• After 35 minutes, turn the legs and move them around so they cook evenly. You will probably need an hour to 90 minutes for pheasant legs, up to two and a half hours for wild turkey legs. Remember, slower is better.
• When one hour has elapsed, paint the legs with your favorite barbecue sauce and continue cooking. Let them cook for five to 10 minutes before painting again.
• Once the pheasant is done, paint it one more time with the sauce and move it to the hot side of the grill to get a little char. Don't walk away at this point, because the sugar in the sauce can blacken in a hurry; a little black is okay, but you don't want a wild turkey briquette.
The result is fantastic: wild game bird legs will always be denser and more flavorful than domestic meats, and this slow-and-low technique helps retain moisture and break down the considerable connective tissue in wild turkeys and pheasants.
You can use any barbecue sauce you want, but here are three I developed for Simply Recipes:
• South Carolina-style barbecue, which is mustard-based
• A rich and tomato-y Kansas City-style barbecue sauce
• My own bourbon-based barbecue sauce
Elise and I also played around with a beer can chicken recipe, and it was so good I knew I had to try to make beer can pheasant, using my last remaining whole pheasant.
If you've never eaten beer can chicken before, you are missing out. It may be the second greatest thing the NASCAR crowd has brought to American cooking, behind true barbecue itself. Done right, you get a crispy skin, meltingly tender breast meat, and the legs and thigh meat practically falls off the bone. It's the perfect chicken. But would it work for pheasant?
Holly A. Heyser
First problem: pheasants have slim hips. Too slim to jam a regular beer can up inside them. Hmmm ... what sort of can might fit in a pheasant? I got it! Red Bull. Now I detest this stuff—tastes like sweet tarts—so I poured it all out and washed the can well to get rid of the Red Bull taste, then I filled the can up halfway with beer.
I just managed to get the Red Bull can up into the pheasant, as even it was slightly too wide. But it works.
Oiled up and dusted with salt, black pepper and thyme leaves, I closed the lid on Mr. Pheasant and set the burners to keep the temperature up at about 500 degrees for the first 10 minutes or so. I then dropped the heat to roughly 450 for the next 20 minutes, then dropped it again to about 400 degrees for another half-hour.
Turns out a pheasant cooked this way needs only about 45 minutes. I overcooked mine by thinking it would need an hour. But the skin was crackling crisp, and the legs looked fine. I let the pheasant rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it.
The moment of truth: when I sliced into the breast, it was, miraculously, still juicy! Definitely cooked more than I wanted it to be, but it was not dry at all. All the steam coming out of the can kept the breast moist. Thank you, Red Bull can!