Sandhill crane, also often called “Ribeye of the Sky” by hunters, is a fantastic game meat. These large birds can be hunted here in New Mexico, mostly by draw; you won’t be disappointed with the hunting experience or taste of their dark meat.
Above: Sandhill crane can be processed into a variety of cuts. In this recipe, we grill the breasts. Photo by Storm Usrey. Below: A sandhill crane, commonly known as some of the best game meat available. Photo by Martin Perea.
Grilled Sandhill Crane Breast
• 2 sandhill crane breasts (meat off one bird and you get two beautiful “steaks” from one bird)
• Olive oil (used to rub on the cleaned up breast meat prior to putting rub on)
• 1 tsp. pepper (used to make rub)
• 1 tsp. red chile powder (used to make rub)
• 1 tsp. garlic salt (used to make rub)
• ½ tsp. onion powder (used to make rub)
When you have breasted your sandhill crane you will get two “steaks.” You want to take the time to wash the meat off, cut all of the silver skin off and trim any fat from the meat.
Once the meat is thawed out and cleaned, mix up 1 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. red chile powder, 1 tsp. garlic salt and ½ tsp. onion powder in a small bowl or cup. Place the two crane breasts onto a plate and rub each steak with olive oil. Once coated, rub each with the seasoning over both sides of each breast. I usually will do this about an hour before I turn on the grill, leaving the meat in the refrigerator until I am ready to grill.
Light up your grill and try to get the temperature to 400-425°F before placing the two chunks of breast meat onto the grill. Your goal once the grill hits this temperature is to cook each side for approximately 5-6 minutes. You want the inside/middle temperature of the meat at approximately 135°F when the meat is cooked; this will be consistent with a medium rare piece of beef. The outside of the meat should be seared nicely.
After cooking both sides for the appropriate time you may need to put it back on one more side for a few minutes to finish. You want to avoid overcooking the crane meat as it can become dry and tough and this will ruin the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Some folks like to butterfly their breast meat or steaks. If you do this it can decrease your cook time so pay attention and don’t overcook.
You can always cook up some asparagus and have a nice green salad of your choice as a side with your “Ribeye of the Sky.” Serve and enjoy! Try sandhill crane hunting in the future and enjoy the great outdoors!