Southwest Sampler: Cactus Buds, Rattlesnake and a Phoenix Margarita

With their dish, Antelope Jackrabbit Tacos, Johnathan O’Dell and Michael Cravens of Arizona BHA captured the spirit of their region and won the 8th Annual North American Rendezvous Wild Game Cookoff in Boise. You can find their winning entrée recipe, pictured, in the summer issue of the Backcountry Journal. (Not a member? Join now to get your copy!)

The tacos that the duo carefully prepared were served with Elote style cholla cactus buds as an hors d’oeuvre and a side of rattlesnake. For a drink, the chefs developed what they call the Phoenix Margarita. You can find the recipe to each below in order to create a meal, and an experience, that is unequivocally of the southwest.




Elote style cholla cactus buds


  • Dehydrated staghorn cholla buds
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Mexican Crema
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbs ground chipotle pepper powder
  • Key limes cut into 1/8 slices, lengthwise
  • Toothpicks

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Rehydrate the cholla buds in boiling water.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, crema and cumin; mix well and set aside.
  3. Remove the cholla buds from the boiling water to drain and pat dry.
  4. Place a cholla bud onto a toothpick then dip into the mixture to coat fully.
  5. Remove cholla buds from the mixture and then lightly sprinkle them with chipotle powder.
  6. Serve with limes so guests can add lime juice to taste.

Preparation Tip: Fresh cactus produces a slimy mucus when heated. Dehydrating the cholla buds then rehydrating eliminates this phenomena.


(bacon seasoned rattlesnake)



  • Rattlesnake back straps
  • 1 Tbs fine grain sea salt
  • 1 Tbs light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp sriracha sauce
  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • Cactus spine (or toothpicks)
  • Prickly pear syrup

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Take each full length of backstrap and roll them individually into single layer coils and skewer each with a cactus spine to hold the coil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the salt, sugar, pepper and paprika thoroughly. Once mixed, add in the sriracha, and stir until combined.
  3. Season both sides of each snake coil with the mixture and set aside.
  4. Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Once melted and beginning to froth, add the snake coils. Tilt the pan slightly and use a spoon to baste the snake. Leave the coils on the first side until a good brown color forms (3-4 minutes). Then flip the coils onto the other side, and continue to baste until the meat is cooked through and opaque in color. Remove from the skillet and place on serving plate.
  5. Drizzle with a touch of prickly pear syrup.

Preparation Tip: When rolling up the rattlesnake coils, don’t wrap them too tight before pinning with the cactus spine. If they are too tight, as the meat shrinks while it cooks, the wraps will push upwards and not lay flat for a better presentation.

The “Phoenix Margarita”


  • 1.5 oz Patron reposado tequila infused with serrano, jalapeño, and cilantro
  • .5 oz Aperol
  • .75 oz agave nectar infused with micro planed orange peel
  • 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
  • salt
  • sugar
  • paprika 
  • Serrano pepper, orange and cactus spine for garnish 


  1. Add the tequila, Aperol, agave nectar and lime juice into a cocktail shaker and shake for 20-30 seconds and set aside.
  2. Rim a glass with a mixture of salt, sugar and paprika. Handmade copper mugs were used in this instance, but a double old-fashion glass is ideal. 
  3. Strain cocktail into the glass over ice and garnish with a small serrano pepper and orange pinwheel skewered through with a cactus spine and serve. 

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Photos by Alex Kim

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