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Squirrel Meat: Tasting, Cooking, and Buying

Squirrel Meat: Tasting, Cooking, and Buying

Squirrels: If you live just about anywhere besides Antarctica, you’ve been seeing them your whole life. The little rodents have been remarkably successful at spreading across the world, and some variety of tree squirrel, gray squirrel, red squirrel, ground squirrel, fox squirrel, chipmunk, marmot, or prairie dog can likely be found right in your backyard.

Not long ago in world history though, squirrel meat was an important part of the diets of settlers and explorers of new countries.

And even today, some hunters and trappers (especially in North America) continue to use the natural bounty of squirrel meat to supplement their diets with lean protein throughout the year.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring every aspect of using squirrel meat in your own home. If you’ve ever been curious what squirrel meat tastes like or how to cook it, we’ll cover that here — as well as matters of nutrition and health, sustainability and environmental responsibility, and how to buy squirrel meat to try in your kitchen.

By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll be ready to take the next step and cook up a squirrel meat meal of your very own.

What Does Squirrel Meat Taste Like?

Squirrel

Because of their diminutive size and unique dietary habits, squirrels have meat that tastes quite unique. They’re very lean animals, so some people will compare the taste to free-range chicken breast; it’s relatively light and delicate.

But in my experience, squirrel meat tastes much closer to rabbit — it has a definite sweetness from the squirrel’s diet of nuts, seeds, and foraged plants.

But it’s true that the meat is very lean, so it’s prone to being overcooked and becoming rubbery, just like chicken breast.

To get the best flavor out of squirrel meat, you’ll need to use wet heat cooking methods like stewing or braising instead of dry heat methods like grilling or baking (more on that in a moment).

Squirrel Meat Nutrition

Because it is so lean, squirrel meat is generally regarded as a healthy alternative to fattier red meats like pork and beef. But there’s a catch, too:

It has quite a bit of cholesterol for being such a lean meat.

Here is the nutrition information for a 4 ounce portion of squirrel meat, courtesy of nutritionvalue.org:

  • 136 calories
  • 3.6 grams of total fat, with 0.4 grams of saturated fat
  • 94 milligrams of cholesterol (31% daily value)
  • 24 grams of protein (48% daily value)
  • 29% daily value of Iron
  • 7% daily value of potassium

So in total, squirrel meat is a complete protein with a high protein content and low fat, but its health score suffers from excessive cholesterol.

This makes it good for consumption in moderation, but not suitable as a primary protein source — something that’s reflected in the way that it’s been eaten by woodsmen throughout history.

Sustainability of Squirrel Meat

In addition to its pleasant taste and relatively good nutrition qualities, squirrel is also one of the most abundant free-range meats available for consumption today.

Environmental activists have looked towards abundant small animal & wild game like squirrels, rabbit, deer, etc to fill a nutritional niche that’s currently being sated by factory-raised cattle, pork, and chicken — in short, if people would eat more of the prevalent wild meats around them, we could considerably reduce the burden that factory farming places on the planet.

So when you’re eating a sustainable meat like squirrel, you’re actually contributing to the furthering of sustainable foodways around the world.

Risks and Considerations for Eating Squirrel Meat

Because of its status as both wild game and a rodent, eating squirrel meat can come with some risks.

Any wild animal can carry parasites and toxins when undercooked, so be sure to fully cook any squirrel meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F to reduce or eliminate this risk.

Additionally, avoid eating squirrel meat that has been in contact with lead shot; the safest squirrel meat to eat comes from squirrels who have been shot in the head, where you won’t be eating any of the meat.

A History of Brunswick Stew, the Most Well-Known Squirrel Meat Recipe

Stew

We can hardly talk about squirrel meat without discussing the most famous dish it’s used in: Brunswick Stew.

It’s a tomato-based stew with plenty of beans, vegetables, and wild game thrown in — and it’s also hotly contested as to where the stew originated, as it was an incredibly popular dish in the early days of the American South.

Here’s the deal: Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia all lay claim to being the first place that Brunswick Stew was made.

To confuse matters more, the city of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) in Northern Germany may have developed a proto-version of the stew long before it made its way to America.

And here’s where it gets really tricky: There’s essentially no written record of Brunswick Stew until well after each of these states laid claim to being its rightful originator.

So while the exact origins of the stew may remain lost to history and a topic of serious debate, the recipes that have grown up around it are undoubtedly delicious — and we’ll cover how to make a pot of your own in the next section.

How to Cook Squirrel Meat

Squirrel recipes were a hot topic in cookbooks from the 17th through the 20th century, being prepared in just about any way you can imagine.

But now that it’s lost its place of prominence on the dinner table, not many people know how to cook with squirrel meat anymore – it’s most commonly encountered as an exotic jerky.

Going back to the old recipe books can require a lot of translation of ingredients and measurements, and often elaborate preparations; instead of using those sources, I’m going to give you my best “no recipe” recipes for cooking with squirrel meat.

You can use them as the basis for creating your own dishes, elaborating on or changing ingredients as you go.

Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew should be the starting point for any squirrel meat novice. In modern renditions, the squirrel meat is often replaced by shredded chicken or pulled pork — but by using the original squirrel meat, you’ll get a richer and nuttier flavor that’s more interesting than chicken and less fatty than pork.

To make Brunswick Stew, you’ll need to start by sautéing about a half pound of squirrel meat in a good bit of cooking oil.

That will help to break down the tissues and make it safe to eat. Once the squirrel is fully cooked (about 10 minutes or so), remove it from the pan and either shred it or chop it into small (1/4 to 1/2 inch) chunks. Set this aside for inclusion in a later step.

In a Dutch oven, melt half a stick of butter over medium heat. Add a finely chopped onion to this, salt generously, and sauté until translucent (about 10 to 12 minutes). Then add a can of roasted, diced tomatoes and a drained can of butter beans.

From here, the stew can take almost any form by adding whatever fresh or canned vegetables you have in the house. Sliced okra will give it a great consistency; peas and carrots add color and nutrition and sweetness; and corn will give it a hearty texture. Don’t be afraid to experiment here.

After you’ve chosen your vegetables, it’s time to add the squirrel meat and your final seasonings. Return the cooked and chopped or shredded squirrel meat to the pot, and stir it in to combine evenly.

Your choice of seasoning is quite personal; some people love Old Bay, others swear by Lawry’s seasoning salt. My personal favorite is Tony Chachere’s — their Creole seasoning has just the right balance of spice, salt, and savory for my palate.

If you’re really unsure about what to add, just use a splash of your favorite barbecue sauce and a dash of hot sauce.

Finish the entire squirrel stew dish off with enough chicken or vegetable stock to get it to a loose consistency, and it’s ready to serve. Classic accompaniments include pickles, coleslaw, and cornbread.

Slow cooker squirrel

Slow cooker squirrel works really well too, and doesn’t require quite as much prep time as Brunswick Stew. You can start with a base of minced onion and garlic (or garlic powder) sautéed in butter, then add potatoes and carrots and chunks of squirrel meat.

Add salt, black pepper, and your favorite dried herbs, then cover everything in stock or a mix of stock and cooking wine.

Set your slow cooker to low if you want to eat it about 12 hours later, or on medium/high if you need to eat dinner sooner.

Buttermilk fried squirrel

Buttermilk fried squirrel is another popular Southern dish. For this, you’ll first soak pieces of raw squirrel meat in buttermilk overnight.

Drain them and discard the buttermilk while you heat a deep pan of cooking oil to 350 degrees F. Dredge each piece of buttermilk marinated squirrel in a mixture of flour, corn meal, salt, and paprika, then lower gently into the hot oil.

Fry for 2 to 4 minutes per piece, depending on size, then remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve with hot sauce, honey, and/or ranch dressing as the main course of a meal with mac and cheese and baked beans.

Squirrel casserole

Squirrel casserole is another low-maintenance way to make good use of this game meat. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F and add oil to the bottom of a casserole dish.

Thinly slice enough onion and potato to make a layer of each on the bottom of the casserole dish, then sprinkle salt over them. Sauté enough squirrel meat to put another layer on the casserole.

Then cover the entire thing with two cans of cream of mushroom soup, and layer a cheese of your choice on top. Bake in the oven for an hour, and you’ll have an entire meal ready to go! Feel free to add a layer of vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli to make an even heartier dish.

Where to Buy Squirrel Meat

If you’re not squirrel hunting for your own meat (and don’t know someone who is), you’re not likely to find it at your local grocery store or butcher shop. Instead, you’ll have to turn to online outlets to satisfy your squirrel meat fix.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many online retailers that offer squirrel meat at this time. The Wild Meat Company in England occasionally has squirrel in stock, but it’s not entirely reliable and shipping can be costly. Exotic Meat Market has more consistent stock, but a single squirrel costs close to $100!

My best advice for finding squirrel meat to try in your own kitchen is to make friends with local hunting groups in your area (also note squirrel season).

Squirrels are an abundant meat source in just about every area, and if you’re not willing to hunt them on your own you can often find people who would be happy for a little bit of extra income on the side. And it’ll certainly be cheaper and more reliable than trying to buy squirrel meat online.

FAQs About Squirrel Meat

And to wrap things up, let’s take a quick look at some of the most commonly asked questions about squirrel meat.

Is squirrel white or red meat?

Squirrel lacks myooglobin, the molecule that makes red meat red. That means that squirrel is considered to be a white meat.

Are all squirrels edible?

Oddly enough, yes. All types of squirrels, including prairie dogs and chipmunks, are edible. Of course, you’ll have to clean and prepare them properly for them to be safe to eat.

How much meat can you get from a squirrel?

The average squirrel will give you somewhere between a quarter and a half pound of meat.