June 02, 2011
A common complaint about bear meat is its unpredictable variability. No doubt this is because of the unpredictable variability of a bear's diet. I've eaten bears that were feeding on carcasses. I've also eaten bears that were feeding so heavily on blueberries that their fat was purple and their meat almost sweet. While good-tasting bear meat needs no more special treatment than beef (my brother reported to me the results of an Alaska wild game feed where barren-ground grizzly got top honors when lined up against 23 competing meats), off-tasting bear meat can often be easily resurrected through the simple process of brining and smoking.
For every 10 pounds of meat – you can smoke deboned cuts or a whole, bone-in leg – make a brine containing one gallon of water, two cups brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups kosher salt, eight teaspoons pink salt (also called Prague powder #1) and one cup of honey. Stir the brine until the sugar and salt are dissolved, then submerge the meat. (You may have to weigh down the meat with a cutting board or plate to keep it submerged.) Put the meat in the fridge, and let it soak for as many as 10 days, flipping it every other day or so and using a marinade injection needle to deliver the brine to the thicker portions of the cut. After brining, rinse the meat and pat it dry, then leave it on a rack, uncovered, in the fridge for another day. It should develop a dry, tacky pellicle. Smoke the ham with a light smoke (I like wood chips ranging from apple to mesquite) at around 200 degrees until it hits an internal temperature of 160 degrees – maybe around four or five hours, but check it every hour to be sure. Slice thin, and serve just like you would a store-bought ham.