Luke Clayton

Outdoors Columnist

With a column titled “The Beast”, I’m betting you’re wondering what ‘Ole Luke has in store for you this week! Before getting started, I think it appropriate to mention that I am blessed to write for a group of editors that realize every outdoors column I pen doesn’t necessarily have to be ALL about hunting and fishing.  If you have been reading this spot for long, you’ve come to realize that each week’s work is part outdoors news, part on the scene reporting and part blog. I usually write about what’s been going in my life the previous few days; where I’ve been fishing or hunting or maybe a ‘how to’ piece on making sausage at home or curing wild pork. We cover the gamut in our little corner of this publication.

This week’s column is a bit different. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of devoting a couple days of what turned out to be pretty hard but highly fulfilling work. I, with the help of some very good friends, had the honor of supplying the homeless in downtown Dallas with some most excellent venison BBQ, and, a lot of it! As you read my account of the past couple days, please understand it’s not my intention to ‘pump’ myself up. Truthfully, the pleasure was all mine. 

For the past couple years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of helping my friend Joe Dunn with his BBQ ministry. Joe works through “Big Heart” ministries to feed the hungry in downtown Dallas on holidays and he’s always ready to fire up ‘The Beast” (his huge smoker) at our church get-togethers and special events.   I’ve been present to witness hundreds set down to a tasty Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and seen how supplying the most basic of human needs touches not only the stomach, but the hearts of folks that are in need.

Joe and I have been talking about expanding his ministry by supplying the needy with BBQ made from wild game. Wild pork is excellent eating and many ranches have a huge surplus of whitetail deer that must be thinned each year to keep the herd in balance. Why not fire up “The Beast” and begin transforming this surplus into much needed food for those that really need it? Our first “gig” was with The Dallas International Street Church ”(, situated just south of downtown Dallas. I made arrangement with Pastor Karen Dudley, who oversees the ministry, to deliver chopped venison BBQ yesterday. My friend Todd Wright oversees a big ranch in East Texas with an over abundance of does. According to Todd’s biologist’s plan, about 25 does needed to be removed. I figured “The Beast” could accommodate the meat from five deer pretty easily!

Mention BBQing or helping supply a nutritious meal for the needy and Joe Dunn is the first in line to ‘get cookin’ but this past week found my buddy recovering from a minor surgery and I had the opportunity to head down to Todd’s ranch solo and skin and quarter the 6 doe that were hanging in the walk in cooler on the ranch. I had “The Beast” parked behind my house and a good supply of cooking wood awaiting the venison. Al Malekovic with Country Bobs All Purpose Sauce had even supplied me with plenty of his excellent BBQ Sauce and dry seasoning for the occasion.

I do most of my outdoor cooking on my Smokin Tex electric smoker and have become spoiled to this trouble free style of making BBQ. But, as much as I love my electric smoker, it simply could not accommodate a total of 10 deer hams, 10 deer shoulders, 10 backstraps and the same number of tenderloins. I needed “The Beast” for this endeavor! Now, The Beast can best be described as a 2,000 pound piece of iron, shaped somewhat like an old time locomotive, with the propensity to burn coal (or wood) at about the same rate. I found our really quickly that The Beast has an appetite for pecan, hickory or mesquite wood that will keep the chain saw buzzing!

Venison is by nature a very dry, healthy meat. My goal was to prepare moist, flavorful, well seasoned  BBQ to the folks and I knew that simply loading the quarters of meat into the smoker would result in a dry,  unflavored finished product. Dunn suggests smoking the meat about 2 hours uncovered at around 180 degrees, then placing the quarters in heavy duty aluminum foil, seasoning with the dry Country Bobs and pouring on a liberal amount of BBQ sauce. After much trimming of meat and the necessary prep work on my part, The Beast had a total of 40 pieces of prime venison in the confines of its huge iron belly and smoke billowing from its smoke stack. I’m sure from a distance, the smoker took on the appearance of a coal fired freight train!

By 5 p.m. that afternoon, the long, slow cooking process had begun. I discovered that about every 5 hours, it was necessary to add more pecan wood to keep The Beast’s thermostat at or near 200 degrees. I set my alarm clock to inform me in the night that it was time to get up and put on more wood. The outside temperature was in the high twenties and The Beast seemed to have an insatiable hunger! The next morning, around 8 am, I lifted the Beast’s heavy iron doors to peek at what I hoped  would be some ‘almost done’ BBQ. A quick inspection proved The Beast had succeeded in heating the meat to just over 150 degrees; the venison was done but not yet tender. After 4 more hours on the smoker, the venison was ‘fall off the bone’ tender. Using a cleaver and a large chopping block, I boned the venison and went to work chopping the meat. I would chop a ham or shoulder, place the meat in large aluminum pans, season with the dry Country Bob’s seasoning, then apply a liberal amount of BBQ sauce, making sure each piece of venison was moist and well seasoned. After roughly 50,000 whacks of the cleaver, I was looking at five huge aluminum pans FULL of some very tasty, very moist chopped venison BBQ.

I was greeted at the Street Church my Pastor Dudley and several of the guys that help with her ministry.  I removed some of the BBQ from one of the pans and asked for a little ‘taste testing’.  I was pleased to learn that the venison more than met with their approval. “The homeless folks that come here each day will really enjoy all this BBQ and we really thank you for bringing it.” said Pastor Dudley as she sampled the venison. “This is the best BBQ I’ve even eaten.” she added. 

As I left the city and headed southeast toward my home, I was thankful for being able to help these folks in a small way but I also knew that what I considered to be a huge amount of BBQ would only provide a few meals. These folks have to eat EVERY day. Wish us luck with our new BBQ ministry; we’re planning to put The Beast back to work with several wild porkers in a few days!

To learn more about the Dallas International Street Church, call 214- 928-9595. There is a huge need for not only food but warm clothing and everything necessary to sustain life during the winter months.

Duck hunting excellent:

Water is plentiful throughout much of north and east Texas and cold weather has finally pushed ducks south. Outfitter Cory Vinson offers guided hunts near Cedar Creek Lake and says ducks were present in large numbers for the opener of the second split of the season. “It looks like we might have the best season in years. We’re offering guided hunts which include lodging, a steak dinner, breakfast and bird processing for $200. We still have a few openings for week end hunts but we have plenty of openings during the week.” says Vinson. Contact Vison by calling 469-867-4299.