Is It Safe To Eat Squirrel Meat (And What Does It Taste Like)?

Roasted squirrel
Roasted squirrel - Lazartivan/Getty Images

There are a few staple proteins that people around the world commonly enjoy: beef, pork, chicken, goat, mutton, and the entire range of fish and seafood. In certain areas, this list expands to things like reindeer, crickets, kangaroo, bison -- and the rising-in-popularity alligator tail meat. But there are meats even beyond that, including those from creatures you might see out and about every day. One of the most notable of these is squirrel.

It may seem odd to a lot of people, but surveys have indicated that around 1.8 million Americans eat squirrel, and there's even a World Squirrel Meat Cook-off in Arkansas that draws tens of thousands of people each year. But is squirrel meat even safe, and what does it actually taste like? The answer to the first question is yes, but the second is a little more complicated. Opinions vary on what squirrel is most similar to, but the closest comparison is typically the meat of another small, furry creature: rabbit.

Read more: 15 Tricks For Making The Most Crispy Chicken Thighs Ever

Squirrel's Flavor Is Somewhat Complex

Top-down view of rabbit stew
Top-down view of rabbit stew - OlgaBombologna/Shutterstock

The answer to whether eating squirrel meat is a good idea is a simple one. Like many wild game animals, squirrel is generally safe to eat. Granted, as is the case with all wild mammals, it's important to make sure that the animal isn't rabid, as eating meat from infected animals is one of the ways humans can contract the disease. This isn't an issue with farmed animals, but as squirrel is a game meat rather than a farmed one, it's something you have to be aware of.

Opinions differ significantly on what it tastes like, though. A lot of sources will say that it tastes like pork, duck, or dark meat chicken (because seemingly everything gets compared to chicken), but it's a little more complex than that. Its closest comparison is probably actually rabbit, another wild animal more commonly hunted for its meat. Rabbit is sort of like a gamier version of chicken with a naturally drier texture, and squirrel is similar -- only it has a more pronounced nutty flavor, which is unsurprising, since nuts such as acorns make up the majority of a squirrel's diet.

Squirrel Is A Surprisingly Versatile Meat

Close-up of a pot pie
Close-up of a pot pie - Debbismirnoff/Getty Images

What's the best way to cook squirrel meat, though? It's a good idea to section off the meat similar to how you would with a chicken or a rabbit, as squirrel entrails aren't exactly the most appetizing dinner. From there, though, you've got plenty of options. Much like how rabbit stew (known as lapin au vin in France) is a common preparation, squirrel is good as a stew meat, where the liquid helps combat any natural dryness. You get the same benefit in preparations like squirrel gumbo and squirrel pot pie.

That isn't your only option, though. As long as you take care to avoid overcooking it, you can do all sorts of things with squirrel meat. Deep fried squirrel is a solid preparation, and barbecued squirrel is also an option. Some chefs have even started serving it in restaurants in dishes like squirrel lasagna, as it's both versatile and sustainable. Only time will tell whether it continues to gain popularity.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.