This all starts with my grandfather, Al Giddings and I guess the best place to start would be shortly after WW II when he got off the ship in San Francisco and decided to join the Department Of California Fish and Game in 1948. He became the main warden for the North Bay area, Marin, and Sonoma counties. He knew all the ins and outs of Marin county’s big game hunting, from mountain lions that he issued bounties on, to blacktail deer. He resided in a small community of west Marin named Woodacre. In his time spent in west Marin he was afforded the ability to help oversee fish ladders coming into the streams for the spawn as well as becoming familiar with all of the local hunting clubs and ranches. It was at a small sheep ranch in Nicasio
where it is believed that he picked up this amazing style of cooking from a Portuguese rancher. This family would do entire sheep legs on a spit at a time and feed their families and local community.
My grandfather being the outdoorsman that he was instantly had the idea that, “if sheep is this good…venison will be better.” So of course, he dove into saving hind quarters off of deer and sharing this method with the rest of the local ranching community of west Marin. He would travel from hunting club to hunting club passing along this marvelous style, that at the time erupted across Marin and Sonoma counties. It became so well know that even the meat processors knew of then and some still to this day know how to cut up a Flip Flop when asked to do so!
Speaking with my mother and my uncle about the Flip Flop, they recall as far back as they can remember to backyard barbecues that consisted primarily of venison Flip Flop, abalone, striped bass, sturgeon, and duck. For me hearing my mom share the stories of her childhood growing up in that kind of environment makes so much sense to me because that’s exactly how I remember my childhood as well. Family and friends, hunters and non-hunters alike (after all, its Marin County California what do you expect?) getting together for great laughs, sharing adventures and the love of the outdoors. There were some parties that were so big it would take several deer legs and sometimes even elk legs to feed the masses.
At some point, and my father doesn’t remember the year, the blade was passed down to him by Al and he started cutting up the legs. I can’t remember many deer that anyone in the family had broke down where the legs went to steak or burger. In the breakdown of our deer – as it’s been taught to me by my dad – neck meat is stew, backstraps and loins are the steaks, shoulders and ribs can be burger or stew and those hams baby, those hams are for the grill.
There is no I REPEAT, NO BETTER WAY TO EAT VENISON or any animal that doesn’t give trig. The Flip Flop experience is one that no person should ever miss out on. Myself, as well as some other families from Vacaville and west Marin can attest that when you call someone and say we’re doing a Flip Flop it usually takes a really great reason for them to not be there. There’s just nothing like it; everyone coming together, nothing but smiles and laughter, sharing great cooking and experiences in the great outdoors together. It has been a highlight of my life every summer as far back as I can remember, and I hope that it becomes a highlight for everyone else’s families as well. It’s too epic of a method of cooking to not have it be that way.
On my 25th birthday the blade was passed down to me. The blade being a 14” brisket slicer. I remember doing my first Flip Flop like it was yesterday. There was roughly 50 to 75 people invading my parents’ house because, after all they had the yard to support such a party, my dad handed me the knife and told me, “don’t mess up.”
I was terrified.
We had elk burgers, sturgeon casserole, striped bass, and abalone that my best friend and I had gone diving for the day before. I learned real fast under the pressure that every time I flip that leg I get a fresh start not to burn it, not to cut too thick, to learn and understand exact what that much heat is doing underneath the leg and how well is going to sear it. After a while you gain the ability to read your heat and understand when the right time to flip is. I always laugh when someone hands me back a piece and says that it’s too rare – but that’s the point!
Seared and rare.
Since that day I have had many opportunities to share my passion for this style of cooking over the years at so many parties and events all over America, from the inner circle at NASCAR in southern California to upstate New York. It is safe to say that sharing this type of preparing wild game has become a way of life for me.
I remember one of the first times I went to a large-scale event to cook a Flip Flop. There were some guys who had been doing Flip Flops in their family for their grandfather for around 30 years. They heard of someone else showing up to do one and all came down to see who this guy was. I was blown away when they showed up that anyone in the area had ever even tried one. We all got to talking and come to find out my grandfather was the one who taught their grandfather on the Murphy Ranch so many years ago. California was a small world back then, much smaller than it is now. Today, we all get together and celebrate the style of cooking with each other.
I can’t quite put into word what it has been like for me on this journey, but I am full of gratitude every single day that I wake up. The adventures that it has put me on are amazing. I am excited for what to come next watching a world of hunters trying this out for their first time and sharing it with their families. It is meant to be shared with everyone.
I am proud to be able to share this method with the hunting community around the planet. It can’t be missed. I promise it will change how you process any animal you kill. Rest in peace Big Al and thank you for this perfect tradition you shared with so many, so many years ago. It is an honor to attempt to walk a mile in your boots.