Elk Burger

Chef's notes:

Elk (Cervus canadensis), a species of deer, are one of the largest mammals in North America. The only bigger North American deer species is the moose. They have moose in Europe too, but over there they call them elk, which is how the elk in North America got their name. The first Europeans to see them thought they resembled the “elk” back in Europe, so that’s what they called them. I wonder what they thought moose resembled?

When cooking elk meat or any venison, for that matter, remember that it’s a very lean meat. So cook the meat to medium rare or lower. If you cook the meat to medium, you will begin to notice the meat dry out. The other thing you will note about elk meat is that it is a very mild-tasting venison in comparison to white tail or mule deer. In fact it is probably the least gamey of all venison. Plus it is very high in protein, higher than chicken or beef.


  • 1 pound ground elk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp roasted garlic
  • 4 Tbsp caramelized onion
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise

Elk Burger: Seasoned with Salt, Black Pepper, and Cayenne, topped with Roasted Garlic and Onion Mayo

  1. Mix the ground elk with the spices. This is roughly a pound of ground elk meat that we picked up at the farmers market. I really like the way elk meat tastes; it is unlike other venison in its mildness. But it still has the wild flavor that is so unique to venison. So to the meat I add only three things: salt, pepper, and a little cayenne pepper. Please, for the love of God, don’t put breadcrumbs, eggs, or other garbage in your burgers.
  2. Shape the elk meat into patties. This pound of ground meat could’ve made 3 or even 4 elk burgers. But I like big, thick burgers, so I made it into two ½ pound patties. The added bonus being that a thick patty is harder to overcook. But that may also mean that you have to put the burgers in the oven to finish cooking them to your preferred doneness, which is perfectly fine.
  3. Fry the elk patty in a little butter. Heat up a frying pan to medium heat and melt a tablespoon of butter in it. Each patty, frying pan, and stovetop will be different, so I can’t give you an amount of time of how long to cook the first side. Flip it when the sides begin to darken and the bottom begins to get pretty dark. I don’t normally fry the patties with the lid on because that produces steam and you end up steaming your meat instead of frying it.
  4. Cook the other side of the elk patty. Use the first side’s cooking time as an estimate for how long to cook the second side. But ultimately it’s gonna come down to how you like you burgers cooked. Use a thermometer to judge the doneness of the burgers. For rare burgers, 120–125 degrees F, medium is 140–150 degrees, and well done is around 160–170 degrees. If, after frying each side of the patty, you find the burgers are still not done, put the pan in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.

Tips & Tricks

  • Elk is probably gonna be in the freezer section, if it’s available at all. Check co-ops and farmers markets. This elk was purchased from a bison ranch that also raises elk. You will definitely be able to find it online.
  • Elk is very lean, so if you overcook it, it will be all dry and nasty.
  • Ketchup is not a great condiment for venison. Try making the roasted garlic mayonnaise I use here. The recipe is to the right.
  • Use a nonstick frying pan for the burgers, unless you want drippings for a pan sauce. In that case, go with a regular frying pan.
  • Don’t put the lid on the pan when cooking the elk burgers. That will produce steam, which will dry out your burgers.