One of the most appealing qualities of fresh pork is its ability to take on the flavors of various seasonings and marinades. When the meat tastes overly gamey, though, it can ruin the effect you’re trying to create.
This problem isn’t limited to pork products. Fortunately, there are ways to correct it and salvage your meal. Let’s talk about some of the best ones.
How To Get Rid Of Gamey Taste In Pork
You can cut back on the gamey taste in pork by marinating it in buttermilk or an acidic marinade beforehand. Cutting the pork into small pieces and using them as the base for a stew is another good bet. A sauce that’s spicy or vinegar-based should also help to mask the gamey flavor.
What Causes That Gamey Flavor?
The term “gamey” is typically used to refer to meat from—you guessed it—wild game. Meat that’s hunted and killed in the wild tastes different from meat that was raised for slaughter. There are a few different reasons for this.
First of all, animals that are raised for food purposes are usually fed on corn. This gives the resulting meat a clean, bland flavor. For example, even though pheasants and chickens are closely related, commercially-bred chicken tastes completely different from wild pheasant.
The fat will have a different flavor and texture, too. If you’ve ever eaten the meat from a pig that was raised on a diet of chestnuts, you would notice the difference. The fat from the chestnut-eating hog would be milder and harder in texture than the fat from its corn-fed cousin.
Age also plays a role in the gamey taste. When you shoot and dress a wild boar, the animal is probably much older than a commercially raised pig. Even the younger animals might have a bolder flavor, as they get more exercise than the ones raised for food purposes.
Understanding Boar Taint
Sometimes, pork has an especially strong smell and flavor. This phenomenon is often referred to as “boar taint.”
Studies on this subject have revealed that male pigs produce certain pheromones and intestinal products when they reach puberty. These compounds are absorbed into the pig’s flesh and are released when the pork is cooked. That’s when you’ll notice the strong gamey flavor.
Pork that’s afflicted with boar taint can also smell acrid, like raw onions. Although there are no food safety issues associated with the phenomenon, it isn’t pleasant to contemplate eating meat with such a strong odor.
As we mentioned before, older pigs are likelier to yield pork with a noticeably gamey flavor and texture. It can also be a problem if the hog was especially heavy before it was butchered.
Farmers have attempted to get around the boar taint issue by castrating male piglets before they reach puberty. This circumvents the issue by curbing the production of the pheromones and intestinal products that cause the problem in the first place.
This castration process is standard practice in the US, so if you purchase pork that was produced in America, there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry about boar taint. In the UK, it’s forbidden to castrate male piglets, so the issue is more common there.
Aside from buying US-raised pork, there’s no way to tell whether the pork will be afflicted with boar taint until you take it out of the packaging. As a consumer, the best way to avoid it would be to find a reputable brand–or farmer–and stick with their products.
Does A Gamey Taste Mean Pork Has Gone Bad?
Not necessarily. It’s more likely that the pork was affected by boar taint, as we’ve just described. Even if that’s not the case, some cuts of pork have a bolder flavor than others. That could be the cause of the gamey taste that you’re noticing.
If you’re worried about spoilage, inspect the pork thoroughly before cooking it. First of all, give it a sniff. A strong fatty odor isn’t anything to worry about, but watch out for pork that smells sweet, sour, or anything like hard-cooked eggs.
The raw pork should also feel moist and firm to the touch. If it’s mushy, dry, sticky, or slimy, you should discard it.
Be on the lookout for discoloration as well. A few brown patches could just mean the meat suffered from slight oxygen deprivation, but if the meat has turned gray all over, it’s probably gone bad.
How To Get Rid Of Gamey Taste In Pork
If you’re worried that your pork will taste gamey before you cook it, there are steps you can take to offset the stronger flavor.
Cut It Down
To begin, cut the meat into pieces as small as your recipe will allow. Oversized pork chops can be cut in half lengthwise (as if you were opening a book) to make them thinner. An even better choice would be to cut the meat into cubes and add them to a stew.
Trim The Fat
Pork fat tends to have a gamier flavor than flesh, so it’s in your best interests to remove as much of it as possible. Trim away any visible fat and discard it before you season and cook the pork.
Soak In Buttermilk
Place the prepared pork in a nonreactive bowl and pour fresh buttermilk all over it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 12 hours, preferably overnight. The buttermilk contains lactic acid, which works as a tenderizer while reducing the gamey taste.
Use A Marinade
If it works with your plans, try soaking the meat in a marinade with acidic ingredients, like vinegar or lemon juice. The strong flavors will counteract the gamey qualities of the meat. Let the pork sit in the marinade for 2 to 6 hours.
Tip: Don’t marinate pork for longer than 12 hours, especially if you’ve used an acidic base. That will break down the proteins and turn the pork mushy once it’s cooked.
When meat is overcooked and dry, the gamey flavor will be more pronounced. To avoid this, check the internal temperature during cooking and remove the pork from the heat when it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Serve With Sauce
This is an excellent way to salvage your hard work if you notice that the pork has a gamey taste after you’ve cooked it.
Use a strongly-flavored sauce, such as barbecue or honey mustard, to coat the prepared pork. Even a spoonful of prepared or homemade salsa can mask gamey flavors, since the acid in the tomatoes counteracts the richness of the meat.
Serving the pork with a sauce is an especially good technique if you’ve prepared a cut that should be cooked past 145 degrees for best results. Pork shoulder and Boston butt, for example, need to cook to at least 185 degrees in order to be tender enough to enjoy.
Note that if the sauce you use is on the sweet side, it might not be the best ingredient to offset the strong pork flavor. Try adding a few drops of Tabasco or another hot sauce to help counterbalance the sweetness.
You can also get around this issue by using the Eastern version of North Carolina-style barbecue sauce. This is a spicy vinegar-based sauce that’s designed to complement barbecued pork.
The Bottom Line
Most commercially produced pork won’t have a gamey taste, especially if it came from the US. If you do encounter this issue, you can try to offset it by marinating the pork beforehand and serving it with a vibrant sauce.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!