homemade pheasant smoker

A couple of deep baking trays and a cooling rack will create a pheasant smoker, a novel way of cooking the gamebird

Eating what you shoot is all part of the shooting code, so you need to have a few delicious pheasant recipes in your repertoire. Pheasant is also free-range and high in protein, nutritious and delicious.

brace of pheasants

And so it begins …

Hanging pheasants

These days the top game chefs recommend hanging birds for a minimal time, as they taste best when very fresh. Gone are the days of hanging pheasant for days until they tasted ‘gamey’. Which is a good thing too, as that gamey taste probably put off a lot of diners who otherwise would have enjoyed a pheasant dish. Four days is the maximum to hang a pheasant safely in the feather in a cold place.

In fact, pheasant meat is mild, delicate and extremely versatile.

Shooting Times contributor and game chef Tim Maddams advises: “It is a good idea to leave them for 24 hours if you can, as this helps the meat to relax, but anything more than that is not needed, unless you prefer a deeper flavour to your meat.”

Pheasants that are wet, dirty or badly damaged should be prepared for cooking as soon as they have cooled from the field, because they will go off very quickly.

Pheasant also freezes well. 

hen pheasant

Young hen pheasants are best for roasting

Cock or hen bird?

Certain dishes are best with a cock bird, other pheasant recipes work best if you have a hen bird, for example if you’re going to roast a pheasant.

Think about the time of year

Check your pheasant to see how old it is before you decide how to cook it. Horny feet and moth eaten feathers will mean that the bird is older. Never roast a pheasant after Christmas as it will be tough – it’s better to casserole it after this time.

marinating pheasant

Marinating meat from older pheasants can prevent toughness

Tips on cooking older pheasants

How would you go about getting the best from older pheasants? Tim Maddams advises: “There are lots of things to remember when cooking older birds. For the most part, you will be able to rely on your usual late-January pheasant recipes. First, the meat will be tougher, so the birds will take a little longer to hang. This will aid the toughness issue, but also deepen the already stronger flavour, so you need to balance that one.

“Because of that stronger flavour, I’d advise you to use the meat from older birds in spiced dishes. I’d add some allspice, bay leaves and brown sugar to a brine and leave the birds to marinate for a couple of hours. Then remember to cook the birds low and slow for at least a couple of hours and it should be awesome. If you are breasting and leg-boning the birds, the bones will make an excellent stock. The meat is ideal for mincing, so think about ragu and meatballs. The breast meat will be excellent for hot-smoking as well. ”

Preparing pheasants

There are plenty of useful videos around on plucking and gutting pheasants. You will make a bit of a mess, so do it outside if possible. You can also bone the bird without plucking it. Some people also swear by pheasant crowners.

Plucking takes practice

There are a few things to bear in mind when plucking pheasants. On the breasts, in particular, you should be careful to hold the skin down while you gently pull the feathers, no more than a few at a time, against the grain.

You will have difficulty if the bird has many shot holes in the breast, in which case you would be better of skinning it anyway.

The force that is acceptable for pulling out the feathers and the direction of pull depends on where you are plucking feathers from. When plucking feathers from the back, where the skin is very thick and close to the bone, you can generally pluck away to your heart’s content, but great care is needed where the skin is thin, such as over the breasts.

However there is little point in plucking a late-season cock for roasting because it will be rather tough – it would be better to breast the bird and fry some pheasant goujons instead.

A versatile game bird

You can add pheasant meat instead of chicken to almost any recipe – or add it to a chicken recipe to give a deeper flavour.

Smoked pheasant is another thing to do with the meat – and then you can use it as a basis for salads.

A criticism levelled at pheasant is that it can sometimes be a dry meat – this tends to happen with older birds which should be cooked long and slow and never roasted.

Shooting Times contributor Rose Prince says about pheasant: “I also love to use it in more exotic recipes, 
as a reminder of the bird’s Eastern origins”

Some dishes to cook with pheasant

Hay baked pheasant

Pheasant has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Fancy cooking a pheasant recipe with a difference? Try cooking it in hay.

Baking in hay is an old method: the hay will keep the heat in during cooking. Serves four.

Hay baked pheasant recipe


  • 2 oven-ready pheasants
  • 2 celeriac
  • 500ml cider
  • Fresh hay
  • Cornish sea salt
  • Milled black pepper

Soak the hay in cider. Place the hay in a roasting tray and nestle the pheasant and celeriac inside and cover.

Roast in a hot oven (180ºC) for 50 minutes (depending on size).

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.

Remember the pheasant will carry on cooking with the residual heat.

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