What Does Elk Taste Like? Flavor, Texture, Cuts & Comparisons

Filet of elk fanned out across a plate, cooked medium rare

What does Elk Taste Like?

 

What does elk meat taste like anyway? Does elk taste like deer? Is elk meat gamey? 

I’ve eaten plenty of elk in my time, so don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.

Elk has numerous health benefits, which is all well and good, but does it actually taste good? Let’s dive in.

What Flavor Does Elk Meat Have?

What is elk meat called? Is elk venison? Does elk taste like deer?

It depends on who you ask, but the answers are simple if you ask me. I’m an avid elk hunter, enthusiast, and connoisseur after all. 

Elk meat is called, well, elk meat. Not venison. Some old school ‘purists’ may argue this point, but they’re wrong. Venison is deer meat. Elk meat is elk meat.

When comparing the flavor of elk meat to venison, elk is closer in taste to grass-fed beef than it is to deer. What elk meat really tastes like — its true flavor — has a lot to do with its diet, which we’ll get into later in this post. 

What’s the Texture of Elk Meat?

There’s nothing quite like slicing open a flame charred medium-rare elk tenderloin fresh off the grill. Its soft and lean texture isn’t much different than a lean grass-fed steer. As a matter of fact, I’ve eaten so much elk, I can barely tell the difference.

Much like beef, each different cut of the elk offers a different texture. In terms of natural tenderness, I prefer elk tenderloin, sirloin, and medallions. The more firm cuts — think back straps, flank steak, and roasts — will soften up with the right preparation.

The more fatty, tough, and ‘in-between’ cuts, can be transformed into ground elk, sausage, and jerky. Processors work with these less-desirable textures to create a mouthwatering final product, much like they do with beef and pork.

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Taste Differences Between Wild Elk and Farm-Raised Elk

There are noticeable differences in taste from one elk to the next, which are influenced heavily by their diet. A farm-raised elk may graze all day in a fenced-in environment eating alfalfa, corn, and oats, while a wild elk may have a vastly different diet of grasses, shrubs, and forbs. 

The variance in taste has everything to do with what the elk eat and how they graze. Farm-raised elk are much closer in taste and flavor to a grass-fed cow than a deer, however, wild elk can be much gamier in taste. 

Taste of Elk By Cut & Preparation

Tenderloin: Ah, the tenderloin, arguably the most prized cut of elk. It doesn’t get better than this when it comes to the intersection of soft texture and lightly sweet flavor. Hands down my favorite cut. 

Saddle: The saddle comprises the back straps, rib racks, and half loins. These are all great cuts that taste much like their beef equivalents. Protip: Rib meat and half loins make very tender jerky.

Chops: Elk chops are an often overlooked cut, which are heralded among elk meat fanatics. Braised elk chops are a delicious alternative to elk steaks and ground meat. They’re much milder than lamb chops and can be braised to a melt-in-your-mouth texture when cooked correctly.

Ribs: Elk ribs are delicious, and are slightly more gamey than beef ribs. That said, a properly prepared rack of elk ribs will fall off the bone while tasting earthy and full-flavored

Flank: The elk flank has a little more fat, which makes for a slightly gamier cut. Flank will work perfectly as a carne asada. Cook it like a steak, chop into bite-size pieces, and serve it in a dish with ingredients that complements its full flavor — think tacos, fajitas, etc.

Burgers: Ground elk, when mixed with the rights flavors and spices, tastes a lot like ground beef. Elk burgers are much less greasy and have far more flavor than a regular beef hamburger when prepared properly. Compared to ground venison, ground elk is way less gamey.

Sausage: Elk sausage will remind you of a lean bratwurst with a hint of earthy flavor. I use ‘in-between’ meat cuts from elk and combine them with a small amount of pork and pork fat and put them through a meat grinder. The fat from the pork gives the elk a fattier and more palatable taste.

Jerky: Once cured and dehydrated, elk jerky ends up tasting very similar to beef jerky. Elk jerky can be prepared a million different ways, and its flavor depends largely on the ingredients you add during the process.  

Comparing the Taste of Elk to Other Meat

When you ask, “What does elk taste like?” what you’re really asking is, “What does gamey meat taste like?”

I would describe ‘gamey’ as a sage, earthy taste with iron-flavored undertones. A properly dressed and processed elk will minimize these flavors by removing fat, blood, and sinew from the meat, which is where the gamey taste comes from.

Keep in mind that wild elk is far gamier than farm-raised elk, but cannot be sold commercially.

Assuming we have a perfectly processed animal, let’s compare the naturally gamey flavor in elk relative to other meat flavors you may be aware of.

Elk Meat vs Beef

Elk is never going to taste exactly like beef, but oftentimes you can hardly tell the difference. Elk does have more of an earthy taste if you are eating steaks and roasts, but a good ground elk mixture is hardly distinguishable from a hamburger. 

Elk Meat vs Bison

Assuming that both the elk and bison are farmed-raised, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference in flavor. Wild elk, on the other hand, will taste much gamier than bison. 

Elk Meat vs Deer

I enjoy venison, but I strongly prefer the flavor of elk to deer. To me, deer can’t escape its natural flavor and will always taste like a game animal, but elk meat is far less gamey and much more palatable. 

Elk Meat vs Moose

Because moose aren’t farmed in the United States, their meat is only available as wild game. Moose meat will taste very different than commercially available elk: leaner, rougher, and gamier. Elk, especially the farm-raised variety, is more tender and palatable.

Elk Meat as Described by Everyday People

Is elk meat worth trying? We think so wholeheartedly, but don’t take it from us.

We reached out to four people who have all tried elk and asked them their honest opinions. Here’s what they said.

Austen, 33, is a more casual elk eater and has only tried elk meat on a few occasions. Although he doesn’t eat it too often, he is very fond of the taste of elk.

“I like elk meat. It has a much deeper taste than beef. Wild elk seems to have almost a smoky flavor.”

Nell, 33, is a writer from Colorado who is no a stranger to elk meat. He’s tried it “about a dozen times” but doesn’t eat it regularly. He told me he’s trying to incorporate more Wapiti into his diet.

“Elk is an incredibly tender and lean meat with a subtle hint of earthy flavors, I need to up my game and start eating more of it.”

Ryan, 42, loves elk meat stew and regularly orders various cuts of elk meat online. As you might imagine, he’s quite fond of elk.

“Elk is more of a rich and inviting flavor. Wild-harvested elk meat has a subtle iron flavor and is slightly gamey. In contrast, elk meat that I buy from online retailers has a much more mellow and beefy taste.”

Molly, 9, has been watching her dad eat elk meat her whole life and has recently developed her own taste for it. 

“I don’t know. It kind of tastes like a regular steak, but …. different. I really like steak.”

Elk Tastes Delicious, Plain and Simple

You came here wondering what elk meat tastes like, and the truth is, you’ll never really know until you try it out for yourself.

Hopefully, this post has piqued your interest enough to someday put a tender cut of elk on your plate. Until you try a top-notch cut of elk meat, you’ll be left wondering what you’re missing out on.

Click here for the highest-rated online elk meat vendors, which will ship your favorite cut straight to your doorstep.

Welcome to the tender, succulent, and flavorful world of elk. We’re glad to have you around.

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