Game for anything: Hixson church hosts 300 for wild-game dinner

Game for anything: Hixson church hosts 300 for wild-game dinner

February 26th, 2014 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Rick Bynum, left, and Lou Bozeman grill deer wraps, cuts of venison wrapped in bacon, at a wild game dinner held at Middle Cross Baptist Church in Hixson. The dinner included hors d'oeuvres made from buffalo, antelope and deer.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


• Antelope Summer Sausage

• Buffalo Joes

• Deer Chili

• Deer Sausage Balls

• Smoked Deer Tenderloins

Source: The Rev. Ed Gravett


One criticism of wild game, especially venison, is its "gamey" flavor. The Rev. Ed Gravett says the secret to ridding meat of that flavor must take place after the animal is processed but before it's cooked.

"Put the processed meat in coolers. Fill the cooler up with enough water to cover the meat, but not to the top. Pour in a bag of ice, pour in half a box of table salt. Let it sit 24 hours. Then pour out the water and ice, wash the meat, and repeat the process for two more days. On the fourth day, take the meat out, clean it and put it in the freezer. You will not have that gamey taste."

Benjamin Feltman carries a tray of deer sausage that he made.

Benjamin Feltman carries a tray of deer sausage...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

It's not the traditional Chattanooga fundraising dinner.

Instead of tuxes and gowns, guests arrive in faded jeans and camos. There are no frou-frou flower arrangements; instead, decor leans more toward man cave with buffalo and deer heads mounted around the walls.

Dinner entertainment is a video of a hunt -- sometimes for the very meat that guests are being served. Lucky guests who win a door prize might go home with a muzzleloader, tree stand or crossbow.

Is it any wonder that the dinner's 300 tickets were snapped up within a week for this hunters' night out?

Middle Cross Baptist Church in Hixson held its annual Wild Game Dinner for Men and Boys last Saturday night at the church. Guests were served dishes featuring antelope, buffalo and deer -- all shot and prepared by church members. It's an original idea for a fundraiser that feeds guests' bodies and spirits, organizers say.

"When I started hunting, I never thought it would be a great men's ministry," says the Rev. Ed Gravett, church pastor and avid hunter for more than 40 years.

"This is our fourth year to have this dinner. We try to get the church men to invite their unchurched hunting buddies. We want to make it nonthreatening to them, so we all wear jeans and camo so they feel comfortable. No one is intimidated," he says.

After dinner in the fellowship hall, guests go over to the church, where Gravett warms up the crowd with some humorous hunting stories. Then they are entertained by local singers before Gravett closes the program with an inspirational message. Over three years, the dinners have resulted in 24 new professions of faith and more than 70 spiritual rededications of lives, according to the pastor.

Feeding the 300 on Saturday night required 20 pounds of antelope, 50 pounds of buffalo and 18 pounds of deer burger for the deer chili, in addition to the meat of four donated deer that was smoked. Gravett says the whole church pitches in to make the dinner a success; the men hunting and preparing the meat, the women serving guests and baking desserts such as cupcakes and brownies.

Food prep for Saturday night's dinner began a week ago when Rick Bynum began smoking deer meat. On Saturday morning, Debbie Gravett, the pastor's wife, made the Buffalo Joe's (think Sloppy Joe's only with buffalo meat). Benny Feltman made the deer sausage balls.

"You can't make me eat that stuff!" exclaims church member Paula Bean, laughing about the wild-game entrees. "The men joke and call it roadkill; I call them Bambi killers."

Deer sausage

Deer sausage

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

"Everybody tells me 'If you'd just try it ...,' but there's just something about not going to Bi-Lo to get the meat," jokes Kim Mayse Hullender, who made the deer chili. "It's said to be healthier for you because this is lean meat."

Making deer chili is "no different than regular chili," she says, "just a different meat."

She adds that 200 chicken breasts were smoked by a friend of her father's as an alternative choice for children or adult guests who don't want wild game.


Gravett jokes that a lot of people call hunters crazy for getting up at 5 a.m. to go sit outside in a tree stand in 20-degree weather. But, he says, the early-morning quiet is when God speaks to him.

And since buffalo and antelope don't just wander around the wilds of Tennessee or North Georgia, they had to do some traveling to get the meat for t

"Four of us guys went to Wyoming on a hunting trip and Shane Raines shot the buffalo," says Gravett. "While we were out there we brought back some antelope summer sausage that has jalapeno and pepper jack cheese in it. It's delicious on a cracker."

When asked how a man of God rationalizes shooting nonthreatening animals, Gravett laughs and quickly turns the tables.

"Have you ever had a hamburger? That beef didn't come from Bi-Lo," he jokes.

"God put animals on the earth for our use. We always try to do everything in as humane a way as possible, we never take any animal that we don't intend to use for our consumption. It's not about mounting an animal on the wall."

Deer chili

Deer chili

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Deer Chili

1 to 1 1/2 pounds deer meat, chopped fine or chunky as desired

4-5 cans Bush's chili beans, drained

1 packet McCormick's chili seasoning mix

1 29-ounce Hunt's tomato sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown deer meat in skillet. Place browned meat in large pot on stove, add chili seasoning, drained beans and tomato sauce. Fill emptied tomato can with water and pour that into pot. Stir.

Cover and let simmer a minimum of two hours, stirring every 20 minutes, before serving.

Note: Kim Hullender says the longer the chili simmers, the better the taste. It may be frozen and reheated later. She also suggests combining spicy and mild chili beans for extra flavor.

- Kim Hullender

Crock Pot Shredded Venison Sandwiches

4 pounds boneless venison roast

1 1/2 cups ketchup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

Smoked deer

Smoked deer

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

1 tablespoon ground mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional)

2 teaspoons celery salt

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 drops hot pepper sauce, to taste

14 -18 hamburger buns, split

Cut venison roast in half; place in a 5-quart slow cooker.

In a large bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, lemon juice, soy sauce, liquid smoke if desired and seasonings. Pour over venison. Cover and cook on high for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove the roast; set aside to cool. Strain sauce and return to slow cooker.

Shred meat, using two forks; stir into sauce and heat through. Using a slotted spoon, spoon meat mixture onto each bun.

Makes 14-18 servings.


Smoked buffalo

Smoked buffalo

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Buffalo Meatloaf

1 slice multigrain bread

1 pound ground buffalo meat

1 onion, diced

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon mustard powder

3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained

1 teaspoon salt

1 dash ground black pepper

Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Crumble the bread slice into crumbs and set aside. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Thoroughly mix ground buffalo meat, onion, egg, ground mustard, tomatoes, salt, pepper and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Form the meat mixture into a loaf shape about 8-by-4 inches and place into the middle of the baking dish. Apply ketchup to the top and sides of the meatloaf.

Bake until meat is no longer pink and ketchup forms a glaze over the meatloaf, about 1 1/2 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.