The story of a man, an Up North dinner party, and the grilling of a northern Michigan delicacy.
By Tim Chilcote | July 6, 2019
It’s not fishy. It’s not gamey. It doesn’t taste like a rodent or anything with whiskers and webbed feet. No, beavertail is meat candy, the cousin of bone marrow. It’s rich and buttery and bizarre. If you want a story to tell, it’s the most curious meat you’ll ever stick a fork in.
How do you procure a beavertail? With great difficulty and discomfort, and in my case, on the coattails of an expert, a neighbor who traps exclusively for the cash, either selling pelts or removing nuisance animals for clients. Beaver trapping, at least in Michigan, is cold, damp drudgery in remote, semi-frozen wetlands. Processing the animal is best done by pros, due in part to the valuable furs and fragrantcastoreum glands.
But then, no one said it would be easy, and we certainly had no idea it would be so tasty — even my trapper friend had never even considered eating it. The goal was only to say we did it, and maybe shock a couple guests. The meal bordered on a dare. So at a northern Michigan dinner party we returned to our French fur-trading roots with a BBQ for the ages.
To get started cooking, you could watch how-to videos — more than a few exist online (shockingly) — but most focus on slow-smoking the beavertail. And while we’d intended to spend all day around the grill doing just that, it was -30 degrees on the day the dinner party came together, so we improvised and settled on something closer to grilling.
Here’s how you do it: Rub the beavertail with salt, pepper and olive oil. For all the toughness of the skin, it will allow seasoning and smoke through. Feed the Weber Grill with a lot of charcoal and hickory — more than you’d think — and get it really, really hot. I’m talking over 500 degrees hot. Place the tail over indirect heat. Put the lid on the grill.
Magic is happening. It won’t take long. Aim for 10 minutes. If you peek you’ll see the skin bubbling, and you might pop a steam geyser. The beavertail hisses and bubbles. Flip it once, cook 5 more minutes, and when the skin seems to be separated completely, it’s done. There’s nothing to the rest. Set the tail in the middle of the table. Enjoy the curious oohsand terrified gasps.
The leathery exterior peels off not unlike a thicker turkey skin. And what’s underneath is melt-in-your mouth fat, with two small strips of white meat along the bone. The fatty goodness almost dissolves on the tongue, but not quite — there’s just a bit of chew to it. It’s salty and umami and rich — too rich to eat much in a sitting, unless of course you were starving to death during a 1600s Michigan winter. Spread it on a piece of garlic toast, maybe with a dollop of cheese, garnish a slice of venison backstrap, or just eat it with a fork.
Listen as the gasps change to "More please."
Illustration above created by Spencer High