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Sous Vide Bear - A Game Changer

When I shot my bear this summer and brought it home, I quickly realized that I would have to process it myself. Not thinking of my love of rare/medium-rare steaks, I cut some steaks. As I prepared my first bear steak, I remembered, Trichinella. I am a microbiologist and when it comes to meat safety, I am a stickler, I eat my hamburgers well done (my friends tell me not to tell them why), I stick a thermometer in my chicken and pork. As I chewed and chewed my well-done steak, I was sad, all of those amazing backstraps to be ground into burger. I left them in the freezer as my bear meat dwindled and I couldn’t bear the idea of “ruining” them so they sat. A month ago, I was having a discussion with someone I’m mentoring, and he said "I’m making sous vide a filet"…who what a what? I Googled, the first article was about doing bear meat which got me thinking.

What is the deal with Trichinella? It is a parasite that lives its entire lifecycle in one host and is passed on by ingesting infected meat, so it is found in warm blooded carnivores and omnivores. There are 5 types of Trichinella, the kind that is found in the southern and eastern United States can be inactivated by freezing, the recommendation by the CDC is for 20 days in a regular freezer. If your bear came from the northwestern United States or Canada, the Trichinella are freeze resistant so you have to kill them by cooking. Cooking recommendations for wild game and pork are that the meat reach a temperature of 160 F internally (well done); this recommendation is due to the requirement of an even distribution of heat throughout the meat. But science has shown that cooking the meat at uniform temperature of 132 degrees for 15 minutes will kill all the worms in the meat. This is where sous vide changes the landscape.

Sous vide means under vacuum, you put the meat in whatever your marinade and vacuum seal it in. Then you cook it in a water bath for a few hours. If you know about chemistry or physics or got chilled in a lake, you know that water is a good conductor or insulator of heat. Cooking the bear in the water bath for the recommended time (1-3 hours) at 136 degrees (medium rare to medium) is expected to kill all the parasites because the meat will be at the kill temperature way longer than needed to be safe. Then you sear it and voila, bear steak heaven.

My first recipe was bear fajitas based on the Food Lab Beef Fajitas Recipe.

Steak Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

  • 1/2 cup olive oil

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin seed

  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 pounds of thinly sliced bear steaks

Fajita Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers cut in 1/2 inch slices

  • 1 onion cut in 1/2 inch slices

  • Guacamole

  • Sour cream

  • Fajitas (or chips if you make everything into nachos like I do)


Combine all ingredients except the steaks and peppers in a bowl and whisk to blend. Reserve 1/2 cup of the marinade for later.

Place the marinade and your steaks in a vacuum sealable bag (my sous vide machine came with bags and a hand vacuum). Put the sealed bag in the pre-warmed sous vide machine for 2-3 hours at 137F.

Toss the peppers and onions with the reserved marinade and put in the refrigerator until it close to serving time.

When the sous vide is done, cook the peppers and onions in your favorite sauté pan for 2 minutes while still al dente.

At the same time, sear the steaks to your desired doneness either on a grill, with a pan on the stovetop or under the broiler.

Prepare your fajitas as desired.

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