What Are the Health Benefits of Elk Meat?

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on May 20, 2022
4 min read

Most meat eaten in the U.S. is beef, obtained from farm-grown, grain-fed cattle. Elk are a deer species and live wild. They roam free and eat grass, bushes, and trees. Even domesticated elk don't eat grain but get their nutrition from oats, hay, and grass. This keeps their meat lean, adding high-quality protein to your diet without dangerous amounts of fat.

Elk meat is low in fat and is a healthy option for your table. Elk meat flavor is like mild beef (almost sweet). It's enjoyable but not easily available. The elk meat you order in restaurants or butcher shops is often New Zealand red deer. 

Grass-fed animals have a mixture of fats that is beneficial for health. Elk are herbivorous animals that get nutrition from grass, shrubs, and trees. Even when raised on farms, they don't take to corn as cattle do. The fat content and composition of elk meat favor heart health.

Elk, deer, bison, and pasture-fed cattle have lower fat contents in their meat and a healthier fat composition. Even after trimming all visible fat, beef from corn-fed animals has twice as much fat content as elk meat. Further removal of fat is not possible because it is deposited between muscle fiber bundles (called marbling). Beef also has a higher proportion of saturated fatty acids and omega-6. Elk meat has a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which are healthier.

Grass-fed animals like elk provide meat that might protect against chronic disease. Their lower fat content prevents the rise in total and LDL cholesterol. High levels of these lipids are linked to heart disease. Elk meat, with a healthier omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, is especially good for people with high cholesterol or heart disease.

Elk meat is rich in protein and low in fat. It has several other nutrients. 

Protein. Cooked elk meat has 30 grams of protein per 100 grams. Raw elk meat has 23 grams of protein per 100 grams.

Energy. Elk venison has 111 calories per 100 grams, one of the lowest of all red meats.

Carbohydrates. Elk meat has no carbohydrates.

Fat (lipids). The fat content of elk meat is 1.45 grams per 100 grams, the lowest among the meats commonly consumed. Less than half of it is saturated fatty acids. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which are good for health. Cooked elk meat has 75 milligrams of cholesterol per 100 grams. This compares favorably with chicken (89 milligrams), beef (86 milligrams), and deer (112 milligrams).

Minerals. Elk meat has about 3 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. Other minerals are calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.

Vitamins. Elk meat has some of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) 

Fiber. Elk meat provides no fiber.

Elk meat is healthy and has a delicate, mild flavor. It has low in fat, provides plenty of protein, and is easy to cook. 

But it carries some risks. Since elk live in the wild, they're open to infections that farm animals are not. These include parasites, viruses, prions, and other dangers.

Elk are known to carry and transmit brucellosis. This is a disease you can get by consuming raw milk or undercooked meat from infected animals. The disease is slow and long-lasting. You could have fever off and on, joint and back pain, influenza-like symptoms, and arthritis. 

Elk meat is allowed to be cooked and consumed by hunters and their families. But commercial sale is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you butcher game meat at home, you should use disposable gloves and carefully clean and disinfect all instruments. 

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a disease caused by prions. It is common in elk in many states. There is no evidence that this disease affects humans, but it might. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Don't shoot or handle elk that look sick or you find dead.
  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling the meat.
  • You can have the animal tested for CWD before eating the meat.

You should store raw elk meat in the refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) and use it within 2 days. For longer storage, you should wrap it well and freeze it. You can store frozen elk meat for up to 6 months.

Elk meat appears darker than beef because it isn't marbled with fat. This also means elk meat does not require as much cooking time and temperatures as other meat. Cook it in a slow oven at 275°F (135°C). Slow cooking at this temperature will give you the most flavorful meat. 

Larger, less tender cuts such as chuck need moist cooking. Crock pot cooking works well. If you are broiling elk, turn a few minutes before you would turn other meat. Elk is best in the rare to medium range. 

In general, game meat has less fat than farm-raised animals. This makes it somewhat dry. Elk meat does well in stews and soups. Marinate it first if you plan to stir fry it or cook it as a steak. Keep it in a covered plate for 5 minutes and slice it against the grain to keep it tender.

Elk venison is lean and flavorful. It is increasingly popular among health-conscious people. Elk farms in the U.S. are rearing elk to meet the growing demand. The American Elk Products Board (AEPB) looks into the food safety issues of elk. Their Quality Assurance Program ensures that elk meat is free from antibiotics, growth hormones, and other non-natural additives.