For years, I avoided wild-game poppers. I thought they were pretty unimaginative. Deep down, I knew they were delicious, but the cliche appetizer wasn’t the kind of thing I got excited about. But as the dove breasts in my freezer reached the verge of going bad, it was finally time to face my own pretension. The verdict: I was stupid. Classic dove poppers are really fucking good.
Dove poppers have been a staple of the hunting community for generations. Cheese-stuffed peppers and wild meat wrapped in bacon — what’s not to love? The flavorful dove breast is the perfect size to fit on a popper and complements the rich and tangy cheese mixture, salty bacon, and crunchy heat of the jalapeno.
Traditionally, dove poppers are cooked on the grill, but they can also be cooked in a pan, which I actually prefer. Pan searing or indirect methods such as baking or smoking more evenly cook the bacon and keep the poppers intact when the harsh flames of the grill might not. Another benefit of pan cooking is that any cheese that oozes out will stick to the popper and crisp, retaining the cheesy goodness and adding even more flavor and texture.
So, here’s the no-frills, classic dove popper recipe that made me a believer.
- 10 dove breasts (5 doves)
- 1 cup cream cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 5 jalapeno peppers
- 10 strips of bacon
- Dipping sauce of your choice
- Remove and clean the dove breasts.
- Mix the cream cheese and shredded cheddar, then add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- Cut off the tops of the jalapenos, then slice the peppers lengthwise and remove any seeds and pith.
- Scoop a dollop of the cheese mix into each jalapeno half, then place a dove breast on top of the cheese.
- Wrap the whole thing up with a strip of bacon, using a toothpick to secure it if necessary. Ideally, the bacon should keep everything together and the cheese from falling out while the popper cooks.
- Cook the poppers on the grill or in a pan on all sides until the bacon has browned, the cheese has melted, and the dove breast has cooked through.
- Serve the poppers with barbecue sauce, blue cheese dressing, or your other favorite dipping sauce.
As cooks, we are always trying to push ourselves and the food in new and interesting directions, but sometimes, that can get in the way of enjoying the simple pleasures. For me, wild-game poppers were a blind spot that I’m glad I corrected.
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