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Is it Safe to Eat Squirrel?

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Squirrels are quite a common sight, scampering around in numerous parks, gardens, and woodlands.

While this small creature might not be the first thing that comes to mind when pondering culinary delicacies, there are a variety of factors to examine when considering the question: is it safe to eat squirrel?

In this article, we will delve into the safety aspects of consuming squirrels and aspects to bear in mind before partaking in this unconventional meal.

Brown squirrel

Historically, squirrel has served as a source of protein for humans in many cultures. Consuming squirrel meat can be traced back to indigenous tribes, early settlers, and even in more recent times during food shortages.

While some may hesitate to indulge in squirrel due to their appearance and proximity to rodent cousins, it is important to acknowledge the fact that squirrel meat can provide numerous nutrients, just as other game meats do.

However, it’s essential to approach squirrel consumption with caution and knowledge, to ensure a safe and enjoyable dining experience.

Factors influencing the safety of eating squirrel include the method of preparation, the specific species, and the environment in which the animal lived. All these considerations play a vital role in determining the palatability and potential risks associated with eating squirrel meat.

Related: Is it Safe to Eat Possum?

What is squirrel meat?

Understanding squirrel meat

Squirrel meat is the lean, edible flesh derived from various species of squirrels, mostly found in the United States, Europe, and Canada. It has been consumed by humans for centuries and remains a popular game meat in many rural areas.

Squirrel meat is considered a sustainable source of protein, as squirrels are abundant, reproduce rapidly, and have comparatively less impact on the environment when compared to conventional livestock.

Squirrel meat is lean and tender, with a mild flavor that lends itself well to a variety of culinary preparations. It can be stewed, baked, grilled, or fried, making it a versatile ingredient in many traditional recipes.

Nutritional values of squirrel meat

Squirrel meat is a nutritious source of protein and low in fat, making it a healthy alternative to other meats. Below is an overview of the nutritional values of squirrel meat:

  • Protein: Squirrel meat is a good source of lean protein, which is essential for building and maintaining muscles, as well as overall health. Lean proteins are recommended as part of a balanced diet because they offer essential nutrients without excessive saturated fat.
  • Iron: Squirrels provide a significant amount of iron, a crucial nutrient for maintaining healthy red blood cells and preventing anemia.
  • Vitamin B12: Squirrel meat contains Vitamin B12, which plays a vital role in maintaining the healthy function of the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Other essential vitamins and minerals found in squirrel meat include niacin, which helps maintain healthy skin and nerves, and Vitamin B6, which supports the immune system.
A brown squirrel resting on a brown branch

In conclusion, squirrel meat is not only versatile and tasty but also a lean and nutritious source of protein. Its impressive nutritional profile, combined with its sustainable nature, makes it a worthwhile addition to a balanced diet, especially for those seeking an environmentally-friendly protein option.

Eating squirrels

Is it safe to eat squirrels?

Eating squirrels is generally considered safe, as long as they are properly hunted, prepared, and cooked. Squirrels are a popular game animal and have been consumed by humans for centuries.

While they can carry diseases and parasites, proper handling and cooking practices minimize these risks. Some of the common precautions when consuming squirrel include:

  • Ensuring the squirrel was hunted in a non-contaminated area (e.g., away from polluted water sources)
  • Cleaning and dressing the squirrel promptly and properly to reduce bacterial contamination
  • Cooking the squirrel meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) to destroy potential pathogens

The flavor of squirrel meat

Squirrel meat is often described as having a gamey taste, somewhat similar to other wild game such as rabbit, quail, or pheasant.

Its flavor can vary depending on the squirrel’s diet. Generally, squirrels that consume a diet of nuts and seeds tend to have a nutty flavor with a mildly sweet undertone. The texture of squirrel meat is firm and a little chewy but can become tender when cooked properly.

To fully appreciate the taste of squirrel, traditional methods of preparation include:

  • Braising: Slow cooking the squirrel meat in a liquid, such as a sauce or broth, to tenderize and infuse flavors
  • Frying: Lightly flouring the squirrel pieces and frying them in a pan with oil or butter until crispy and golden
  • Stewing: Cooking the squirrel meat with vegetables and other ingredients for an extended period to extract maximum flavor and create a rich, comforting dish

In conclusion, eating squirrels can be both safe and enjoyable, as long as proper precautions are taken during the hunting, preparation, and cooking processes.

The gamey, nutty flavor of squirrel meat can be a unique and satisfying addition to a variety of dishes. By following recommended cooking techniques, one can explore the diverse culinary potential of this woodland delicacy.

Related: Is Beaver Meat Safe to Eat?

Squirrel hunting

Squirrel hunting can be a fun and rewarding outdoor activity, but it’s essential to know the basics before embarking on a hunt. This section will discuss the best practices for hunting squirrels and where to find them in their natural habitat.

Two squirrel on the ground

Where to find squirrels

Squirrels are commonly found in wooded areas, particularly in regions with an abundance of nut-producing trees like oak and hickory. They are active during the day, making it relatively easy to spot them as they search for food and move around their territory.

When hunting squirrels, a key strategy is to locate areas with abundant food sources, such as nuts, seeds, and berries. These areas are likely to attract squirrels as they forage throughout the day. Additionally, it’s recommended to look for nests or dreys in trees, as they can indicate a nearby squirrel population.

Before beginning a squirrel hunt, it’s essential to obtain the proper permit or license from the relevant authorities in your area. This ensures that you are legally allowed to hunt squirrels and that the activity is sustainably managed to prevent over-hunting.

When hunting squirrels, using a small caliber rifle or shotgun is recommended, as this allows for a cleaner and more ethical kill. Aim for the head or heart to ensure a swift end and minimize any potential suffering.

Using bait to attract squirrels can be an effective tactic, but be aware that this may not be legal in all areas. It’s best to consult with local regulations or wildlife authorities to confirm whether baiting is allowed for squirrel hunting.

Below is a brief summary of the important points:

  • Squirrels are commonly found in wooded areas with nut-producing trees.
  • Look for food sources and nests to locate squirrel populations.
  • Obtain a permit or license to hunt squirrels legally.
  • Use small caliber firearms and aim for the head or heart for a clean kill.
  • Check regulations regarding baiting in your area.

By following these guidelines, you will be well-equipped for a successful and enjoyable squirrel hunting experience.

Preparation and recipes

Preparing the squirrel for cooking

Before cooking squirrel, it is essential to properly prepare the meat. Start by skinning and cleaning the squirrel, making sure to remove all fur, fat, and glands. Rinse the squirrel under cold water to clean the meat and then pat it dry.

Once the squirrel is prepared, you can proceed with various cooking methods like baking, slow cooking, or deep frying. Be sure to season the squirrel meat well, as this will enhance the flavor and help tenderize the meat during cooking. A combination of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder works well for seasoning squirrel.

Squirrel meat recipes

  1. Squirrel Stew: To make squirrel stew, first brown the squirrel meat in a large pot with some oil. Add vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and onions, along with some salt and pepper. Pour in enough water or stock to cover the ingredients, and let it slow cook on a low heat for 2-3 hours.
  2. Baked Squirrel: Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Coat the squirrel pieces with a mixture of all-purpose flour, salt, and pepper. In a baking dish, layer the pieces with sliced onions and drizzle with oil. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the squirrel is tender and cooked through.
  3. Deep Fried Squirrel: Cut squirrel meat into bite-sized pieces and coat with a batter made of flour, salt, pepper, and other seasonings of your choice. Heat oil in a deep fryer or large pan until it reaches 375°F (190°C). Fry the squirrel pieces for 3-4 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crispy. Place on paper towels to drain excess oil.
Close up of a squirrels face

These are just a few examples of squirrel recipes you can try at home. While squirrel meat is not as common as other types of meat, it is still a nutritious and flavorful option. Remember to cook squirrel thoroughly and follow safe food handling guidelines to ensure that you enjoy a tasty and safe meal.

Health concerns about eating squirrel

Diseases and parasites

While squirrel meat can be a nutritious and sustainable food source, there are some health concerns surrounding its consumption. One of the primary concerns is the potential for disease and parasite transmission.

Squirrels can carry various parasites such as ticks, lice, mites, and fleas. These parasites can potentially transmit diseases to humans if not properly handled and cooked. Thoroughly cooking squirrel meat to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) can reduce the risk of parasite-related issues.

In addition to parasites, squirrels can harbor bacteria and toxins. Two common bacterial infections associated with squirrels are tularemia and salmonella.

Tularemia is a rare but serious disease that affects both animals and humans. Symptoms include fever, chills, and skin ulcers. Salmonella is a more common bacterial infection that can cause food poisoning in humans, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

Rabies is another concern when it comes to handling and consuming squirrel meat. While squirrels are not considered a primary carrier of rabies, it is essential to handle the squirrel meat with care and ensure proper preparation before consumption.

A unique health concern related to eating squirrel meat, particularly the head or brain, is the risk of a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), which is similar to mad cow disease. This rare and fatal brain disorder has been linked to the consumption of squirrel brains in some cases. It is recommended to avoid eating the head or brain of squirrels to minimize the risk.

In conclusion, while squirrel meat can be a viable food source, it is critical to be aware of the potential health concerns. Proper handling, preparation, and cooking are all crucial steps to ensure the safety of consuming squirrel meat.

Environmental factors

Impacts of location and season on squirrels

Squirrels, particularly grey squirrels, are common in various locations across the world and can be found in both urban and rural environments. Their presence in different habitats can have a significant impact on the safety of consuming squirrel meat.

In the summer season, squirrels are more likely to be exposed to pesticides and herbicides in areas with higher human activity, such as backyards and agricultural landscapes. These toxins can have negative effects on the health of the squirrels and, in turn, those who consume them.

During the winter season, squirrels may come into contact with environmental contaminants from road salt and other urban sources, which can also affect their safety as a food source.

Grey squirrels’ adaptability to various environments makes it essential to consider the location and specific environmental factors present when deciding if the meat is safe to consume.

For instance, squirrels living in an area with frequent pesticide usage may have higher concentrations of toxic substances compared to those from areas with lower pesticide exposure. It is essential to be knowledgeable about the local environment and potential hazards before deciding to consume squirrel meat.

Weather plays a significant role in affecting the safety of squirrel consumption as well. Warm, moist conditions can accelerate the growth of bacteria and parasites within the squirrel’s body. Conversely, colder weather may slow down or inhibit the growth of harmful organisms.

It is vital to ensure proper handling and storage of squirrel meat, especially during warmer months, to avoid potential health risks associated with bacterial and parasitic contamination.

In conclusion, the safety of consuming squirrel meat is largely dependent on factors such as location, season, and weather conditions. It is important to be aware of the potential hazards in the environment before deciding to eat squirrel and to follow proper handling and storage guidelines to reduce the risk of contamination.

Comparisons with other meats

Squirrel meat vs other meats

Squirrel meat is often compared to other game meats, such as rabbit and deer, as well as common meats like chicken. Here we will look at how squirrel meat stacks up against these alternatives.

Squirrel meat vs chicken:
Squirrel meat is leaner than chicken, containing less fat and making it a healthier option for those looking to consume lean meats. However, chicken is more readily available and is generally considered to be more versatile in cooking applications.

Squirrel meat vs rabbit:
Squirrel and rabbit meat share similarities as they are both game meats. Both are considered lean meats, but squirrel meat is typically darker and has a richer flavor than rabbit meat. While rabbits are farmed and sold commercially, squirrel is typically hunted, making it a less common choice for consumers.

Squirrel meat vs deer:
Squirrel and deer meats are both game meats, but they differ in their taste and texture. Deer meat, or venison, is leaner and has a stronger, more robust taste compared to squirrel.

Squirrel meat, on the other hand, is smaller, darker, and boasts a distinct flavor that some may find more palatable. However, venison is more widely consumed than squirrel, in part due to its size and the fact that it is farmed in some areas.

Overhead shot of a dressed chicken on a chopping board

Overall, squirrel meat can be considered a lean and nutritious option for those seeking a unique and flavorsome protein source. It compares favorably to other game meats such as rabbit and deer, as well as to more conventional options like chicken, but its availability and acquired taste might limit its appeal to a narrower audience.

Squirrel’s place in the ecosystem

Understanding squirrel’s role in nature

Squirrels play a vital role in maintaining the balance and health of ecosystems. As small mammals, they serve as prey for numerous predators, including birds of prey, snakes, and larger mammals. This predator-prey relationship helps regulate wildlife populations and keeps the ecosystem in check.

Additionally, squirrels contribute to reforestation efforts. As they bury nuts and seeds to store for later consumption, many of these seeds go unfound and eventually grow into new trees. This behavior promotes the growth of forests, benefiting both plant and animal life.

Squirrels also have an impact on human communities. While some people consider wild squirrels as pests due to their affinity for raiding bird feeders or causing damage to homes and gardens, these animals serve a valuable purpose in urban and suburban environments. Their presence and activities aid in the dispersal of seeds, promoting green spaces and helping to sustain tree populations.

In conclusion, squirrels play a vital role in various ecosystems, contributing significantly to the maintenance and growth of plant life and serving as prey for other wildlife. Though they may be seen as pests in certain contexts, their overall impact on the environment is largely positive.

A brown squirrel on top of the tree

Additional tips and considerations

When preparing squirrel for consumption, it is essential to remember a few tips and considerations to ensure safety. First and foremost, handle the squirrel meat with care using a clean cutting board to prevent cross-contamination. Confidently establish a sanitized workspace in order to limit any foodborne illnesses.

Moreover, it is crucial to always cook squirrel meat thoroughly to eliminate potential pathogens and guarantee it is safe for consumption. A knowledgeable approach would be to use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the squirrel reaches an adequate level.

In order to avoid any exaggerated or false claims about squirrel meat’s safety, it is vital to obtain reliable information from neutral and informative sources. Researching any relevant laws and guidelines in your region will help you understand the proper harvesting, storing, and cooking methods to guarantee safe squirrel consumption.

Furthermore, be clear about the risks and benefits of including squirrel in your diet. While it serves as a lean protein source, like any meat, consuming rare or uncooked squirrel may potentially expose you to health risks, so always practice proper handling and cooking techniques.

In summary, adhering to practical tips and considerations for squirrel consumption while maintaining a confident, knowledgeable, neutral, and clear approach will ensure optimal health and safety when preparing this unique dish.