Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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Southwestern Smoked Pheasant Tacos

Southwestern Smoked Pheasant Tacos 4

After 20 years of hunting pheasants here in North Dakota, I have learned from experience there are lots of ways to end up with a dried out, tough game bird that disappoints at the family dinner table. But brining and smoking has been the saving grace these last few years. It is the only way my wife will ever allow me to cook them anymore. And I wholeheartedly agree with her!

Because my family loves sweet with our smoke, we love to use North Dakota honey for the brine. We enjoy the finished product in salads, sandwiches, soups, and tacos. Here is a recipe from one of our favorite Taco Tuesday nights. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Southwestern Smoked Pheasant Tacos 3

Smoked Pheasant Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 whole pheasants (cut the legs and thighs away from the bird. Leave the breast meat attached to the ribcage,but cut away the backbone using kitchen scissors or game shears).
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup honey


Smoked Pheasant Instructions

  1. In a large pot, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water with a whisk. Add the honey and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover. 
  2. Allow to cool completely, then place pheasant pieces in the chilled brine solution. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 10 hours.
  3. Take the pheasant out of the brine and place on a cooling rack over a pan, uncovered, in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours. 
  4. Smoke the pheasants at 200 degrees F over the wood of your choice – we prefer hickory. Baste the pieces with a little honey about every 45 minutes. I usually do this the same time I am adding new wood chips to my electric smoker. 
  5. Take the breasts out when the internal temperature hits 150 degrees F. Take the legs and thighs out when their internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. Baste them with honey one last time and let them cool for about 30 minutes before eating.


Taco Ingredients

  • 1 smoked pheasant, deboned and chopped
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoon Taco Bell Creamy Chipotle Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin


Taco Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. 
  2. Serve right away on warm tortillas with your favorite taco toppings such as shredded cheese, Pico de Gallo, or guacamole. The mixture will also keep well if covered and refrigerated for a day ahead of time if you want to bring it along to your next potluck.

Jeff Benda Harvesting Nature contributing chef to TOTW

About the contributor:
Jeff Benda is based in North Dakota, where he is an avid outdoorsman and family man. He spent 25 years in the restaurant industry and ran a successful catering business. He now focuses his time home cooking as a creative outlet to transform wild game and bring it into traditional recipes from around the world to help expand people’s perceptions. His goal is to celebrate local fish and wild game and provide achievable, bright recipes designed to build confidence for new cooks, and inspire everyone to elevate their cooking. Jeff is a field staff writer for Harvesting Nature. Follow him on Instagram: @wildgameandfish and online at

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