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Upland Game Bird Recipes Your Friends Won't Believe

Here are five upland game bird recipes your friends won't believe you made.

There are some great upland bird hunters out there, some of whom are also great cooks. Unfortunately a lot of us struggle to come up with even the simplest ways to prepare our harvest for the table.

If you are tired of the usual ways you've served game birds or want to surprise everyone with a dish they will think came from a fine gourmet restaurant, here are five upland bird recipes your friends won't believe you made.

Pheasant Piccata

This recipe is based on the Italian classic, Chicken Piccata.

Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes

  • Breasts from 2-3 pheasants, skinless and boneless
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons small capers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. Put each breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them flat with a rubber mallet, empty wine bottle or meat mallet. You want them about 1/4 inch thin if you can. Better to err on being too thick than thin.
  2. Salt and pepper the cutlets well and dust with the flour.
  3. Get the oil and 2 tablespoons of butter hot over medium high heat, and sauté to the floured breasts for 3 minutes on one side, 2 minutes on the other. You may need to do this in batches. Move to a plate and tent with foil.
  4. Pour in the lemon juice and white wine and scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  5. Add the capers and boil this down by half over high heat, maybe 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and put the pheasant breasts on serving plates.
  6. Put the remaining butter in the sauté pan and swirl it around until it melts. The sauce should be emulsified and smooth.
  7. Pour over the pheasant and garnish with the parsley.

Grouse Soup with Wild Rice

This  delicious meaty soup is perfect for a cold day when you can't get out in the field.

Serves 6 to 8 as a main course, or up to 12 as a soup course in a larger meal

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours

2 to 3 skinned whole grouse

  • Any saved grouse carcasses you have, up to 4
  • 1 handful dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms (or button mushrooms)
  • 1 onion, sliced into thin half moons
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 carrots, cut into disks
  • 1 cup roughly chopped chestnut pieces (optional)
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • Salt
  • 3 cups (loosely packed) chopped chard or spinach leaves (optional)


  1. Put the skinned grouse and the grouse carcasses into a large pot and add enough water to cover them by 1 inch. Heat it slowly to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, skimming any froth or scum that floats to the surface.
  2. Fish out the whole skinned grouse and remove the breast meat. Shred it with your fingers. Set the meat in a bowl and refrigerate for later. Return the rest of the grouse to the pot and simmer for another hour.
  3. Remove the whole grouse again and pick off any remaining meat from the legs, carcass and thighs. Set this in the bowl with the breast meat. Return the carcasses to the pot and add the rosemary, bay leaf and dried mushrooms to the pot. Simmer gently another hour.
  4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of butter or oil in another large pot set over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, carrot, garlic and oyster mushrooms until they begin to brown. The mushrooms will release a lot of water, so keep cooking and stirring until this water boils away. Sprinkle some salt over everything as it cooks. Once the water has boiled away, everything will brown nicely. When this is done, turn off the heat.
  5. Set a strainer over the pot with the onions and carrots and set a paper towel inside the strainer. Ladle the grouse broth into this pot; you need 2 to 3 quarts. If you want, fish out some of the dried mushrooms from the broth pot and chop them for the soup. This is optional.
  6. Add salt to the broth and then the wild rice. Bring the soup to a slow boil. Real wild rice doesn't take very long to cook, so check it after 25 minutes or so. When the rice is nearly done, add the grouse meat, chestnut pieces and chard or spinach leaves, simmer for 5 minutes and serve.

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Wild Turkey Carnitas

This dish is ridiculously easy to make and uses the parts of a gobbler or hen that often gets thrown away -- the drumstick.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

  •  2 turkey legs plus wings, or 2 turkey thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed, cracked
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, Mexican if possible
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 3 dried small chiles, such as an arbol or Thai
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tablespoons lard or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Juice of 1/2 an orange


  1. Remove the skin from the turkey, save it to make cracklins if you want. Put the turkey in a large Dutch oven or large lidded pot, add all the herbs, spices and enough water to just barely cover the meat in the pot.
  2. Cover and simmer for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.
  3. When it is tender, remove from the pot and let it cool. Shred with two forks or your fingers. Discard the bones and any tendons. You can store the meat for up to a week at this point.
  4. To finish, add the lard to a frying pan and brown the meat as much as you like, maybe some soft and some crispy. At the very end, drizzle in about a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half an orange. Mix and serve.

Barbecued Quail, Arizona Style

The exotic sounding ingredients in this recipe can be substituted easily. Use habaneros instead of chiltepin peppers and regular bee's honey instead of cactus  honey.

Serves 4

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes


  • 8 quail, backbones removed and flattened
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or lard
  • 1/2 onion, grated
  • 2 shots of tequila
  • 1/2 cup mesquite bean honey, prickly pear syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ground chiltepin or piquin chiles, or hot sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste


Make the sauce first. Heat the butter or lard over medium heat, then add the grated onion and sauté until it turns translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, stir well and simmer slowly for 30 minutes or more. Puree the sauce in a blender if you prefer it smoother. Leave as is for chunky

  1. To flatten the quail, remove the backbones with kitchen shears by cutting along either side of the spine. Put the quail breast side up on a cutting board and press to flatten. If you want to be fancy, carefully snip out the ribs and the curved saber bones near the wishbone. Salt the quail and toss them in the vegetable oil.
  2. Get your grill hot, but leave an open space with no coals, or with one gas burner left off. Lay your quail breast side up on the cool part of the grill and barbecue with the grill lid down for 10 minutes.
  3. Paint the breast side with the sauce, and repeat this two more times until you've cooked the quail for 30 minutes. Check the doneness, either by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the breast (it should read 155°F to 160°F), or by testing where the legs meet the thighs: They should want to come apart when wiggled, but not fall apart. You might need another 10 or even 20 more minutes to get to this point, depending on how hot your barbecue is.
  4. Turn the quail over and paint the cooked side with sauce. Grill the breast side for 2 minutes with the lid up, then turn over again and paint with the sauce one more time.
  5. Cover the grill and cook for a final 2 minutes. Take off the grill and paint with sauce one more time.

Roasted Woodcock with a Crabapple and Vinegar Sauce

This recipe uses the bird's innards when making the sauce. You can omit them if you like, but you may be pleasantly surprised how much they add to the flavor.

Serves 2-4

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

  •  d4 woodcock
  • Olive oil to coat birds
  • Salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons bacon fat, divided
  • 1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
  • Hearts and livers from the birds, minced fine
  • 1/2 cup chicken or game stock
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons crabapple jelly
  • 4 pieces of toast
  • Parsley for garnish


  1. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees, or as hot as it will get. Take the birds out of the fridge and coat with oil. Salt well and set aside at room temperature while the oven heats up. This should take 20 minutes or so.
  2. Heat half the bacon fat in a small pot and saute the onion and minced giblets until nicely browned. Add the stock, vinegar and crabapple jelly and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste and let the simmer strongly while you cook the woodcock.
  3. Heat the rest of the bacon fat in a small, oven-proof pan -- cast iron is excellent here -- and brown the woodcock on the sides and breast.
  4. Put the birds, breast side up, in the pan in the oven and roast for 7-10 minutes. Ten minutes will give you medium to medium-well meat.
  5. Remove the birds from the pan and set on a cutting board to rest.
  6. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve and bring back to a boil. Put the toast on each person's plate (cut it into a circle if you want to be fancy) and put a woodcock on the toast. Pour the sauce over the birds and garnish with parsley.

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Upland Game Bird Recipes Your Friends Won't Believe