Tree Rats – Squirrels on the Grill

by Woodsbum

I thought I would do a quick post about one of the many things that I love about being a bit “redneck.” Every fall, hunting season creeps in and my family creeps out to go shoot things. We hunt both big game and small game, so many different species of critters run through my kitchen. Although there is no season for them where I live, Western Gray Squirrels are an invasive species and can be harvested at any time with a small game license. This means that these little suckers are targets of opportunity when hunting.

I will spare you the gory details regarding the skinning and cleaning, but will mention this. You have to be very careful when cleaning a squirrel or you will get hair all over the meat and it is very difficult to get out. The easiest way to clean them is what I call the “split skinning method” where you literally split the animal’s skin in half and remove the hide off the ends of each side. Just do a Google search and there are plenty of videos that show how to clean a squirrel.

What I like to do after that is soak the squirrel in salt water. It takes all the odd flavors out of the meat. If you get one in the spring or summer you might need to use a bit of apple to soak it in. When in the hills, I keep powdered apple cider with me and just soak it for a few hours in the cider and salt mix.

Once cleaned and soaking, it should look like this.

Soaking squirrel

Soaking squirrel

Notice how you can see the muscle striations? If you don’t do something to tenderize the meat it will get a bit stringy and tough. When I cook it in the woods I tend to smoke it first then take the meat, cut it up and then finish cooking it in a Dutch oven with a bit of water and soup base. If I don’t have that option due to no Dutch oven at that time, I will just use a squirrel cooker or such and try to cook it really slow. I have found that cooking a squirrel too quickly over flame makes it so chewy that you couldn’t even stick a fork in the gravy.

At home, when I smoke it, I use a dry rub of garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and sage. If you have not over cooked it (like I accidentally did for this picture – DOH!) it will be quite juicy and have a great flavor. Don’t forget to do the rub on the entire squirrel or you will get a bit of a tasteless treat.

Smoked Squirrel

Smoked Squirrel

You can cook many of the rodent type small game animals this way such as rabbit and raccoon. Raccoon really needs some time boiling in apple though. It helps to get the greasy film and flavor off the meat before you cook it.

Next time you are watching the squirrels bounce around you and you feel that rumbly in your tumbly, go ahead and bag a couple of those tree rats. With some care and decent cooking skills your day out of seeing nothing can turn into a day out with a good snack involved.

Happy hunting!!!!

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