Funyuns, Doritos, Chikin-on-a-Biskit. They conjure images of stoners and the unemployed, but no one consumes those snacks to affect said lifestyle. Jerky, well, c'mon. It's like a meat Marlboro. If you've ever torn off hunks of dried flesh, wrung them out on your molars, and not once narrowed your eyes and internally complimented this great land or your ability to survive in it, you're doing it wrong.
So when I gazed upon an eight-ounce package of "elk strips" at the Cabela's in Springfield, Ore., I didn't contemplate its $35 pricetag or its 1879 equivalent, adjusted for inflation. I didn't think about the fact this was the most I have ever paid for a single item of food since I took the daughter of a North Carolina supreme court justice on a date 16 years ago. Nor did I consider that this vacuum-sealed clump more resembled elk poop. I only saw a vision of my idealized manhood, slowly trailing off, like a single tear running down Iron Eyes Cody's cheek or some bulllshit like that.
If we're gonna open a feature on snacks here, might as well go big, right? Thus I purchased the Elk Strips, packed by Gary West Smoked Meats of Jacksonville, Ore., like I was hellbent for leather. Or chewin' a hunk of it, anyway.
Weirdly, however, the first notes of the Elk Strips reminded me of seafood. Softshell crab, actually, because of the meat's natural gaminess and the lightly brackish solution curing it. It's not unpleasant; it's in fact quite flavorful, waking up parts of my palate desensitized by oversalted, highly processed meat snacks. The elk meat itself rends easily with your back teeth, no need to get the incisors and cuspids involved, like you do when tearing into a page of Pemmican. It is, all kidding aside, an artisanal snack.
One bite of this stuff and you'll be talkin' like Sam Elliott sayin' the dinner blessing. Not the truck-commercial Sam Elliott, neither. I'm thinking more like the ads he cut for Union Pacific back in 2003, or maybe his part in The Big Lebowski. This is not a snack that says "hemi-powered" or "Allison transmission," whatever the fuck those two things are. While there is an oily sheen to the strips that I wiped off on the leg of my cargo shorts (that cost half as much as the snack I was holding), it doesn't taste like gasoline, as does the low-grade jerkmeat you find in a convenience store.
I'll let y'all snicker over that for a bit.
Still, yeah, that pricetag. Freedom, or what tastes like it anyway, ain't free. It ain't $1.05 either. This is a premium experience. Gary West does offer Elk Jerky (a different product) at 4 ounces for $10, if you're some flatlander city slicker wussy. This is actual elk meat (though it does contain some pureed beef for texture and consistency). The suggested serving size is one ounce; that means you get eight in a bag, though I will say the elk meat is rich enough that you won't be scarfing it down like peanuts.
Though bite-sized, these elk strips are not exactly finger food, and definitely not something you break out for the boys when it's game time. I'm thinking more along the lines of a celebration of your manful triumphs, like changing your own spark plugs, or outwitting that squirrel that raids the birdfeeder.