Skip to main content

Upgrade your next barbecue with elk, the healthy red meat you should be eating

First Light Farms is raising high-quality pasture-raised elk deliverable to your front door.

elk backstrap
First Light Farms elk backstrap. Marilynne Bell / First Light Farms

If you’re looking for a red meat alternative to beef that’s delicious and packed with nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, protein-packed elk might be the answer. A great place to get pasture-raised elk delivered is First Light Farms. This New Zealand-based company raises 100% grass-fed wagyu, venison, and, most recently, elk, all deliverable to your front door. First Light Farms sent us several of their items to try, and we interviewed them to learn all about this must-try red meat.

“While it may seem unexpected, elk is also an excellent choice for summer grilling,” says First Light Farms.

Elk cuts

various elk cuts
The variety of elk cuts from First Light Farms. Marilynne Bell / First Light Farms

While elk is often compared to venison, another healthy red meat, it’s important to remember the size difference. “A full-grown New Zealand elk bull will tip the scales over at 750 pounds, but you wouldn’t want him served up for dinner!” First Light Farms explains. “The average weight of the prime animals raised for harvest averages 175 pounds, and they are 26 months old.”

For First Light, their recommendation for elk newcomers is to start with ground elk, which can easily replace beef in burgers or chili. Examining the ground elk (which comes in one-pound blocks), we noticed the incredible leanness of the grind, exceeding by eye test, 90/10 ground beef. However, if you’re looking for something more show-stopping, go for the elk tenderloin or elk rib rack (the equivalent of a standing rib roast or prime rib).

Elk cooking tips

cooked elk with cup
First Light Farms elk. Marilynne Bell / First Light Farms

One thing First Light Farms is keen to highlight is that elk is not difficult to cook. “There is not a lot of education required around elk cooking techniques and recipes,” says First Light Farms. “The reality is if you can cook a beef steak, you can cook elk. The most important thing is to not overcook it as it is very lean.”

We tried both the elk medallions and ground elk, seasoning them simply with only salt. Because it’s so lean, we took care not to overcook it (if you’re using a meat thermometer, aim for an internal temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. In our case, we did not since the medallions were relatively small). For both, we cooked to a medium-rare. We found the meat to be extremely clean-tasting with virtually no gamey aftertaste, very different than wild elk, which is substantially stronger-tasting than the pasture-raised elk at First Light Farms.

Elk leg steak with portobello mushrooms and beetroot relish

Venison leg steak with carrots
First Light Farms venison leg steak with portobello mushrooms and beetroot relish. First Light Farms

This recipe from First Light Farms originally featured venison, but elk is a great substitute. Like venison, elk is best cooked to medium-rare.


For beetroot relish

  • 1 large beetroot – washed and rough skin removed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar (preferably brown)
  • 2 pinches chili powder

For portobello mushrooms

  • 8 medium-large portobello mushrooms – washed
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter – softened
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • Salt and pepper

For the elk

  • 1 1/3 pounds First Light Farms elk leg – cut into 1″ thick steaks
  • Mild vegetable oil (or mild olive oil)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp lightly toasted walnut pieces


For beetroot relish

  1. Peel entire beetroot into short ribbons using a potato peeler (or grate instead).
  2. Gently heat olive oil in a pot on low heat and sauté the garlic until fragrant.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer (with lid off) for approximately 40 minutes, or until the beetroot is soft and glossy and the wine has reduced to almost nothing. Season with salt and pepper if required. This relish will store in the fridge for up to a week.

For mushrooms

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and place mushrooms top down on an oven tray.
  2. Mix the butter and chopped garlic, spread mixture evenly over the mushroom gills.
  3. Strip leaves off the thyme and sprinkle over the mushrooms, then season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bake mushrooms for 15-20 minutes or until they are slightly shriveled.

For elk

  1. Bring steaks to room temperature and preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Brush steaks with oil and season generously with salt.
  3. Heat an oven proof frying pan on high and sear each side of the steak until well caramelized (approx. 1-2 minutes each side).
  4. For 1″ thick steaks, place in the oven for 4 minutes, then remove steaks from pan and allow to rest in a warm place for 3-5 minutes before serving.

To serve

  1. Serve elk sliced across the grain with mushrooms, a good dollop of beetroot relish and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts.

Editors' Recommendations

Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
Cruciferous vegetables are the secret to a healthy diet — here are 9 you should be eating
9 health-boosting cruciferous vegetables for your diet
Fresh broccoli in a bowl

With many health issues in numerous people’s lives, people are starting to transform their diets to better support their health. Cruciferous vegetables are taking the lead due to their increasing popularity and potential benefits, such as weight loss promotion and better control of blood pressure.

That being said, what are some cruciferous vegetables to include in a healthy diet?

Read more
Why you can (and should) add bourbon right to your banana bread batter without cooking it first
Bourbon alcohol cooks out as banana bread bakes - genius!
Banana bread

Cooking with booze is one of the best ways to achieve a robust and delicious complexity of flavor. For any number of dishes, we braise, poach, deglaze, and sauce with everything in the liquor cabinet, from wine to tequila to rum, and our food is better for it. And while you may have incorporated beer into your cupcakes or poached pear in a simmering pool of red wine, you may not yet fully appreciate the flavor spirits can bring to baked goods. Banana bread is one of the most delicious, comforting, feels-like-home treats there is, and it's hard to imagine it getting any better than it already is in its mildly sweet, toasty perfection. Enter bourbon.

It turns out that splashing a bit of bourbon into banana bread batter can take Grandma's recipe and elevate it to something one might find in an upscale restaurant. Here's why.

Read more
14 of the best prebiotic foods you should be eating – from apples to oats and lentils
Prebiotic foods to add to your grocery list
Foods with prebiotics like chicory, beets, and leeks.

There are constantly new wellness trends to try on a seemingly weekly basis. Some are better for you than others. One of the more popular recent trends starts with your gut. Your gut houses a broad range of bacteria and fungi that help digest and absorb nutrients in the food you eat.
These bacteria and fungi are also responsible for maintaining the integrity of the intestinal barrier, producing vitamins, reducing inflammation in the body, fending off pathogenic microorganisms, and signaling the immune system to produce more white blood cells. These resident microorganisms together form what is known as the gut microbiome -- a complex ecosystem that is susceptible to disruption and imbalance by things like antibiotics, a chronically poor diet, stress, and medications.
While certain habits can negatively affect the gut microbiome, they can also be improved and made to flourish with supportive behaviors and foods. Though probiotics get most of the attention and credit for being the go-to salve for the gut, prebiotics are arguably just as important. Prebiotics are compounds comprised of oligosaccharides, inulin, lactulose, and glycan, which are dietary fibers (carbohydrates) that are indigestible for humans but are the preferred source of fuel and nutrients for our good bacteria in the gut. In fact, prebiotics selectively feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut rather than any harmful pathogens.
A good visual is to picture the gut microbiome as a garden. Probiotics can be equated to seeds or seedlings, and the healthy bacteria are the plants. Prebiotics, on the other hand, can be pictured as fertilizer, offering helpful bacterial plants nutrients to support their growth. In this way, the prebiotics feed or fuel probiotics and the other beneficial microorganisms already inhabiting our gut.
Prebiotics are found as fermented fiber in many fruits and vegetables, as well as some seeds and grains. Adding them to your diet can help fortify the good bacteria in your gut, improve bowel regularity, and support healthy digestion. Here are some of the best prebiotic foods to stock up on next time you go grocery shopping.

Asparagus contains between 2 and 3 grams of inulin per 100 grams or a 20-calorie serving. This makes one of the least calorically dense sources of inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber known to aid digestive health, regulate the optimal levels of glucose and insulin, and fuel Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species and other good bacteria in your gut. The inulin is more effective when asparagus is raw, so try incorporating thin slices into fresh salads or shaving spears on sandwiches or atop avocado toast.

Read more