Smoked Venison Meatloaf
Recipe and photos by Eileen Clarke
Back when I started making this smoked meatloaf, I found that the only way to get the results I wanted—delicious, juicy flavor–was to use a water smoker. Mine was a tall, domed cooker, with a large water reservoir. But that was a while ago. There are newer smokers now. But will they work the same? First, the hickory chunks must sit directly on the fire. Secondly, the smoker needs a domed lid to keep the moisture circulating—rather than escaping. (Do not make this on your propane grill. They are not built to keep moisture in, nor let wood chunks sit directly on the heat source.) But the third factor with a smoker is that it needs a water reservoir large enough to hold 3 hours of water.
Beyond that, the water smoker is an easy way to keep a constant temperature that when coupled with the water, provides the gentle, moist heat that makes this dish a favorite among my friends. It also worked for the small wild pig I shot in Texas, then split down the spine and mopped with several bottles of Uncle Mike’s hard lemonade and lots of grated ginger, as it water-smoked 3-4 hours. Four of us feasted on it that night. So far I haven’t felt the need to plunk my credit card down on a bright new smoker. In fact, the water smoker is still one of my favorite cooking devices—an oldie but goodie.
3 chunks hickory
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground venison (*Any big game animal works, including good bear meat) 1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco© green pepper sauce
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
1/2 cup hot water
- Two hours before you want to start cooking, place the hickory chunks in water. Line a metal loaf pan with a 12” length of aluminum foil.
- In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion, pepper, and garlic in oil until wilted. Stir in the cumin, salt and pepper and continue to cook until the vegetables are lightly browned. Transfer them to a large bowl and let them cool a bit.
- Add the ground meat, sour cream, egg, bread crumbs, corn meal, Worcestershire sauce and green pepper sauce to the browned vegetables. Dissolve the bouillon granules in the water and add that to the meatloaf too. Mix thoroughly with your hands and press into the foil-lined pan. Chill while you prepare the smoker.
- Assemble the water smoker with the soaked hickory chips at the bottom and the reservoir 2/3 full of water, and preheat it to a low-medium setting (220⁰ to 240˚F). Over 30 minutes, check periodically to make sure it maintains that temperature.
- Place the meatloaf pan in the center of the cooking rack. Cover the smoker. Let the meatloaf cook for 60 minutes, until it has shrunk away from the sides of the pan and the top has browned and is set.
- Lift the meatloaf out of the pan with the foil, place a second length of foil on top and set a cutting board over that. Invert the meatloaf by flipping it onto the top foil on the cutting board, then use the board to slide it back onto the cooking rack in the smoker. It’s now cooked-side down, on that second piece of foil, and without the loaf pan, allowing the other sides of the meatloaf to smoke and brown. (Note: Before you invert the meatloaf, add more water to the reservoir if necessary. An empty reservoir can cause the cooking temperature to spike.)
- Cover the cooker and let the meatloaf cook another 60 minutes. (Check with a meat thermometer: finished temperature should be 165˚F.)
- Lift the meatloaf carefully off the rack, with the foil it’s sitting on–and a plate ready to slide underneath it. Do not try to airlift it. Let it rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with potato salad and fresh green salad, and a salsa/mayonnaise sauce. (You can make the salsa/ mayo sauce by combining equal amounts of each and stirring well. When I make mine, I prefer fresh salsa, but a good bottled one will work too.)
About the Chef: This is one of 100 venison recipes in Eileen Clarke’s wild game cookbook, Slice of the Wild, available at her website, www.riflesandrecipes.com for $25, with free shipping in the US.