Grandmother wasted nothing. Grandfather said, “It was the Scotch in her.” My childhood home was six doors from my grandmother’s house. I never had a meal at her home that didn't leave me licking my lips. I remember sitting in her kitchen watching her take the celery leaves from the top of the stalks and chopping the leaves to add to this recipe. The resulting meal is what became known in my own adult house as Granny Burgers. Grandma mixed beef and pork (ground pork was less expensive back then) and added celery leaves and milk-soaked bread crumbs she made from stale bread. She formed burgers in the shape of five or six ounce footballs, cooked them in a cast iron pan, and served them to this hungry boy with buttery mashed potatoes and pan gravy alongside whatever vegetable was immediately available from the garden or root cellar.
I think of my dear grandmother and her white wooden table, scalding black tea, and homemade rhubarb juice every time I make them. These meatballs were inspired by my grandmother’s burgers. Use ground bear if you have it, but any game meat works as would beef––if you must.
These meatballs are roasted to at least 165 degrees F, on account of USDA's terminal cooking temperature recommendations to eliminate the risk of trichinosis. No need to fuss about this––just follow the 165 degrees F rule and you and your guests will be fine.
Recently, as is our family’s occasional practice, two of my grandkids had a sleepover at our house. They both helped me with the meal preparation. I see this as part of the continuum of young hunters' training––every hunter needs to know multiple game preparations.
The minced black bear recipe that follows leans heavily on fresh garden herbs: celery, chives, and parsley. I hope my grandkids gather with their kids and make these meatballs long after I'm gone, remembering the fun and good food we shared. I truly hope you and your family enjoy them, too.
- Cutting board
- French knife
- Gram scale
- Kitchen Aid mixer (or brand of your choice). You can use your hands like Grandma, but the mixer makes it go much faster
- Food processor fitted with the cutter blade
- Cookie scoop (we maintain a selection of various sizes to make perfectly matched meatballs and cookies, but forming by hand will do the job too)
- Ninja Foodie or air fryer with racks suitable for meatballs (or your regular oven and a baking tray)
- Mixing bowls, assorted sized to hold measured ingredients
- Measuring cup
- Instant read electronic thermometer
- 900 grams (2 pounds) of ground bear meat (feel free to substitute any game meat if needed)
- 400 grams (0.9 pounds) of ground pork shoulder
- 175 grams (¼ of a pound) of bacon ends (or use sliced side bacon)
- 20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) of salt (1.5% of meat by weight)
- +/- 5 grams (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) coarse black pepper
- 70 grams (2 ounces) chopped fresh celery leaves only
- 30 grams (1 ounce) chopped fresh parsley
- 30 grams (1 ounce) chopped fresh chives
- 150 grams (about 2 cups) of fine breadcrumbs
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk
- 2 large eggs
- Everybody wash hands! Sometimes kids need a reminder.
- Weigh out the ground bear and ground pork into the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl.
- Measure breadcrumbs, milk, bacon, salt, and pepper. Calculate salt at 1.5% of the total weight of the meat; in this case, the math goes like this: (900+400) x 0.015 = 19.5 grams (but round up to 20). Note the bacon adds some salt to the mix, and the bread and milk offset some of this. You can adjust the amount of salt to suit your taste in the next batch.
- Gather and coarsely chop chives, parsley, and celery leaves on a cutting board with a chef’s knife.
- Mix the milk and breadcrumbs to soak.
- Add bacon to the food processor and blitz to a medium fine mince. Add to the meat mixture.
- Add the coarsely chopped herbs to the food processor along with two eggs, salt and pepper. Blitz to finely chop herbs and mix in the salt and pepper. Add to the meat mixture.
- Add the bread and milk to the meat mixture.
- Attach the paddle to the mixer and start on the lowest setting to incorporate all the ingredients. Once mixed, gradually increase the speed to a higher setting until the meat mixture binds together well. This might take two minutes or so. When the meat starts to smear, you’re done.
- Scoop the meatball mixture to form uniform balls the size of your choosing.
- Bake in the air fryer until the internal temperature passes 165 degrees F. This took about 15 minutes at the 400 degree F setting.
- Serve to suit your guests (ours wanted fettuccini with the option to control the amount of tomato sauce on everything).
I’ll repeat myself—it is such a pleasure as a hunter to share a meal with preparation of game I caught with my kids and grandkids. They thoroughly enjoyed both the cooking and eating of their meal (and their parents were grateful for the break). Who’s joining you in your kitchen this week to extend the pleasure of a hunt?