One glory of bear meat is its delicious fat which, for the most part, is concentrated rather than marbled throughout the meat. It can easily be trimmed and rendered. Rendered bear fat or lard ‘can’t be beat’ for pastry-making and is highly touted as a cooking oil for doughnuts and other fried foods. Bears taken late in the fall, just before hibernation, are the best for this purpose because they have been storing up nice rolls of fat to see them through the winter.
Young or old, fat or lean, however, bear meat should be thoroughly cooked so there that is no pink tinge to the meat and it reaches an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, (77 degrees Celsius). Bear, like the pork of less regulated times, carries a rather high incidence of the parasite that causes trichinosis in humans, and thorough cooking destroys it. Pork recipes, in fact, are recommended as preparations for all cuts of bear. Bear meat should not be used for making dry meat (jerky) or prepared by other curing methods which do not call for cooking.
Another caution applies to polar bear. According to The Alaska Dietary Survey, Eskimos have never eaten the liver of the polar bear. Their reason, “It makes your hair fall out,” is one among the many pieces of folk wisdom substantiated by science. The liver of polar bear contains excessively high–sometimes toxic–levels of vitamin A…and should be avoided. However, few people not already ‘in the know’ will ever have the chance to foolishly gorge on a polar bear liver. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, only an Alaskan Native may take polar bear–though polar bears may take any variety of human.
Rendering Bear Fat
The hardest thing about rendering bear is fat is … getting the bear in the first place. Rendered fat is an unlikely place for bacteria to develop, but to be on the safe side and to keep the fat sweet for months, first strain the rendered oil to remove all particles of meat or other matter–the ‘cracklings’–then boil it long enough to sterilize, about three to five minutes, and pour it into containers with airtight lids. Freeze it or store it in a cool place.
Wes Hallock’s Story
…I wasn’t sure how Cyndi was going to react, this being our first experience at preparing a bear for the table. Dropping the load in front of the cabin, I assumed my most nonchalant tone, “Got a little bear meat here.”
“Well, it’s not very big,” she replied cautiously, avoiding the ‘meat’ comment.
“There should be lots of good fat on him this time of the year,” I hinted.
But the pioneer spirit was there in act6ion if not in words. The bear was covered with a layer of fat up to three inches thick, and as I skinned and cut, Cyndi was beside me fillings pans with large chunks of the thick white stuff. These she cleaned and trimmed of excess meat, rinsed in cold water, and set on the wood stove in a large kettle to simmer slowly.
For about 12 hours the fat bubbled over a low heat with an occasional stirring. There was no offensive odor; if anything there was a slight aroma similar to that of frying bacon. The fat rendered into a clear, amber oil, and a hard residue (cracklings) which settled to the bottom of the kettle.
Cyndi strained the oil, of which there was about two gallons (7.6 L) through a clean cloth into empty coffee cans. As it cooled, the oil thickened and turned an opaque white, much like commercial vegetable shortening.
Since it is easily digestible and of good flavor, Cyndi has become enthusiastic about using bear grease for frying or in any recipe that calls for shortening.
Cooking Alaskan By Alaskans. Published by Alaska Northwest Books, 1983.
Wes Hallock, “Winter Meat” Alaska Magazine, October 1979.