Yak meatloaf | David Hammond

Frozen meat and fish selections at Wild Fork are truly impressive, and we’ve praised this relatively new store on Lake Street for its wide selection of exotic proteins.

Recently, driving home through Downtown Oak Park, we spontaneously decided to stop and get some meat “we’ve never eaten before.” Wild Fork offers many meats we’ve rarely enjoyed at home, including ostrich, elk, and venison, but we came upon one meat we’d never enjoyed before, anywhere: yak.

Yak is not a common meat, nor a common animal in this part of the world. You do, however, find lots of yak in Tibet, where this long-haired ox is used as a work animal but also for meat, milk, and skins. 

People laugh when I mention that we ate yak, because “yak” is a funny word. Comedians are familiar with the Rule of K, which states that words containing a “k” sound are funny; for instance, Buick is funnier than Ford, and Karl is funnier than Charles. So “yak” would be a good punchline, but it’s also an exceptionally good meat that we’d do well to eat more of because it’s:

• Low fat, up to 97% lean, which puts this red meat on par with fish. 

• High protein, with about 25 mg per 4-ounce serving, comparable to beef.

• Low cholesterol/saturated fat, which none of us need.

• High in omega-3 fatty acids, which many of us need.

• Environmentally friendly: yak needs up to half the pasture required for beef cattle.

All this good stuff, of course, would be for naught if yak didn’t taste good. Yak is red meat, but unlike beef, it contains less fat so it’s less lush that beef but not at all greasy. Yak is also lighter tasting than beef, so you may want to add flavor. When we made a meatloaf of ground yak, we added garlic, barbecue sauce and other high-flavor ingredients. It was quite satisfying (I had seconds), and it felt “lighter” than beef-based meatloaf.

People are sometimes uncomfortable eating unfamiliar meats, but in 2019 it was reported that “yak is one of a handful of animals now turning up in local restaurants, feeding a desire for something beyond the standard pigs, chickens, and cows. Some eaters are looking for new flavors or a fresh adventure. Some have concerns about their health, the way animals are treated, or the effects of meat production on the environment. They’ve turned to game and other meats that aren’t often served in the U.S. as both a solution and an escape.”

You should be aware, though, that yak is not cheap, coming in at around $18 per pound at Wild Fork; compare that to their price of around $7 per pound for ground beef. 

So yak is maybe not everyday meat, but it’s good to have now and again for both personal and planetary health, and just by buying some yak to serve at home, you’ll be supporting continued production of yak meat as a viable, accessible protein source. 

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David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...