Pork, beef, chicken. Lamb, goat, venison?
What is your favorite type of meat?
Yes the first three mentioned dominate the U.S. marketplace, but wouldn’t it be great to have so many other kinds regularly accessible? There are so many proteins options out there, that finding an unusual meat to sample can be a real treat.
I enjoy trying as many unique foods as possible, and the region you’re in matters. In Colorado for example, buffalo and elk can be found in many local restaurants, while alligator is regularly on the menu in parts of Louisiana and Florida. I’ve also encountered guinea pig in Ecuador, whale in Norway, and even moose or reindeer in Alaska.
Avid hunters and fisherman will show enthusiasm for wild caught meat. Venison is my favorite food and was always a staple in our house growing up. We ate whatever we shot, caught, or grew.
Have you ever ventured outside your comfort zone to try something a little uncommon and exciting? I would highly recommend doing so! From my travels across the U.S. and internationally, here are six tasty and uncommon meats (that may or may not be farm raised) that I think you should definitely try if given the opportunity. And, it’s worth noting that if you don’t live somewhere that you can find these meats locally, many farms have meat-shipping options — I’ve done that a lot, and always have a good experience.
A cousin of the ostrich, emu is probably as close to beef or as you’re going to get in the bird world. This nutritiously lean meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef but is still a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and of course, it packs a huge flavor punch. It tends to be slightly drier than beef, so sometimes a good marinate on the meat works well. Or, just plunk an emu roast in the crock pot, stewing in the juices for a few hours, and you’ll have a wonderful meal at the end.
Despite its health benefits, emu has never really “taken off” (pun intended) as well as it has in other countries. However, emu has found an unusual niche following among people who have the tick-borne alpha-gal allergy. Also known as the mammalian-meat allergy, people with the disease can’t eat any mammal meat without having severe reactions, and thus emu has become a choice substitute for nutrition and taste. Don’t have an emu farm local to you? Amaroo Hills is a popular farm that people turn to for emu meat (the owner himself started the farm because he, too, has alpha gal).
Another delicious “red meat” style of poultry with a little more gamey taste. Squab is very versatile and best cooked seared medium rare in my opinion. It’s often been referred to as the “meat of kings,” since it had been a delicacy in the Middle Ages in France and in ancient Egypt for their queens and royalty.
Squab is an all-dark-meat bird, and it gets its unique color and taste from higher concentrations of myoglobin — the oxygen-storing protein found in most birds’ legs, according to the Squab Producers of California. Unlike most other types of poultry, high levels of myoglobin are present in all parts of squab, which gives it a unique, succulent flavor. Young, tender, and moist … learn more about this “uncommonly good” upscale delight on squab.com.
Don’t tell Santa, but reindeer is excellent. Region and diet play a big role on the flavor profile of reindeer, and it’s not really gamey or beef-like; it really has its own palette. Some might compare it to lamb or goat.
Reindeer were brought to Alaska over a century ago as a food source, and thanks to the 1937 Reindeer Act, Native Alaskans have 20 million acres on which to graze reindeer at minimal cost. That land (North Carolina is smaller) represents the industry’s incredible potential, but it’s seemed to create quite a niche market for them and tourism and can be a real challenge to ship to the lower 48 states.
If you happen to find yourself in parts of Norway, for example, don’t be surprised to see the chalkboards outside restaurants boasting succulent reindeer dishes as the day’s special.
Cajun fried alligator bites? Alligator jerky? Yes, please!
This southern raised versatile delicacy is mostly farm raised and tends to be chewy and firm with a generally mild flavor, depending on how it’s prepared. It is consumed in many countries, such as Australia, Thailand, Philippines, South Africa, and, of course, the United States. In the mid-1800s, alligator meat first became popular in the U.S. in gumbo. Even alligator eggs were consumed in the early 1900s.
Many would say it tastes like chicken and should be cooked similarly. However, flavor profile can vary depending on whether it’s wild or farm raised. According to this social media poll, rabbit was the most popular of the “uncommon meat” category.
Over 60 percent of rabbit meat around the world is consumed in China, though rabbit hasn’t gained as much popularity in the U.S. generally because of the “fluffy pet” mantra. It’s merely a cultural difference, but rabbit is absolutely delicious and can be substituted for chicken in many recipes.
Here’s a list of rabbit breeders, some of which raise rabbits for pets or for show, while others raise them for meat too.
Bison are raised all over the country, and males can weigh up to a ton! It’s estimated they arrived in the U.S. from Asia around 400,000 years ago. These massive animals are nutritional powerhouses, and the National Bison Association has everything you’d need to learn about them (as well as conservation efforts).
Bison tends to be leaner than beef, and one steak company describes bison as a light and sweet flavor. Bison is high in iron, too, which gives it a unique flavor that many people describe as “earthy” or “mineral.”
Other popular options worth mentioning include: squirrel, venison, goat, kangaroo, grouse, and muskrat.
Why aren’t these delicious options more mainstream? There are many obstacles, but this article explains the challenges with raising deer commercially as one example. Some of the many hurdles include, but aren’t limited to, regulations, USDA inspection and processing, grocery store shelf space competition, lobbying and politics, disease, infrastructure, supply and demand, and price. Regardless, if given the chance to try them, these popular meats will put a dance in your taste buds!
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.