants
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 8 cups water
  • 3 cups maple syrup
  • 8 whole strips of bacon, cut in half 

We'll start this process by brining the birds.  Brining is easy, but finding space in your refrigerator for a huge bucket of soaking birds is not.  So... Start by dissolving the salt, sugar, and syrup in the water, and then pour half of the liquid, each, into a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  Add one whole, skinned pheasant to the bag, squeeze all of the air out, and zip it up!

Now, empty out your vegetable crisper drawer (who needs vegetables, anyway?), and drop the bagged and brining birds into the drawer.  Why?  Because if one of those bags springs a leak, you don't want birdy brine juice leaking all over your fridge!  I did 6 pheasants at once, and this method worked very well for me.

Walk away, and leave the birds in there to soak for 24 hours.  This should tenderize and season the pheasants, and give their skinless bodies a fighting chance while they're in the smoker (or oven).

Once 24 hours has gone by, take the birds out and pat them dry.  Rub them down with olive oil and lay them out on a nice cutting board so you can wrap them with bacon!  Bacon will add fat, flavor, and moisture to these bare-muscled birds.

Wrap them however you like, as long as you achieve maximum coverage of the bare muscle with some good fatty bacon!  My method uses 8 1/2-slices of bacon, and it covers the legs, thighs, and breasts of the bird.  Get them all wrapped and then sprinkle some BBQ seasoning on the outside, if you like.

Preheat your smoker (or oven) to 250 degrees, and line up the birds.  Caution, when these birds hit the 160 degree mark, they're done!  Every second after that means time spent drying out so... use a probe and pull those birds as soon as they touch 160.  It took mine just 3 hours to get there.

In my case, the hunter who successfully nabbed these birds told me, "The best way to enjoy pheasant is with a cocktail in your hand, as you leisurely pick the meat from the bones and eat it."  I won't argue with the "cocktail" part of his method, but I'm not really a "picker" when it comes to birds.  I'd prefer to cut them into their respective parts... legs, breasts, etc.  So that's what I did.

They were quite flavorful, I must say.  The brine did its job... they were a little bit "chewier" than chicken (for example), but I don't think I could have tenderized them any further, without stewing or braising them, and I really wanted to try cooking them in the pit.  I'm anxious to hear your opinions!  My wife ate it... and she's picky!  So; I consider it a "thumbs up" success!

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