The Thanksgiving holiday is perhaps the single most popular field day for hunters. And indeed, the family and social gatherings throughout the holiday season present the sportsman with an opportunity to cultivate his other outdoor passion of grilling and smoking.
A lifelong hunter and passionate barbecue pitmaster, Lowcountry native Jimmy Hagood embodies the transcendent convergence of our Southern reverence for flora, fauna — and food. Jimmy spent this past Thanksgiving at his family’s Lowcountry farm. Wednesday found him cooking cane syrup, grown on the place and marketed to the public via Hagood’s aptly dubbed business Food for the Southern Soul.
“We use our cane syrup as a glaze when grilling ducks or venison. While the cooked meat is resting on the counter, I brush on some more of the syrup. I also like to put in my bourbon cocktail, which I drink while I’m cooking,” he says, emphasizing the versatility of his product.
The day after Thanksgiving, Hagood “injected a whole haunch of venison with our Wild Game Marinade.” The contents of the bottle separate into solids and liquids which you typically shake up before applying to the meat. Another creative option, though, involves the aid of a strainer to separate the liquid portion of the marinade from the solid. “I injected the liquid into the haunch, used the solids as a wet rub on the outside and grilled the venison on a Weber charcoal grill.”
With a reflective respect for the past, Jimmy improves on tradition. “I remember my grandmother cooking a whole haunch roast with French or Italian salad dressing. She stuck it in the oven until the venison was well-done and, of course, the meat was tougher than we like it now.”
Hagood’s delectable venison haunch was a characteristic epitome of farm, or rather forest-to-table sustainable consumption. When Jimmy hunts with his family and friends, the group processes their own deer. “We lay out the meat in its natural forms, numbering the cuts one through 12. We write those numbers on paper and put the strips of paper in a hat. You get whatever cut you draw and whoever harvests the deer takes home the loins.
“The deer I cooked the other day was shot on October 27. I aged it in the refrigerator for three or four weeks, which also helps tenderize the meat. Including the bone, it was about a 10-pound piece of meat. I walled charcoal on two sides of the grill and cooked the haunch in a pan to collect the juices. I started at 375-400 degrees and cooked it down to 250 degrees.
“I stopped cooking it when the venison was medium-rare. When it was done, it was real tender and we sliced it thin, just like you would roast beef.” Jimmy wasn’t the only one who considered the smoked venison a success: “Everyone from my eight-year-old niece to my 90-year-old father loved the way it tasted!”
For Hagood, the actual cooking of wild game involves the same conservation ethic honored in the harvest. “The unique thing about it is cooking the whole haunch; most people would have cut it into steaks. To me, the worst thing anybody can do is take a deer to a processor and grind it all up into hamburger. That is a travesty; it is not honoring the animal in the way our forefathers did, by any means. This method of cooking a whole haunch is a way, I think, to retain the dignity of the animal and show it the respect it deserves.”
Venison was not the only wild food at the Hagood holiday feast. Jimmy continues: “I went down to B&B Seafood at Bennett’s Point and picked up some shrimp and oysters. I prepared shrimp and rice-grits. We grow rice on our farm, which we have milled to sell. About 10 percent of what is left over after milling the rice is middlins, broken grains that look like stone-ground grits. You can cook the middlins like grits at a three-to-one ratio and it has the consistency of grits.
“I sautéed the shrimp for four minutes in a pan with our Tidewater Shrimp Sauce & Marinade. It’s a lot like cooking it in butter, Worcestershire sauce and pepper,” but it tastes a lot better. Jimmy “created the Tidewater Shrimp Sauce Marinade because so many people want another way to cook shrimp.”
For Jimmy, the relationship between hunting and cooking is symbiotic. “I was bringing home meat and I would put it in the freezer, where it would stay for a couple of years, until, of course, it would become freezer burned and I had to throw it out.” Experimenting with cooking methods “was a solution to that problem” of wastefulness that challenges all successful sportsmen with full freezers.
As he continued to fine-tune his artful barbecue, Hagood developed his own sauces and rubs. “Frankly, the reason these products are on the shelf is because of how I grew up and how I like to do things in the kitchen. We have recipes on the labels — all based on how my family and I grew up in the woods and in the tidal creeks, bringing all that we killed or caught back to the kitchen.”
The nickname of Jimmy’s Wild Game Marinade is “a marinade that changes the game,” so named because it helps extract the gamey flavor, which is not palatable to many eaters. The marinade is ideal for ducks, doves, quail, or venison backstops and loins. Hagood recommends marinating the meat and cooking it on the grill with the charcoal set to one side. Doing so allows you to grill with two temperatures: searing on one side and cooking on the other.
“This marinade has a lot of molasses in it, which is a great thing to help caramelize the meat and give it some color. But, the marinade will flame up, so I like to cook the meat off to the side of the heat,” Hagood points out.
A savvy businessman, Jimmy markets his marinade under two different monikers: “Wild Game Marinade is the ‘country’ name and Farm & Field Marinade is the ‘urban’ name — for millennials who might not approve of hunting! I love it!” He laughs.
This same diplomacy extends to the BlackJack Barbecue Sauces purveyed by Food for the Southern Soul. “I have always said barbecue sauce is a lot like religion, politics and college football and basketball. I am not getting in the middle of that debate, so I make all three kinds: vinegar-based, mustard-based and tomato-based sauces,” Jimmy explains.
Food for the Southern Soul creates a cornucopia of products sure to improve and accentuate any meal: sauces and rubs, marinades, rice, stone-ground grits, cane syrup, pickled okra, vegetable and okra soups and Jerusalem Artichoke Relish, a longtime favorite among locals.
As a Lowcountry native, Hagood naturally supports the local food movement. He partners with GrowFood Carolina and buys okra from local farmers. He obtains hogs for barbecue from Ravenel processor Burbage Meats and free-range farmers such as Tank Johnson of Holy City Hogs. For holiday gift ideas, as well as food products to enhance and season your own holiday meals — wild or domestic — check out foodforthesouthernsoul.com.
Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.