Give squirrel a whirl
May 20th, 2011
09:15 AM ET
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I have a squirrel guy. His name is Buddy and by trade he's a sound engineer, but in his heart of hearts, he's a hunter. Buddy doesn't hunt simply for sport; he, his girlfriend and his son cook only meat and fish that they have personally dispatched.

If Buddy's willing to share meat with me, I say, 'thank you' and take what he's offering. I know his kill was clean, quick and respectful, it'll be expertly cleaned and dressed, and no way am I going to find anything of its variety or caliber in my local butcher shop or supermarket.

That doesn't mean that when he offered me a brace of squirrels, I didn't initially have pause. I got over that pretty pretty quickly - and deliciously - and you should, too. Here's why.

1. Squirrel is the chicken of the trees

To paraphrase blogger turned cookbook author Hank Shaw - if you wanted to starve to death in the wilderness, you'd have to try pretty hard. Squirrels are plentiful - overly so in some regions. Buddy initially began dispatching the squirrels because they were savaging the garden he'd so carefully planted. Their numbers were seemingly undiminished.

"Awwwwww!" you might coo. "But they're so adorable and sweet and and how could you be so very cruel as to eat the precious Disney fluffy-wuffy?"

Yup – they're all just darling until the day when you walk into your kitchen to find that one has gnawed through your window screen to make himself a snack of your tortillas. He's just there, lounging about on your table all bushy-tailed and cavalier until he spots you...and snarls...and then everything is a blur of tortillas and mange and horror.

There are plenty of squirrels in the world. You can stand to eat a few.

2. Squirrel is a locavore's delight

You probably - okay really oughtn't go strolling into Central Park or an urban alleyway in search of prey. Not only would that be highly illegal; you are what you eat, and you are what that squirrel eats and that's not going to work out well for either one of you.

If you stick with forest squirrels or those that have been subsisting on your garden largesse, you know exactly what that beastie has been snacking on. It had a pretty footloose and fancy-free life in the great outdoors - certainly better than that of a factory-farmed chicken or pig. Meat really doesn't get more local than from your own or your friend's backyard.

3. Squirrel is a classic
While it may have fallen out of modern favor, if you crack open older editions of The Joy of Cooking or your grandmother's recipe stash, you're sure to find recipes and tips for cooking with squirrel. In many parts of the country, squirrel has never gone out of vogue in the local cuisine. It's a must in traditional Kentucky burgoo, some Brunswick stews, plenty of casseroles - and apparently in Mike Huckabee's college dorm popcorn popper.

In this age of kitchen retro, heirloom seeds and canning fetishism, it just makes sense to take a page from grandma and give squirrel a whirl.

4. Squirrel is easy to cook

In the video below, I've just simmered the squirrel until the meat was tender, then served it shredded on a plate. Texas chef Tim Love gives his a nice, long braise with minimal seasonings so as to let the meat's rich flavor be the star. If he's planning to pop it on the grill, since the meat can be tough, he'll brine it with salt and chiles first to tenderize it. Any method that's suitable for rabbit should be just dandy with squirrel.

5. Squirrel just tastes great

When I popped a plate of braised squirrel on the table, guests first approached hesitantly, then began shoveling strands into their mouths. For most, it was an initiation (it's generally illegal to sell wild game, so you have to have a source like Buddy), but seemingly not to be an isolated instance of enjoyment.

The general consensus was that it tasted more earthy and sumptuous than the darkest turkey they'd ever tasted - and wouldn't it be great in a ragout, stew, or cassoulet?

One might even say they went a bit...squirrely for it - but that would just be nuts.

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Filed under: Favorites • Hunting • Ingredients • Meat • Squirrel • Taboos

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soundoff (1,001 Responses)
  1. ohsnap

    My sister and her family eat this all the time in upstate NY. Their very dainty and girlie 10 yr old daughter goes hunting with her dad and retrieves the squirrels and big bull frogs too that he shoots...has done that for years. Their family of 4 boys and 1 girl never goes hungry in a town where unemployment is very high. Personally, I'd pass since I am mostly vegetarian and the picture above does nothing to encourage me otherwise, but more power to them.

    January 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
  2. Carla Jess

    I grew up in a hunting family. There is NOTHING better than a fresh, young squirrel for dinner! Now that I live in an urban environment, I miss the fresh game. I would love to be able to buy squirrel meat here in the USA like they can in other countries now. Give it a try. It is delicious!

    October 21, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  3. chia

    what a great idea!
    just yesterday, our neighbor said the squirrels ate every one of his blueberries that he had been waiting for alll year!
    and to shoot them.
    but to just shoot them is sad,
    to shoot them and eat them, that is good.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  4. Fredric Von Vermonheim

    Also if we were both squirrels could I come over to your hole to bust my nuts?

    May 30, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  5. Fredric Von Vermonheim

    As a young man in Austria after the war, we farmed squirrels for sale at a square. My family had been breeding with squirrels for generations as a tradition. We would use them for cheese, and skin for shoes and clothes. The meat is as many say to be better that goats and rabbits. To not be from a life that is pure and traditional to eat what you raise, that is not natural to my thoughts.

    May 30, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  6. Manny K.

    I've never hunted for mammals in my life, but I have humanely killed one I wounded as an idiot teenager with a BB gun. I have fished most of my life and I either catch and release or kill and eat what I catch. I don't find the need to hunt for meat given I'm an urban city dweller with great farmers markets near by – and yes, I like to shake the hand of the person who grows/raises my food – at least as much as is possible in the U.S. That being said, I see absolutely nothing wrong with hunting – as long as your doing it safely, in season and not poaching wild game or endangered species. Quite frankly, I agree with people on this board that it's evolutionarily natural for us as a species and it has to be far healthier than eating industrial farm raised proteins.

    May 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  7. Mel

    spuirrels are yummy but wild rabbits are better, cotton tail are my favorite, spuirrels are best killed and eaten in the winter they get worms on the stomach in the summer, squirrels are too hard to clean tough hide, don't eat the ground squirrels they will eat anything, but the fox squirrels, the gray squirrels are tree squirrels and they live on nuts and all healthy foods, the gray squirrels don't get as large as the fox squirrels but taste better.

    May 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Andrew Hummel

      I've heard about that disease amongst the rodent class (of which both the squirrel and rabbit are a part). In rabbits it's called march hare disease. They're both dirty and prone to disease,no matter what they eat or how cuddly. They were put here on earth for some purpose, but being eaten by the 2 legged folks is probably not one of them.Having said that, if lost somewhere in the dead of winter, needing protein but having to choose between eating wild hog,rabbit and/or squirrel....I'd take the little rodents and forget about the hog, as high maintenance as shooting/trapping enough of them as that would be. I realize a person could definitley get by on one whole hogmeat for a winter, they really do eat just about anything/everything in all seasons and you might have to kill them before they kill you but.....I'd leave the meat for coyotes if even they would dare.

      August 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  8. Sarah Palin

    I can see the dead squirrels from my front porch!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  9. bones1918

    I started hunting in my late 20's and have been doing it for about 6 years now. Wild food tastes better, is healthier, is naturally free-range and organic, and is plentiful. I won't say its cheaper – hunting is expensive and i take time away from work to do it – but as a self-proclaimed gourmet, i take great care in "honoring the protein" that i killed myself by not wasting a single bit, and cooking it expertly. To you meat-eaters, I'd say you have an obligation at least once in your life to kill and eat something to know how it feels. To you vegetarians, fine. More meat for us.

    By the way, wild Canada goose is WAYYYYYYYY better than squirrel.

    May 23, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Richard Simmons

      I just LOVE getting Goosed.

      May 23, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  10. Carnivore

    A vegan/vegetarian used to be called the Village Idiot who didn't know how to hunt or fish.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:28 am |
  11. Mr. Pipps

    As my friend Gene claims, squirrel brains are the caviar of the forest. Myself, I'm particularly fond of nice, flaky chip of squirrel cheek meat. Yummy!

    May 23, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Hokan

      Careful wuth the "caviar" Lately SARS (mad cow) virus has been found in the brains. The meat is still ok

      November 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  12. Joe Rioux

    Hunting for food is a great idea... but squirrel is a dealbreaker. Chicken of the tree? More like RAT of the tree.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  13. BADGUY

    Rabies: the local police just dispatched a squirrel with rabies. It was like a rabid dog, attacking people. Alot of the local racoons have it. Why not squirrels?

    May 22, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  14. John

    I don't recommend possum or racoon however, they are just a little too greasy for my taste.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  15. John

    Squirrel is OK – but muskrat is better – not quite as wild tasting.

    May 22, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  16. squirrel lover

    sick sick jerks

    May 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  17. Sue

    I'll pay $50 to the "hunter" that comes and gets the *(&^*&^*&^%$##@%##@#$ red squirrel out of my freakin' attic and eats the noisy, sleep-disturbing, wire-chewing, Houdini-imitating little bugger. It'd be a heck of a lot cheaper than the $700 the "exterminator" wants to live trap him and block up his access to my 100-year-old stone house.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  18. Mike

    I love reading the posts of people such as those here. Some give their honest opinion and others just want to see how bad they can ruffle other people's feathers.

    May 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  19. Frank

    You fail to mention that some species of squirrels are protected species and can't just indiscriminately be shot or killed in your garden. Western gray squirrels are one such species. Do not kill them. It is breaking the law. There are some squirrels, depending on where you live that, sadly, don't have these protections. I say sadly, because I've seen what people do to animals who aren't afford legal protection. But, putting that aside, if you advocate indiscriminate killing of squirrels for food, you may be advocating some to break the law. I don't support the killing of wildlife, my personal beliefs, but if you do, at least be smart enough to check your local regulations and be educated on the various species of squirrels, birds and other animals that cannot be killed or hunted freely. There's too much flawed assumption that wild animals are ours to use as we see fit.

    May 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Border Patrolman

      Let me see your immigration papers and license please.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  20. Olderphart

    One of my old cook books has recipes for guina pigs. These are all rodents livingin different ecoclimes. Anyone want to try RAT?

    May 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  21. Josie

    I've tried squirll(sp), and many other things people normally wouldn't eat. Personally it's good, wouldn't mind having it again. Most people that throw a fit about hunting are from cities or large towns, they really have no idea. Try being in New York where deer is so tame that you can pet ex (raised in Kansas) made a comment that back at the farm that deer and her fawn would have been dinner, just because she was too trusting, that same animal can ruin crops, just as rabbits and squirlls can ruin gardens. Most hunters I know use the meat and all that can get from an animal, it saves them money when they go to the store.

    May 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  22. Aleksandar

    "There are plenty of squirrels in the world. You can stand to eat a few." It sounds like a line from some stand-up comedian. It is simply that we do not hunt any longer, we buy food. Those who do hunt might like it or not. For the rest of us, until it becomes more common, it is just a really difficult to digest story. Especially the pictures which are obviously not hiding what is on the menu. Yuck!

    May 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  23. DWest

    Many people who eat feel they are so noble and self-righteous if they don't actually kill and process the animal. To truely understand what they are causing though, all meat eaters should have to work in a slaughter house for one day. A cow or chicken would gladly trade places with a deer or squirrel. It's better to roam freely with a 10 % chance of being shot by a hunter, than remain cooped up and have a 100 % chance of being killed and cut up by a machine.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  24. Sal

    Well in my many years of observing squirrels I see what they eat on my property. First of all they go after bird seeds from my bird feeder, next they climb into my pine trees and eat the pine nuts making a mess on the ground from all the discarded pieces of pine cones. I've also seen them eating the acorns from my oak trees. I've never seen them eat anything else. 

    May 22, 2011 at 11:23 am |
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