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Venison Taco Crowned at AWF Gulf Coast Cook-Off


This venison birria taco was judged the overall champion at the AWF Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off. Photo by David Rainer

By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

It appears taco dishes filled with savory wild game and fresh fish are hard to beat at the Alabama Wildlife Federation Wild Game Cook-Offs, and the recent Gulf Coast competition in Spanish Fort was no exception.

Before an overflow crowd at the Blue Gill Restaurant, the Venison Birria Taco dish prepared by the Five Rivers Fiesta team of Daniel Haas, Thomas Clark, Todd Amos and Charles Green was crowned overall champion.

“We had a blast,” Haas said. “I was worn out afterward, but we had fun. I’ve seen this dish on TV shows, and I’ve eaten it in a couple of different places in Texas. It’s a little bit more of a mainstream dish now, a pretty common Mexican dish. Some people know about it, but we thought it would still be a change of pace at the cook-off.”

Haas said the cooking team members decided on venison because their freezers were well stocked with deer meat. After perusing several recipes, Haas added his own flare to the dish with a dipping sauce made with the pan drippings from the slow-cooked venison and spice blend.

“The recipe called for a venison roast, but I’m not an expert at deboning a hind quarter, so we used a good bit of backstrap and tenderloin because it’s a lot easier to remove the silverskin and connective tissue off those cuts,” he said. “I took a recipe made to feed 10 to 12 people and increased it times 10. The recipe calls for a large Dutch oven, but because of the way we were cooking, we used Crockpots. You may have to go your local taqueria to find all the chile peppers.”

Venison Birria Tacos

Feeds 10-12

3-4 pounds venison


Black pepper

Garlic powder

1/4 cup cooking oil of choice

Birria Sauce

6 dried guajillo chiles, seeded

4 dried chile de árbol peppers

2 chipotle peppers

2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 tablespoons adobo sauce

1 can fire-roasted tomatoes

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1-2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

Juice of 1 lime

Dozen flour tortillas

1 pound Mexican four-cheese blend

1 cup pickled red onions and jalapeños

2 bunches green onions

2 bunches fresh cilantro

Caden Bradshaw slices a medium-rare goose breast, which took top honors in the fowl category at the AWF Gulf Coast Cook-Off. Photo by David Rainer


Season the meat with salt, pepper and garlic powder and brown in the hot oil before transferring to a Dutch oven or Crockpot along with pan drippings.

To prepare the sauce, drop the peppers into 1 gallon boiling water for 5 minutes. Reserve 3 cups of the chile cooking liquid. Place rehydrated peppers into food processor and blend. Add next 10 ingredients through lime juice to food processor. Add chile water until desired consistency is reached. Pour sauce over meat for braising.

If you use a Dutch oven, place the meat in the oven for four hours at 325 degrees and another 30 minutes at 350 degrees with the lid removed. With a Crockpot, turn it on high and cook for three hours and then turn to low for another 90 minutes.

“After about four hours, start checking the meat with a fork,” Haas said. “If you can spin the fork in it, it’s tender, and you can start shredding it. One of the things to look for when you’re slow cooking wild game is a foam will build up on top of the meat. Scrape off the foam and get rid of it.”

After the meat becomes tender, remove the venison from the cooking utensil and shred. Take tortillas and coat with the sauce remaining in the pan before heating the tortilla on a griddle, frying pan or grill.

“There’s a little layer of fat that will be on top of the sauce,” Haas said. “We take the tortillas and dredge them through that before we heat the tortilla. You know when it’s coated because it will be dark red on both sides. That’s where you really get the flavor. That’s the deal because you get a little crisp on the tortilla by cooking in that rendered fat. You cook that tortilla for about 30 seconds on one side and flip it.”

After the flip, take a portion of cheese and place on the tortilla and a portion of the shredded meat on one half. Fold the tortilla and cook for about a minute. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds or until the cheese is melted before placing on the serving plate.

“The recipe calls for chopped white onions, but we actually did pickled red onions and jalapeños,” Haas said. “We also sprinkled chopped green onions and cilantro on top. Then we took our leftover sauce and ladled it up for the dipping sauce.

“We’re glad everybody liked them. We probably served 150 tacos. We were staying busy. People kept coming back. As far as winning, I’m surprised we swept the competition, but I was pretty confident that, if the dish was executed the way I envisioned, it would have a shot at winning at least the game division. We thought it would be a little different, and not many people are going to turn down melted cheese, slow-cooked meat and fried tortillas. I love cooking, and I like the chaos of cooking for a large group of family and friends.”

The Five Rivers Fiesta team advances to the AWF Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals next August.

The other taco dish in the running for overall champion was Fairhope Fish House’s Day Boat Tuna Tacos, which won the fish category. Chef David Ramey seared fresh yellowfin tuna and prepared a tasty taco. Hooks Lake took second in fish, followed by Team Hiller.

BA’s Barbeque went traditional to win the fowl competition with its Goose Steak. Caden Bradshaw said keeping it simple is the key to tasty, tender specklebelly (white-fronted) goose breasts.

“Specklebellies are called the ribeyes of the sky,” Bradshaw said. “I didn’t soak them in any milk or ice water like some people say you have to do to get the gamey taste out. All I do is make sure I remove all the fat off the geese. You get your favorite steak seasoning. I used Kinder’s this time, but just use whatever you like. I sprinkle the seasoning on the goose breasts and place them in a plastic bag for about 30 minutes. Then I put the breasts on a hot grill or griddle. You flip them every five minutes until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. That’s a nice medium rare. I let them rest from five to eight minutes and then drizzle them with melted garlic butter. Slice them against the grain, and they’re ready to eat.”

A Wild Turkey Confit prepared by the Tensaw Delta Waterfowl/CCA Eastern Shore team took second in the fowl division, followed by Team Hiller with a Quail Wrap.

Gator Bites by Equipment Depot took second in the game category. Eastern Shore Ace Hardware took third with Bacon-Wrapped Venison.

Visit for a schedule of the remaining 2022 cook-offs.


Chef David Ramey prepared this Day Boat Tuna Taco to win the fish division at the AWF Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off. Photo by David Rainer

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