Nonhunters have no idea what you’re talking about. But say the words “jalapeño dove poppers” to a hunter and you’ll see a smile spread from ear to ear. Just looking at a plateful—with crisp bacon wrapped around each meaty, pepper-spiked dove breast, cream cheese oozing decadently around the edges—will bring tears of joy to any Texas sportsman’s eyes.
Every fall, more than 300,000 Texans head to a sunflower patch, a cutover grain field, a stock tank, or some other promising locale to hunt the state’s bountiful populations of mourning and white-winged doves. “Starting when I was about nine,” says Carter Smith, the executive director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, “my father would take me out of school early to dove-hunt at our Williamson County farm. The only thing more enjoyable than skipping class and spending time in the country was the reward after the hunt: grilled dove. I’ve been eating these poppers all my life; our family serves them every chance we get and always as appetizers at Thanksgiving.” —PS
Carter Smith’s Jalapeño Dove Poppers
15 whole plucked dove breasts
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
15 jalapeño slices, each slice halved (fresh or canned)
2 packages regular-sliced bacon, cut in half
With a paring knife, separate breasts from breastbones to make 30 lobes. Sprinkle very lightly with garlic salt and pepper. Take a breast lobe, some cream cheese, and a jalapeño slice and wrap in bacon. Secure with a toothpick. Grill over mesquite, oak, or charcoal for 3 to 5 minutes, then turn and continue grilling until bacon is crisp. Serves 8 to 10.