What Does Elk Taste Like?

Elk is commonly considered one of the best wild game meats. The largest member of the deer family, elk are often confused with venison, but they are two different types of meat. 

Of all the wild game, elk is one of the closest to tasting like beef. It’s rich, mild, and slightly sweet in flavor with a dense, lean texture. However, the taste of elk often depends on its diet and living environment.

In addition to diet and living conditions, there are also other factors that can alter the taste of elk. Some of these are the way it is prepared, and the cut of elk you choose to eat.

Wild Elk Vs Farm-Raised Elk

One main factor will affect the diet and lifestyle of the elk. Whether they are wild or farm-raised will heavily influence their taste and texture.

Wild Elk

While not necessarily strictly herbivores, elk will almost always eat vegetation. Typically, wild elk will feast upon the grass, shrubs, and flowering plants. 

Since the diet of wild elk is varied, they have a gamier taste than farm-raised elk. However, because they are mostly eating greenery, they are much less gamey than other types of wild animals. Elk will generally taste more like a beef filet than it will rabbit or goose.

While neither wild nor farm-raised elk is noticeably tough or difficult to eat, wild elk may be a tiny bit tougher. This is simply due to the nature of more room to roam and needed to escape predators. Overall, wild elk, like farm-raised, is lean but tender.

Farm-Raised Elk

Elk that is raised on a farm will generally graze on alfalfa, corn, and oats. They tend to eat much less vegetation.

This leads to farm-raised elk having a flavor that is similar to a grass-fed cow. There is very little, if any, gamey flavor to elk raised on a farm.

Since it doesn’t need to move much, its muscles are generally not overworked. This means farm-raised elk is typically fairly tender and not tough or overly chewy.

Cuts of Elk

In addition to the lifestyle of the elk, the part you choose to eat will also affect the taste and texture. To add to that, certain cuts may need to be cooked differently than others to maximize the flavor and texture.

Loin

Like other types of meat, the loin of the elk is often considered the premium cut. The loin is often tender and juicy, with a mild sweet flavor. This may be the part that is most comparable to high-quality beef steaks.

Generally, the loin is cut into steaks and you would cook or grill them exactly the same as you would beef.

Haunch

This is the rump of the elk. It’s typically fairly tender but is often covered in fat that is easy to remove and discard. The fat does give it a nice flavor though, so it’s optional to keep it on.

Mostly, the haunch is turned into roast if it is tender. However, if there is a lot of fibrous connective tissue on this part, it can be used as stew meat. Stewing the meat helps break down the tissue and tenderize the meat.

Shoulder and Belly

These parts of the elk are typically too tough to use as steaks. They generally need to be cooked more slowly in order to break down the muscles.

However, they make wonderful pot roasts and brisket. Sometimes, you can get a particularly good piece of the belly. In that case, you can grill and thinly slice it to produce a tender, slightly chewing steak.

Flank

The flank has more fat and generally more flavor than some of the other cuts. Often this is the gamiest tasting part and is cooked similar to a steak. 

This part of the elk is often used for fajitas and taco filling.

Ways to Eat Elk

In addition to steaks, roasts, and chops, there are a variety of other ways people eat elk that might be a little less common.

Burgers

Elk burgers, while fairly common among those who habitually eat elk, might sound strange to the rest of us. 

Here the elk meat is ground and spices are added to create the texture of a typical beef burger. However, elk burgers are generally more flavorful and less greasy than regular beef hamburgers.

Sausage

While not always the case, elk sausage is often mixed with other kinds of meats. Elk are very lean. Due to this, in order to get a typical sausage texture (Learn how to reheat cooked sausage), fattier meat such as pork is added to it.

When this happens, you get the slightly sweet, earthy flavor from the elk and fatty taste from the pork. This combines for a nicely flavored sausage with just the right amount of chew.

Jerky

Elk jerky is very similar in taste to beef jerky. And, similar to beef jerky, the final taste will exhibit the ingredients you use to make it. It can vary in taste from sweet to spicy and everything in between.

Also like beef jerky, elk jerky has a moderate chew and a fairly dry texture.

The Takeaway

Elk is a wild game animal that a majority of us do not eat on a regular basis. However, it is somewhat similar to beef with a slightly gamey and sweet flavor. It’s a lean meat, but very tender.

Depending on the lifestyle and cut of elk, you can have a slight variation in its flavors and textures. When elk are wild, the flavor is somewhat earthier. However, if the elk are farm-raised they will tend to taste more like grass-fed beef.