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Is it Safe to Eat Wild Squirrel Meat?

Updated: Apr 8

If you are wondering if it is safe to eat squirrel meat, the short answer is yes, but is it good? City squirrels often get a bad rap because they are seen running around parks and neighborhoods which can give people the perception that these fury animals are just pesky small rodents, kind of in the same light that the Canada goose is perceived. But let's take the setting out of the local parks and into the woods where hunters have a very different view of these wild animals. Small game hunting is one of the most popular forms of hunting in North America, with squirrels probably being one of the most hunted animals. They can be harvested in rural areas and even urban environments depending on local laws and regulations. 


Squirrels are hunted with rifles, dogs, shotguns, and bows with arrows fitted with small game tips. In the United States, there are even small game hunting enthusiasts that only hunt squirrels with a dog breed specifically trained for chasing and treeing squirrels. These dogs are trained for numerous hours and are great at what they do, which is to help the hunter locate squirrels in the woods. And you may ask, why go through all of this trouble to harvest a small animal that's often thought of as a nuisance? Below is a quick reference guide for the most commonly asked questions on eating squirrels.






What Types of Squirrels are Usually Hunted and Eaten?


Eastern Gray Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels are hunted and enjoyed at the dinner table. However, the eastern fox squirrel is known to have stricter hunting regulations due to population and habitat. There are also the abundant red squirrels that live in the northern latitudes but are often not sought after by hunters due to their small size and sometimes strong "pine" meat flavor characteristics. 

What does a Squirrel Diet Consist of?

These little critters munch on the nuts from oak, hickory and beech trees. They also consume berries, fruit trees (apples, pears, plums), pine cones, tree and shrub buds as well as various seeds and agricultural crops. Urban squirrels will also eat from bird feeders that contain bird seed mixtures and sunflower seeds. However, I would check out your local laws before setting up a squirrel feeder in your yard just to be safe.

What does Squirrel Taste Like?

Squirrel meat is a good source of protein and can oftentimes be compared to the dark meat from a chicken. While that's a great comparison, squirrel meat has a lower fat content with a richer and nutty flavor. To many, the meat isn't gamey tasting at all. If there were a "gaminess scale", I'd say it ranks at about a 2 out of a possible 10. But be aware that with it being a lean meat, the cooking methods and times will differ a bit from chicken.

What Parts of the Squirrel are Usually Eaten?

The front legs (shoulders) hind legs and saddle (which contain the loins) are the most popular cuts eaten from squirrels. If cooked properly they are just as tender as dark-meat chicken and can even be shredded off of the bone. The internal organs such as the liver, heart and kidneys are also great table fare depending on your tastes for wild game offal. 


Is it safe to eat a squirrel
Squirrel Leg

How to Cook Squirrel
Chicken Fried Squirrel Legs and Waffles


What Internal Temperature Should I Cook Squirrel to?

The best practice for avoiding potential dangers is to follow USDA guidelines for cooking raw chicken. This is done by cooking to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to which the internal temperature has been verified on a meat thermometer. The best way is to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat while checking for doneness. With that being said, it's definitely a good idea to avoid eating undercooked or raw meat from a squirrel to avoid health issues.

What Should I avoid Eating off of a Squirrel?

This answer is best left up to a registered health expert who specializes in food-borne illnesses. While I'm sure some people eat squirrels from nose to tail, I for one am not eating squirrel brains, lungs, or anything from the digestive tract.

Cooking Times: 

It's a good idea to remember that the cooking times will vary when cooking game animals. Unlike shopping at the grocery store for domestic animals, most of the time you don't have the option of harvesting a consistent age class when hunting small game. An animal's tenderness can sometimes depend on its age class, with older squirrels taking a little bit longer to become tender while cooking.​



How Many Squirrels Feed 1 Person:

On average it takes one to two squirrels to serve someone a dinner-sized portion depending on their size. This may seem like a low meat yielding animal, but the opportunity to fill the freezer with them is there. Squirrel hunting seasons are generally long in most areas and the bag limits (the amount of animals that you can harvest) are bountiful. You can find states out there in which the daily limit is around a half dozen squirrels. So if you spent 5 days hunting squirrels in a state with a generous bag limit, you could be putting upwards of squirrels in the freezer. But as a reminder, always check the state laws and regulations before hunting wild game.




Cooking Methods for Squirrel Meat:

For Shoulders (front legs) and Back Legs:

These parts of wild squirrels are best cooked using low temperature moist cooking methods such as confit, poaching, braising or using a slow cooker such as a Crockpot. You can fry squirrels as you would chicken, but I highly recommend first cooking them until tender by using one of the cooking methods listed above before breading and frying. I've even heard of folks poking holes in the meat with a fork or skewer and then soaking in buttermilk before frying to avoid the two-step cooking process. If you have the time, you can even de-bone the meat and grind it for sausage making. Another great way is to smoke the squirrel meat, but I highly recommend using the same two-step cooking process as for frying. My favorite method is to slow-cook the meat until fork tender and then smoke at around 200 degrees F for around one hour. and then slather with barbecue sauce for some superbly delicious meat. 

Popular Dishes:

Squirrel and Dumplings, Chicken Fried Squirrel Legs, Squirrel Gumbo, Brunswick Stew




For Squirrel Saddles: 

The saddles of squirrels don't receive as much of a workout as do the shoulders and legs. So in turn, this makes for a more tender piece of meat. For reference, the loins of a deer are much more tender than the shoulders due to the lack of movement they receive. The squirrel's saddles can be seared in a pan or cooked on the grill. However, if you plan to grill them, I would wrap them in bacon or baste them during the entire cooking process to help keep them moist. They also can be cooked in the same manner as the hind legs and shoulders.

Popular Dishes:

Bacon Wrapped Squirrel Saddles, Marinated and Grilled Saddles, Buttermilk Brined and Fried.



For Liver, Heart, and Kidneys:

These can be cooked gently in a pan and eaten as simply as you like. I prefer to eat them inside of a baked English-style meat pie along with some shredded leg meat.

Popular Dishes:

Squirrel Pot Pie, Squirrel Boudin Sausage, Squirrel Terrine

 

Looking for wild game recipes? These are a few of my favorites:


Lastly, if you enjoyed this info on Is it Safe to Eat a Squirrel, please let me know!




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Meet Larry White

Chef Larry White

Hey folks, I'm Larry. The recipes you'll find here are inspired by my years as a chef, travels as a hunter, and being a father. I cook from these experiences, so my food ranges anywhere from fun and creative to traditional and to what somewhat family style comfort food.     

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