Squirrels are cute little mammals that many of us see daily, climbing up and down trees and rushing across parks and lawns.
Although there are millions of squirrels around, and we live very closely with them, few people ever consider eating a squirrel.
That doesn’t mean they are not delicious, or that we haven’t eaten them in the past.
Before World War II, there was a much larger interest in squirrel meat and the dishes that were made with it, including the famous Brunswick stew from the Southern United States, made with squirrel meat, lima beans, tomatoes, and okra.
Right now, squirrel meat is being rediscovered by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, who praise squirrel meat for its distinct flavor and health benefits.
If you’ve never tried squirrel meat, it might be the right time for a culinary adventure!
What Are Squirrels?
There are more than 200 different species of squirrels worldwide, although most people are familiar with only about 5 of these species that dominate Europe and North America.
Squirrels are rodents from the family Sciuridae. They are famous for collecting nuts and storing them for a period of hibernation in the winter. Most squirrels are quite small, with even the largest being smaller than a small cat.
Although their reputation is for living on nuts, in actuality squirrels are omnivorous and eat insects, eggs, small birds, and other mammals in addition to fruit, berries, nuts, and leaves.
Squirrels can be very cute, and some even associate them with pets, but they are wild animals. Throughout the eras, they have been hunted and trapped for survival and sport, and their meat is both healthy and nutritious.
What Distinctive Flavor Does Squirrel Meat Have?
You might expect squirrel meat to be tough, lean, and gamey like rabbit – especially because squirrels have such small and seemingly muscular bodies. However, this isn’t quite true.
Squirrel meat is much more “standard” and palatable than rabbit, with less of a noticeable gamey taste. For those who are new to wild meats and wild game, squirrel meat is probably a kinder introduction than rabbit or even venison.
Light in color and lean with a fine texture, squirrel meat tastes as much like chicken as it does rabbit, with a subtle nutty flavor.
What Does Squirrel Meat Look Like?
Squirrel meat is light in color, but darker than chicken or fish, with a pinkish-red color when raw.
Due to the small size of the average squirrel, squirrels are often skinned and prepared whole or the meat is cut into small cubes, browned, and added to a saucepan for a stew.
What Texture Does Squirrel Meat Have?
Squirrel meat has a fine grain texture, and when cooked is soft without being chewy. The texture is very similar to chicken or rabbit.
The meat is firm but lean, with a fine grain, and when cooked well the meat falls off the bones, tender.
Where Does Squirrel Meat Come From?
Obviously, squirrel meat comes from squirrels, but since they are wild animals and are not farmed on a large scale like chickens, pigs, and cows – where are you supposed to find squirrel meat? Where does it come from?
If you look up your local regulations, you may be able to hunt and trap squirrels on your own. They are, after all, wild animals.
In most areas, squirrels are very plentiful and you may not need a license to hunt them as you do with deer and fish.
If there are no restrictions on hunting squirrels and you have the aptitude for it, you can buy or construct a trap and procure your own squirrel meat from the great outdoors.
If you’re not a hunter, or the rules and regulations in your area prohibit trapping squirrels, you’re still not out of luck.
Squirrel meat might not be the most popular thing on the market, but a growing interest in it means that if you can’t find squirrel in your local grocery store or at your local market, you can order it online from specialty wild meat companies that will ship it to your door.
In some areas, you can even buy canned squirrel meat.
Is Squirrel Meat Healthy?
There are plenty of health benefits associated with eating squirrel meat, which is both lean and very high in protein.
Squirrels do try to bulk up on nuts before winter, and you may have seen some fat squirrels in your time, but in general, squirrels are quite lean and muscular, and their meat is leaner, with less fat than chicken or beef.
If you are trying to find leaner cuts of meat to reduce your calories, squirrel meat might be helpful – although keep in mind that to get the best results when it comes to flavor, you may need to add a little butter or oil to keep the meat from drying out.
Squirrel meat is also packed with nutrients, and is a good source of iron, niacin, and vitamin B12.
There isn’t a lot of meat in the average squirrel, but there is more protein in squirrel meat than in chicken or beef. Per weight, squirrel meat is more filling and contains more protein to help you grow muscles and repair tissue.
Whether you are comparing squirrel meat to other farmed meats, other wild game, or comparable sources of vegetable protein, there are plenty of health benefits to squirrel meat, and in moderation, it can be a healthy part of your diet.
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What Are The Dangers Of Eating Squirrel Meat?
Squirrel meat is very safe for most people, but there are some concerns that you should be aware of before you start preparing your first meal with it.
If you are hunting your own squirrels, there is a risk that the meat may contain parasites that could put your health at risk.
Although it is possible to hunt and trap squirrels for yourself, it is generally safer to purchase squirrels from a reputable vendor who can ensure that the meat is parasite free.
Another major concern is cholesterol. Squirrel meat is relatively lean compared to other types of meat, but it does contain unusually high levels of cholesterol.
Elevated cholesterol has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, so if you are already concerned about that, or you know you have high cholesterol levels already, squirrel meat might not be the best choice for you.
How Can I Store Squirrel Meat?
Like any other meat, squirrel meat that is left out will quickly spoil and develop bacteria. To avoid this, you should store it carefully.
You can keep squirrel meat fresh in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Can You Freeze Squirrel Meat?
Yes – unless you are planning to cook your squirrel meat in the next 24 hours, you are better off putting it in the freezer to preserve it from mold and bacteria.
Always place your squirrel meat in a sealed container before putting it in the fridge. It should last for 3-6 months in the refrigerator with a significant loss of flavor or texture.
How Do You Clean Squirrels For Eating?
It takes a skilled butcher to harvest all of the meat from a squirrel, and you might not have access to someone with those kinds of skills. If you choose to do it yourself, be aware that it is a challenge!
Squirrels are so small that it requires tiny kitchen tools to get between the small bones and remove the necessary connective tissue.
The best technique to clean squirrels is to remove the head and the foremost parts of each limb using kitchen shears and use a small, precision knife to remove the furry pelt from the meat beneath.
Whether you choose to keep or discard the fur is up to you.
It is your choice whether you debone the squirrel entirely, or simply remove the connective tissue and organs so that you roast or grill the squirrel as a whole.
Even if your butcher is skilled and experienced at cleaning and deboning squirrels, most contain only about 250g of meat, and most of that is concentrated in the hind quarters.
You might find it most convenient to have everything but the hind legs deboned, and cook those with the bones in.
What Is The Best Way To Cook Squirrel Meat?
There are many ways to cook squirrel meat, including roasting and grilling it whole, but one of the best and most popular ways is to add squirrel meat to a stew.
Squirrels are so small that they contain relatively little meat each, but they do include a lot of flavors.
You can get the most out of that flavor and texture by browning the chunks of deboned squirrel meat in a pan until they are seared on the outside, and then adding them to a saucepan along with some red wine and other ingredients to soften the meat and bring out the flavor.
Are Squirrels Poisonous To Eat?
The fact that most people don’t eat squirrels regularly is enough to spark a bit of curiosity. Why not? Is squirrel meat poisonous?
The simple answer is no! Squirrel meat has been eaten for generations and it is not any more poisonous than chicken or beef.
However, squirrels are wild animals, whereas chickens and cows are typically raised on farms where their food and lifestyles are controlled to produce the best meat.
Squirrel meat is not poisonous, but squirrels are wild animals, living on other wild animals, including small birds, insects, and other mammals. Throughout their lives, they can pick up parasites that live in the meat and can be transferred to humans.
If you buy your squirrel meat from a reputable vendor, you have nothing to worry about. However, if you are hunting or trapping your own squirrels, you should be aware that the meat may not be safe.
Squirrel Meat Nutrition Information
|Per 100g squirrel meat, according to nutritionvalue.org
Quick Table: Squirrel Meat Recipes
|Squirrel Stew With Paprika And Greens
|2 hours 20 minutes
|Buttermilk Fried Squirrel
|Braised Squirrel Aurora
|2 hours 20 minutes
This classic recipe for squirrel stew gets everything right, with a delicious and rich sauce formed from tomatoes and white wine, flavored with oregano and paprika.
The acid and compounds in the white wine and tomatoes help to break down any remaining toughness in the squirrel meat and soften it to a delicious texture.
The additional fattiness provided by smoked sausage complements the squirrel meat perfectly, and adding the greens at the end of the cooking process completes the dish.
If you’ve never had squirrel stew, this is one of the best and simplest ways to enjoy the flavor of squirrel meat, and it is not to be missed.
Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
It can be annoying how people say that everything – including squirrel meat – tastes like chicken. That isn’t true! Each meat has its own distinctive flavors and textures.
This recipe replaces chicken with squirrel meat, to create a “fried chicken” alternative that is much richer in flavor, with the same fatty, junk food goodness you get from a bucket of fried chicken.
It takes a couple of squirrels (or more) to get enough meat, but when correctly seasoned and deep-fried to golden perfection, these fried squirrels taste better than chicken by a long shot.
Total Preparation Time: 45 minutes
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If you are hunting or trapping your own squirrels, you might notice that you have an older squirrel rather than a younger one (recognizable by yellow or separated teeth). These tend to be tough unless they are braised, which softens the meat.
This recipe for braised squirrel uses white wine as a base, along with a generous addition of garlic and hot chili. Served with almonds and olives, it pairs well with boiled fingerling potatoes.
Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Squirrel Meat Good To Eat?
Yes, squirrel meat is both delicious (one of the most accessible and palatable wild game meats out there), and nutritious, with plenty of protein and not a lot of fat.
If you are an adventurous eater and enjoy chicken or rabbit, you owe it to yourself to give squirrel meat a try. It’s delicious, and great to eat.
Does Squirrel Meat Taste Like Bacon?
No, although squirrel meat is delicious, it doesn’t taste much like bacon at all.
The flavor of bacon is due to its high fat content and plenty of salt. Bacon essentially deep fries itself in its own fat in the pan, and this combustion creates a fatty, smokey flavor that we associate with bacon.
This kind of flavor is impossible with squirrel meat, which is much too lean to fry like this.
The flavor of squirrel meat tastes similar to many other types of meat, including pork, but it doesn’t taste much like bacon at all.
Can Eating Squirrel Make You Sick?
Squirrel meat is not poisonous on its own, and when you buy squirrels from a reputable vendor you can be sure that the meat won’t make you sick, but there are risks to eating meat from wild animals.
Squirrels can carry parasites like worms, and some carry diseases like salmonella and tularemia.
In rare cases, there have been life-threatening illnesses caused by eating squirrels – especially their connective tissues and organs, like the liver and brain.
Some squirrels carry Creutzfeld-Jakob syndrome, also known as mad-cow disease, which can eat holes in your brain.
In another case, a man from Rochester, New York, with extreme memory loss was diagnosed with the rare Prion’s disease after eating a contaminated squirrel.
If you are not an expert in squirrels who can hunt, clean, and prepare them safely, it might be a better idea to buy your squirrel meat from a reputable vendor.
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