View Full Version : Why I eat squirrel, really, by Georgia Pellegrini

January 22, 2012, 11:58 AM
Published January 22, 2012 By Fox News

Some consider squirrel to be the best meat in the woods. On my journey as a chef, I have come to think that it may be the best meat period. The phrase, “You are what you eat,” befits a squirrel as it does a Spanish acorn-fed pig that are prized so highly by those with means.

But when you think about it, squirrels are hoarders, and after having feasted on a grove of pecans or acorns, their meat is nutty and sweet, buttery and tender. And so a fat, nut-fed squirrel is not only better tasting than any meat in the woods, it can be even better tasting, and much more economical than that Spanish pig that sells for one hundred seventy dollars per pound.

If you were to tell that to a group of my stiletto-heeled pals on a warm Manhattan evening—which I have done—you would be met with textbook female gasps and sideways glances. Those squirrels linger around the soot-covered fire escapes of their studio apartments. Aren’t they really tree rats?

But the truth is that squirrel hunting is more American than apple pie, than Babe Ruth, than a twenty-dollar Manhattan. Whole traditions have formed around these squirrels; guns have been crafted in their honor. Few things are more intertwined with American history and tradition.

Squirrel is, in fact, one of the most popular game animals in the eastern United States.

In fact, the most recent report from the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation finds that there are 1.8 million hunters of squirrels in our country.

I didn’t grow up hunting. In fact, it didn’t occur to me that it was an important part of being human until I became a chef and was directed to slaughter turkeys for a well-known restaurant’s dinner service.

It was a terrifying notion at first, but in the end, as I did it, it made a kind of sense I could feel deep within my marrow, the kind that makes me want to be a true omnivore.

In that moment I realized that while it was remarkable to meet the food artisans who brought ingredients into these high-end restaurants I worked at, it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to take part in every part of the process, I wanted to pay the full karmic price of the meal. And so I set out to learn how to hunt.

Even as a city chef turned hunter, the popularity of the squirrel surprises me still, perhaps because I had never understood squirrel, or had never cared to until now. But as I have crossed the bridge from city-chef to hunter-chef I have discovered all of those towns, tucked-away, linked by the spines of narrow roads, where children skip school on the opening day of squirrel season.

I have learned too that more than any other kind of hunting, squirrel hunting says something about a person. It may seem from the outside that there isn’t much to a squirrel. But in pursuit of a squirrel, you learn things, such as how to follow the gentle rhythms of the woods, just as you do in pursuit of deer or on a walk in nature.

America has never been a land of rabbit eaters the way that we have been squirrel eaters—or chicken and beef eaters. We leave that to China, Italy, Spain, and France, and are instead content with our squirrel.

There is something about the squirrel that resonated with us from the beginning, that propelled us to craft special guns and seek keen dogs. We go into detail for squirrel.

A squirrel lives for six to seven years, whereas a cottontail lives for only one. The texture of squirrel meat is denser, the color grayer, and the flavor more complex because of this.

Squirrels are wanderers, sometimes ground dwelling and social, living in well-developed colonies; or sometimes tree dwelling and solitary. Squirrels persevere, hoard, and make dietary sacrifices to survive. Maybe the early pioneers saw a bit of themselves in squirrels. Or maybe these animals just tasted better.

Either way, this meat has somehow never reached our elite dinner tables. It has never gained favor with the palates of kings abroad, the way it has here among certain Americans.

I’m happy to say I have crossed over and become one of those Americans. Eating squirrel that I’ve harvested with my own hands, in fact, makes me feel distinctly more American and undoubtedly more human.

Georgia Pellegrini is a chef, hunter and author. Her most recent book is "Girl Hunter." Visit her website at http://www.GeorgiaPellegrini.com

playin' hookey
January 22, 2012, 02:04 PM
I grew up hunting them, and our family enjoyed many a meal of squirrel, parboiled then fried, with pan gravy, cooked by my mother and my grandmother. This was in the 70's, and after a 20-year spell of hunting rarely due to education, career, family and a dalliance with golf, I'm back to hunting. I spend most of my time after deer and wild turkey, but I still enjoy squirrel hunting. My interest in cooking all of the above game grew out of my hunting rather than the other way around and it is interesting that you are embarked on this journey in the opposite direction. I am going to buy your book.

January 22, 2012, 02:18 PM
Can't speak for squirrels in other parts of the country but Midwest Squirrels have to be some of the best, especially the grays. As I have learned from this forum, piney squirrels are not all that good to eat. Just like other meats, it all depends on what they feed on. ...... ;)

I would agree that it is probably some of the best game eating one can have, as far as fur bearing animals. On upland, Quail is hard to beat. On water foul, my wife bakes Mallards and Canadians that taste better than roast beef and I can't get her to eat venison. .... :p

I like to roast my squirrels with potatoes, unions and gravy. About 2hrs. at 350degF.

Be Safe !!!

January 22, 2012, 02:38 PM
This is the 1st weekend of small game where I hunt and we've bagged a couple. Kind of a still morning. Just ate lunch and heading back to it. Can't wait to eat some squirrel nuggets, or squirrel and gravy...

January 22, 2012, 02:54 PM
Okay, I like to hunt squirrels but where are the recipes? I'm really wanting squirrel right now but back in the olden days (50's and 60's) my grandma would parboil them and then fry them in a pan. Were tasty but still kind of tough. Looking for a crock pot recipe maybe!

January 22, 2012, 02:57 PM
my family has never hunted, but i get venison and boar from friends. i have been wanting to try squirrel but nobody i know hunts it. perhaps this should be my first foray into hunting. i have plenty of squirrels living here on my 10 acres. but most are in pines. the above poster said they are not as good. are they so bad i shouldnt bother, or would it be a worthwhile venture to begin there?

as for hunting them which so you recommend? a .22, or a .410?

January 22, 2012, 03:01 PM
I to, grew up hunting squirels, in my case, rural Northern Wisconsin. In the fall, I often got off the school bus, tied my 22 rifle to the handlebars of my Schwinn, and peddled over to some nearby woods for a "mini-adventure" of squirel hunting until dusk. I looked forward to squirel season more than deer season. I spent hundreds of hours alone in those forest learning woodcraft, stalking skills, and just enjoying the sights, smells, and sounds of nature. I imagined myself in the shoes of our local doctor, a big man who told tales of lone wilderness hunts to exotic places like Montana, Idaho, even Canada (hey, I was a kid). To me, deer season was an event that although exciting, came and went quickly. After the first couple of days, the adventure began to be overcome by the frozen fingers and toes, the heavy old 30-40 Kraig, and the "camp stews" prepare by various members of my Dad's hunting party.
Ah, but squirel season lasted from September through February through crisp autum days and bright sparkling winter mornings. I could spend the whole day in the woods with my Dad or a friend, or all alone to my thoughts of adventure.
I live in Colorado now and although our big game hunts are a special time, our squirels just aren't the same as those fat busytails in the Midwest. Those were the days. :)

January 22, 2012, 03:36 PM
my grandma would parboil them and then fry them in a pan. Were tasty but still kind of tough.
Folks parboiled them in order to tenderize them as these little guys can be rather tough. Ya just can't fry them, like chicken. Crock pot, all day works well. I follow many recipes but one of of the most common, is the good old Campbell soups. Many hunters use this basic one on other game.

Cut squirrel into 5-pieces (you do the math) and I usually do 5-squirrels at a time. Pan fry then just like chicken, until brown. Put them into a baking pyrex pan. Sprinkle chopped onions over the top. In a bowl, put in one can of Cambells cream of mushroom soup and thin with milk. Add whatever spices you want, to the soup mix, like salt, pepper, garlic powder and I like to add Chili powder. You can use hotter if you with. Some Worcestershire sauce. Stirr the soup mix and cover the squirrels. Bake in oven for 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. at 350degF. Try to maintain a gravy consistency in that pan by adding more milk.

Boil some New Potatoes in a separate pan or you can use some wild or tame rice. Now, go for it !! .... :eek:

Be Safe !!!

January 22, 2012, 06:20 PM
Mom and dad were WV native hill people. We hunted rabbit, bird and squirrel...
Good hill people would always tell you to help yourself to those critters when asked if you could hunt on their property.

Noticed I said hunted not harvested. Back in the day it was politically correct to hunt... Today one must harvest... I still hunt!LOL
Mom and dad would par-boil and fry them in seasoned iron skillets. Seemed like mom a had skillet that was used just for this or for that and nothing else. We'd have mashed potatoes and gravy with green beans and cornbread.


January 22, 2012, 07:41 PM
Everybody says I grew up eating squirrel,Well we still do.grill,stew or with dumplins.The GRAYS are the best & the fox squirrels work good in stew but they are pine cutters & a little stronger & a lot bigger up to 34'' around here noise to tip of tail.They make for some great times with the kids & grandkids.
Also makes for some great table talk about the hunt. being from the country & american too it dont get any better than that.:D:D

January 22, 2012, 08:52 PM
When I'm in my deer stand I should have a .22 along. There's dozens of the big gray, red and even black squirrels running accross the roof of my blind, up and down all the trees around me and feasting on the acorns from the oak woods I'm located in. The pine squirrels are over in the pine woods 200 yards away.

January 22, 2012, 08:59 PM
[Everybody says I grew up eating squirrel,Well we still do.][/
They aren't worth a darn here in my part of CA... :(

January 22, 2012, 09:24 PM
How do you tell the tasty squirrels from the not so tasty ones? I might be hunting squirrel in a few weeks, the only ones I see are gray.

playin' hookey
January 22, 2012, 10:00 PM
If fried squirrel is tough it wasn't parboiled long enough. Old squirrels take 2 hours or more, young ones about 1 hour. You just have to poke them with a fork to see if they are tender yet. It is best to segregate your squirrels by age for cooking, so they will take the same time to get done. Same if you freeze them, old with old, young with young, and mark the package accordingly. And it is best to freeze them in a ziploc in water, which protects them from freezer burn.

January 22, 2012, 10:14 PM
Squirrel is the best meat in the woods unless its a 40 of pine.;)

January 22, 2012, 11:32 PM
The little reds out here in NM are great tasting with a good hint of pine nut. The big Aberts are less flavorful--more akin to dove with a lot of darker meat. The little reds taste like pinon.

January 23, 2012, 01:03 AM
as for hunting them which so you recommend? a .22, or a .410?

A .22 or .410 will certainly do the job, but they will mess the little guys up. I use a plain old Crossman Powermaster with a good 4x scope on it, shooting regular copper plated BB's. A pellet rifle is also deadly on the bushy tails. And I also find that the bb gun don't scare the rest of them off as much as the dead silence you get after you crack off a shotgun.

January 23, 2012, 01:07 AM
As far as eating squirrel, I was raised on wild game. As mentioned above my Dad would par boil them then fry them in this gigantic cast iron pan then make his own gravy from the drippings and let them simmer in that for a few hours. And GOOD GARDEN PEAS was it delicious! My Dad still to this day has feeders around his property for the bushy tails. There is more squirrels out there than you can shake a stick at. When he wants one he just walks out on the back porch with his ANCIENT stevens .410 bolt action single shot, and in the pot they go.

January 23, 2012, 01:26 AM
Yep I still eat them alot. I live in Buffalo, Tx. We have tons of them. Cat squirrels and fox squirrels.

January 23, 2012, 09:05 AM
One of my favorite meats as well. I like it much better than rabbit. Fun to hunt too. I have numerous firearms all but dedicated to squirrel hunting.

January 23, 2012, 12:43 PM
How do you tell the tasty squirrels from the not so tasty ones? I might be hunting squirrel in a few weeks, the only ones I see are gray.

Much depends on what they've been eating. Squirrel from an all-pine forrest will taste nasty. Those who are from an acorn-rich area will taste great.

January 23, 2012, 01:07 PM
How do you tell the tasty squirrels from the not so tasty ones?
Yes, as stated, it all depends on what they are eating. Here in the Midwest, they mostly eat Hickory, Black Walnuts, Acorns and quite often, will drag an ear of corn from an adjoining field. The do have a pecking order on what they eat but will settle for what's available..

Yep I still eat them alot. I live in Buffalo, Tx. We have tons of them. Cat squirrels and fox squirrels.
I'm seeing a lot of replies on regional squirrels and for; farmboy, what in the heck, is a Cat Squirrel?? :confused:
Also, for; When hunting in Alabama, noticed that their squirrels had different markings and colors but they were still calling them Fox squirrels. The were also bigger than our Midwest Fox Squirrel. .... ;)

Be Safe !!!

January 23, 2012, 01:38 PM
cat squirrels are grey squirrels, fox squirrels are reds. cats are smaller, more tender and run like the wind, foxs will just hide on a limb and are easy to shoot, are bigger and alittle tougher when theyre really mature. if you get a cat squirrel corned in a tree and he cant go to another tree he will dive out of the top, bouce twice and away he goes. you have to have a shotgun and be really fast but both are great fun, and eat really good.

January 23, 2012, 08:29 PM
Sqirrel and dumplins is definitely the way to go. I eat this 4 or 5 times every winter. Never stopped squirrel hunting. After we tag out on deer, squirrel hunting begins in my family. Some of us get a sick maybe satisfaction out of shooting those squirrls that pestered us on the deer stand. But really, I'm 32 and we've always deer hunted, but here in Arkansas, my dads generation and for sure my grandpas had no deer to hunt. All of their game for the table was small game so it's always been a traditional family thing to hunt squirrel.

playin' hookey
January 23, 2012, 09:01 PM
If you are stand hunting deer or set up trying to call in a turkey and you hear a squirrel cut loose barking, get ready. He is barking at something and it may well be what you are after. Same goes for pileated woodpeckers.

January 23, 2012, 09:06 PM
foxs will just hide on a limb and are easy to shoot, are bigger and alittle tougher when theyre really mature. Good point and something to add is a fox squirrel maybe easy in a tree setting but if it makes its way to the ground he is a runner/escapist for sure!

Hog Buster
January 23, 2012, 09:12 PM
While I never gave it much thought, over the years I’ve seen many more than 2 varieties of squirrel. Cat and Fox ain’t the only ones. Out west I’ve seen some really different looking ones from what we have around here. I have an idea that regionally there may be more differences than one might think.

Here, in the yard, we have Reds, down the road where I deer hunt, they’re Grays and southeast a ways they’re Fox. Cats are the smallest, gray in color and are tender. Red are a bit larger, rusty red in color and only a bit less tender. Fox are somewhat large, red fox red with a white nose or face, white tips on ears and generally have a white tip on the tail. While very edible they’re not as tender as the others, also harder to spot when hunting.

When hunting them Cat and Red are runners, Fox like to be still and hide. Most youngsters here learn to hunt by hunting squirrels. It teaches them to be quiet, sneak thru the woods, and use their ears along with their eyes. Best time to hunt them is after a rain. Every move they make provides a shower of drops.

Lord knows how many squirrels I have killed or eaten over the years. The tender ones you fry, you make a gumbo with the others. Talk about good......

January 23, 2012, 09:24 PM
Now, can you help me with trying to duplicate a recipe, that was in Field & Stream from the early 70's?

Its squirrel baked in cider, as I recall cut the squirrel in pieces and brown in oil/bacon grease, after flouring and spices first, then place in a casserole and cover with cider (not hard, that's for later). I think a there was some bay leaf added and other spices but not sure. Recall serving with chilles cranberry sauce and wild rice (or Rice-a-roni).

Any recommendations?

What firearms you use, shotgun and or rifle? Each is desirable and have limitations, prefer the rifle as it requires better stalking and (getting in tune) with the woods.

Welcome and have fun.

Hog Buster
January 23, 2012, 09:40 PM
Google is your friend. Try putting in “Squirrel Recipes” you will get 2,850,000 hits. Take your pick.

January 23, 2012, 09:57 PM
Squirrel from an all-pine forrest will taste nasty

This has not been my experience. Maybe AZ pines taste better than FL pines?

January 23, 2012, 10:39 PM
This has not been my experience. Maybe AZ pines taste better than FL pines?

Yes, AZ pines are MUCH different than eastern pines. Eastern pines (slash, longleaf, shortleaf, etc) are heavy on turpentine. That is where commercial turpentine is comes from. When the squirrels eat the seeds out of the pinecones, they get a good does of that turpentine in their system and it taints the meat.

January 24, 2012, 09:54 PM
When the squirrels eat the seeds out of the pinecones, they get a good does of that turpentine in their system and it taints the meat.

Mmmmm, tasty!

January 24, 2012, 10:41 PM
Man, I thought I was the only one!

I love hunting the little buggers, on foot and on my horse. I have never worked an opening day in my life (resulting in loss of employment in my younger days) and would just as soon take a day squirrel hunting as deer hunting. From warm fall days to waist deep snow in the winter I'm there. It's relaxing, far more action than deer hunting, and there's the instant gratification of cleaning and cooking as soon as I get back to the house. I do hunt other small game, fur, fowl and deer but the squirrels are my favorite.

January 28, 2012, 07:26 PM
Its not my favorite but ive had a few fantastic dishes. Most my squirrels i harvest turn into dog food for the dobies...

January 28, 2012, 10:45 PM
Had Squirrel tonight for dinner, fried, then simmered in homemade gravy then threw it on a bed of rice.mmmmm mmmm mmmm. I went out shot 3 brought em back cleaned em up threw em in a salt water bath then cooked em you can't get much fresher than that :D

January 29, 2012, 08:04 PM
Well stated! Cliff

January 30, 2012, 10:37 PM
For many years I was of the opinion that Fox squirrels tasted better than Cat Squirrels. Don't ask me why I thought that, cause I can't remember. Last year, while being in a rather mild fireside 'discussion' about what tasted better, I offered to settle the issue once and for all. A few days later I went out back on my place, to an area I call Squirrel Heaven, and I shot 3 or 4 Fox Squirrels and about the same number of Cat Squirrels. Yes, it took me most of the next day, but detailed scientific testing can't be done in a rush. We already had a couple of Cottontail Rabbits in the freezer. After the cooking and taste testing, we (as a group) decided that the order of good taste was: Cottontail, followed by Cat Squirrel, followed by Fox Squirrel. If you had to add Raccoon to that list, I'd put it between the rabbit and the Fox Squirrel.

I saw that someone on this chat was from Buffalo, Texas. I live close to there and was just there last Thursday evening to meet and drink wine and beer with a bunch of old friends. If anyone heard a lot of gunfire about 5 miles south of Buffalo, that was us, prior to the wine and beer (and ribeye steaks). It was target shooting, not personal disagreements.

January 31, 2012, 05:33 AM
My next culinary adventure will be General Tso's Squirrel.

February 7, 2012, 10:44 PM
Speaking of buffalo... it's the best meat I've had.

Beats eating squirrel...

.243 Jake
February 15, 2012, 06:41 PM
I go for squirrel often with a breakbarrel pellet rifle. i have one reason for eating them. THEY ARE DELICIOUS! greys have the meat, but reds have the flavor. try marinading them then fry it till its brown. then wrap it in foil and bake it. best meat besides goose.

.243 Jake
February 15, 2012, 06:46 PM
they don't run once their dead. get good at long range spotting with binoculars, and sniping with a .22 or pellet rifle, they don't run. they just fall.

Hunter Customs
February 15, 2012, 08:27 PM
I have not ate any squirrel meat for a long time, used to eat them all the time when I was a kid.

Squirrel and gravy along with fried potatoes and biscuits, man was that ever good.

There was an old man that lived up in the hills south of St. Joseph that I would take squirrels to every now and then.
He used to make what he called squirrel head gravy, he used to offer me some but I never could bring myself to try any.

This thread has got me to thinking about squirrel hunting again, thanks for starting it.

Best Regards
Bob Hunter

February 15, 2012, 11:59 PM
+1 on what Doyle stated about the eastern pines.

Around these parts, don't eat the squirrels out of the pines. Very nasty tasting and I've not found anything to soak them in to make them edible. Not salt water,vinegar,milk...nothing!

TX Hunter
February 16, 2012, 09:52 AM
I like to grill Squirrel, you skin them and open them all the way take the head off. Rub them down with salt and pepper, or seasoning of your choice. Get your coals just right with charcoil, and a few small split chunks of white oak. Start grilling with the squirrel belly down, when the edges start to brown flip him over and brown the other side, have the lid closed on your grill for a good smoke and dont leave the squirrel too long. If you time it right the meat will be tender and juicy. Too bad the seasons over.

February 16, 2012, 10:23 AM
Squirrels in my yard taste just fine to me- we have a mix of oaks and pines... I've never heard of the difference in taste due to diet.:confused:

Never parboiled or baked them either. Just flour and fry same as everything else we eat:D

My dad said his grandmother would scold him and my cousin for shooting them in the head....apparently she enjoyed squirrel brains and eggs for breakfast...:eek:

February 16, 2012, 05:18 PM
I've never heard of the difference in taste due to diet

Diet will affect the taste and texture of any wild or domestic meat.

Hunter Customs
February 16, 2012, 07:56 PM
I checked this morning and Missouri season closed the 15 of this month.
So I guess I'll be waiting till next season to get some squirrels, in the mean time I'll be doing some practice shooting with one of my favorite rimfires.
Best Regards
Bob Hunter

February 19, 2012, 06:04 AM
Fox squirrels are considered an invasive species here in Oregon. That means they're like a varmint and can be hunted year round.

As soon as I'm sure I can identify them and find a place to hunt them, I will be stalking squirrel with my .22 Hornet...


February 20, 2012, 07:49 PM
Got three grays this weekend.

Eating General Tsao's squirrel over rice as this is written.