The Bear Barbecue

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We were just getting in the car when Joe pulled into our driveway on Ames Creek.

“I won’t hold you up,” Joe said as he stepped out of his pickup. “I just wanted to invite you guys to my barbecue this Saturday.”

“Thanks for the invite,” I said. “What’s the occasion?”

“I have had this bear tearing up my fences and getting into my beehives for the last couple of weeks,” Joe said. “I got the chance to shoot him the other day, and I figured it would be a good chance to get everyone on the creek together. I have a big pit dug out by my little pond, and I will build a big fire in that pit and roast this bear over the coals.”

“That sounds fun,” I said. “I helped barbecue a bunch of beef for an alumni picnic when I was at OSU. We did it that way, with a big fire in several pits and the meat on racks over those pits. We worked most of the night, turning the meat every twenty minutes.”

“That is just what I plan to do,” Joe said. “I have a couple of young guys who will do most of the cooking. I am getting a little too old for those all-night events, and I just have to furnish the beer.”

“What time do you think you will be ready for people to get there?” I asked.

“You are welcome any time,” Joe said. “We figure we will be ready to eat about one, but come early and meet a few people.”

“We will try to be there by noon,” I said. “Our kids are pretty young, and they tire of social events quickly. We don’t want to expose them to a long wait for dinner.”

“Good,” Joe said. “We will look forward to seeing you there.”

“You know, I guess, that bear meat is just like pork,” I said. “They have trichinosis, or you have to figure they do. You have to make sure the meat is well cooked.”

“By the time the bear is over the fire for most of the night, it will be done,” Joe said. “This thing is sort of a potluck. If you could bring a salad or something, that would be great.”

“We are looking forward to trying it,” I said. “I have never eaten bear meat before. I am sure that Sandy can make one of her potato salads. Her potato salad is always a favorite at our family gatherings.”

“That makes two of us,” Joe said. “It will be a new experience for most of us.”

I waved as Joe backed out of the driveway and continued up the creek.

“What was that all about?” Sandy asked.

“Joe is barbecuing a bear on Saturday,” I said. “He was just inviting us up to the event. Most of the people on the creek will be there.”

“Where did he get a bear this time of the year?” Sandy asked.

“He had this bear tearing things up on the ranch, so he just shot him,” I said. “I doubt if it was legal. Hopefully, we won’t get arrested for going to the barbecue.”

***

Saturday was a nice day, and Sandy had the kids ready when I got home from the clinic. We loaded the kids and the potato salad into the car and headed up the creek.

There was quite a crowd present by the time we arrived. Joe had dug a large pit for the fire. This pit was out by the road near a small pond that Joe had made. The pit was about four feet deep, four feet wide, and eight feet long. There was a roaring pile of coals in the bottom of the pit and a stack of wood nearby to keep the fire going.

Joe had quartered the bear, and each quarter was wired to a couple of pipes that laid across the pit. This allowed a couple of guys to quickly turn the meat as needed.

“This is a dangerous setup,” Sandy said. “If one of the kids were to fall into that pit, there would be no saving them. And the pond doesn’t look very safe either. Its banks are just cut straight down.”

“If I have to pick my poison, I will take the pond over the fire pit any day,” I said. “Let’s pick a spot in the back corner, near the pond, and keep the kids on a short leash.”

It turned out to be a good afternoon. Most everyone with kids migrated to our little corner as it was the only safe spot. All the kids had a good time getting to know each other.

Finally, the neat was declared done, and everyone lined up to fill their plates.

“Make sure you select your meat that is not too close to the bone,” I said to Sandy as she headed to the line while I watched the kids.

“What do you mean by that statement?” Sandy asked. 

“Just something I learned years ago,” I said. “When you want to make sure your meat is well cooked, pick the meat near the outside.”

When Sandy returned, I took the girls and headed for the line. We fell in line behind Stan Walters.

“I have never eaten bear meat before,” I said.

“It’s not bad,” Stan said. “Some people like it, but I find it a little tough and stringy. It takes a little chewing. But all these salads look good.”

“You make sure you take your mother’s potato salad,” I said to Brenda as I placed a spoonful on Amy’s and Dee’s plate.

“You bring them to a spread like this and have them eat their mother’s cooking,” Stan said.

“I was always taught to bring enough to a potluck to be sure you got what you brought,” I said. “That way, you know what you are getting.”

“Ha! That might be a good idea sometimes,” Stan said.

When we got back and sat down, Brenda was first to remark about the meat. She was never much of a meat-eater in her early years.

“I don’t think I like bear meat,” Brenda said.

“I think I might agree with your opinion,” I said as I continued to chew on my first bite of meat. “It almost seems like I need to take this piece out of my mouth and cut it again.”

After everyone had eaten and the visiting was winding down, we gathered up our things and prepared to leave.

“You guys have to take some of this meat with you,” Joe said. “There is way more than I can ever eat.”

“Okay, Joe, I’ll take a small plate with us,” I said. “But I’m not sure the girls will be game for eating it again. Maybe if we grind it up, they might eat it better. It is a little too tough for their liking.”

***

The following fall, I elk hunted with John Hauser, and he was telling me about the bear he had shot earlier.

“What did you think of the bear meat?” I asked.

“It wasn’t bad, maybe a little tough and stringy, but not bad,” John said.

“That is what another guy told me once,” I said. “The first piece I put in my mouth and chewed on it for a minute or two, I thought I would have to take it out and cut it again.”

“Eating it wasn’t so bad, but I had so much of it,” John said. “When the old lady went shopping with her mother in Eugene, I figured I would render the meat and get some bear grease.”

“How did that work out?” I asked.

“I got every big kettle I could find and filled them with water and bear meat,” John said. “I had a pretty good process going for a time. I was skimming the bear grease off the top of the water on all the kettles. Then the ladies came home.”

“And I take it they were not impressed with your process,” I said.

“Oh boy! Not impressed at all,” John said. “I’m still hearing about how the house smells like an old bear.”

Those events have convinced me that hunting for that bear rug is not worth the effort.

Photo by John Thomas on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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