Cranberry man serves up meat from 6 continents


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G-20 protesters moan about globalization as if it's some horrible scourge, but answer me this -- without globalization, how would we be able to eat yak from Asia, llama from South America, kangaroo from Australia and wild boar from Europe? We'd have to put a lot of miles on the old US Airways MasterCard, that's how.

So hooray for globalization, and hooray for Greg Givan's sense of adventure. The Cranberry man and his wife, Nicole, throw an annual themed barbecue. Last year was Porkapalooza, and it was at that barbecue, perhaps after one beer too many, that Mr. Givan bragged he could grill just about any animal.

"And to prove it, I'd cook meat from every continent on the planet," he said.

This is how the 2009 meme, "Grill Around the Globe," was born, featuring animals from every continent but Antarctica. But wouldn't you know it, even in a global economy, elk, llama and yak aren't the sorts of products that are widely available at your neighborhood Foodland. I guess flat-world capitalism has its limits. Thanks for nothing, Thomas Friedman.

That's why we need entrepreneurs such as Russ McCurdy, who is in charge of exoticmeats.com, the online division of Exotic Meats USA, itself part of Sierra Meat Co. in Reno, Nev. The company says the demand for exotic meats has quadrupled over the past 10 or so years.

That's partly because the Internet makes the meats more accessible, and partly because people who want an alternative to factory-farmed beef, pork and chicken have deliberately sought out food from smaller family farms.

And most of these specialty meats come from smaller operations. (You don't see a lot of giant industrial yak slaughterhouses, for example.) Our customers "are generally ahead of the curve on the idea of family farms," Mr. McCurdy said.

In the interest of accuracy, we should note that some of the animals that sound the most foreign really aren't. The yak, for example, is native to central Asia, but these yaks are farm-raised in America. Same goes for the wild boar, raised in Texas. In fact, all of the animals sold by Exotic Meats are farm- or ranch-raised, and 70 percent of them were raised in North America, Mr. McCurdy said.

Sometimes would-be buyers are hesitant until they learn that the animals are farm-raised, and not dragged into a warehouse by some poacher.

"Everybody's had a bad piece of venison," he said.

But selling wild game is complicated, and the USDA generally doesn't inspect it, so most meat purveyors won't stock it and most restaurants won't buy it.

Mr. McCurdy's biggest sellers are buffalo and ostrich -- women particularly like ostrich, because it's a red meat like beef, but much leaner -- but neither of those were on the menu at the Saturday barbecue. Mr. Givan ordered yak (California), alligator (Louisiana), crocodile (Bolivia), elk (New Zealand), boar (Texas), llama (California and elsewhere), kangaroo (Australia), as well as antelope sausage. He also had some chicken and quail roasting on standby, just in case the whole exotic meats experiment ended up a crispy hot mess.

It didn't. The boar shoulder, pulled and stringy like pork, was mixed with a barbecue sauce into a dense wild boar ragu. The elk, kangaroo, crocodile and alligator were cut into chunks and served on skewers, each meat with its own consistency. The llama meat was turned into slider-sized cheeseburgers. Antelope sausage was grilled.

Most creatively, Mr. Givan grilled the yak and served it on warmed banana slices, which had been dressed in brown sugar. I don't know why he did this. I don't think he knows either. In this way, Mr. Givan is the George Mallory of the barbecue, grilling because it was there.

To further explore Exotic Meats' offerings -- including rattlesnake, python and iguana -- visit the Web site, or call 1-775-322-4073.




Spiced Llama Sliders
  • 2 packages of King's Hawaiian sweet rolls
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet vidalia onion, chopped to a medium dice
  • 1 pound ground llama meat
  • 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Grated Reggiano cheese

The sweet rolls can be toasted a few hours ahead of time. Toast for 3 to 5 minutes, sliced side down, on the top rack of your grill. You should also prepare your onions ahead of time -- caramelize the onions in a large saucepan, and keep the onions warm in oven while the burgers are being grilled.

Pre-heat your grill to medium high, setting the grate approximately 4 inches from the heat. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground llama, salt, pepper, cumin and oregano. Mix thoroughly by hand. Then, form 1-ounce, slider-sized patties. Flatten slightly before grilling.

Cook the burgers on the grill until they are medium-rare. Because the sliders are so small, take care not to overcook them. Assemble your slider by placing a burger on the toasted bun bottom -- top the burger with a little cilantro, some grated cheese and onions, then the other half of the bun.

Makes 16.

-- adapted by Greg Givan from realsimple.com


Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com .


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