For most individuals reading this article, the word “squirrel” probably does not conjure up thoughts of 5-star dining. That’s because in most everyday situations there are plenty of other food options that sound much more appealing and definitely more readily available. However, there are some potential eventualities that might one day force us to return to our hunting-gathering roots—eventualities like natural disasters that would cause us to switch into survival mode. This mode, even after just a few hunger-pang-plagued days, can make even the haughtiest of individuals begin to lick their chops at the thought of a freshly harvested squirrel or two—cooked over an open campfire…where everything tastes better.
There are many sources of game in the wild that can be hunted when undergoing survivalist or mere outdoor-living scenarios. Deer, elk, wild hogs and a wide variety of bird species make for great campfire fare, as do rabbits and some other rodents. However, some of the most attainable wild food sources are squirrels. Chances are, if there are trees around, you can probably find a squirrel, and because they are relatively easy to hunt and kill, their practicality as a food source cannot be denied.
Once the squirrel has been hunted and killed there are—at least from a general standpoint—two remaining steps you will need to take before enjoying the tasty and very lean protein source: field dressing the squirrel and cooking it. Both of these are fairly easy to do, but there are several steps required to accomplish each. Therefore, in the following article we will first outline the multiple steps for properly field dressing and preparing a freshly-harvested squirrel for your campfire. We will then identify and explain several great backwoods squirrel recipes, each designed to spice up your four-legged prey and get the most out of every single morsel.
After you have harvested the squirrel that you will ultimately cook and enjoy, you will need to perform a series of steps in field dressing it. Field dressing is essentially the art of skinning and gutting the squirrel, and cutting off any pieces you do not plan to cook, such as the head and the feet. Below we will take you through this field dressing procedure step by step, giving you a clear and chronological strategy to which to adhere.
Skinning the Squirrel
To remove the unwanted parts and innards of the squirrel you must first skin it. This is a multi-step process, but one that will seem very easy after only a couple of tries. Here are the steps you will want to follow:
Step 1: The first step in the skinning process is very easy. Using a flat, hard surface (a tree stump works well in a pinch), turn the squirrel onto its belly and cut through the underside of the tail about ½” to 1” from the base.
Step 2: Once you have cut through the tail of the squirrel, you will need to slice through the skin about two inches on each side.
Step 3: The third step may seem like a lengthy one, but it is extremely easy to master. Using the same flat and solid surface, lay the squirrel down. Then, while holding onto the back legs, simply step on the tail and beginning skinning the areas of the squirrel that you have already opened up in the previous step by firmly pulling straight up on the back legs. In using this strategy, you will start to slowly pull the hide away from the body. Keep in mind that as you are pulling up you will need to work out the back legs. To accomplish this, firmly work your fingers between the muscle and the hide around each leg. This step takes a little practice and patience, so don’t get discouraged or frustrated if it feels a little awkward the first time out. Once you have freed the back legs from the hide, continue to firmly and steadily pull the back legs straight up.
Step 4: As you are pulling, and as the hide comes close to the front legs, you will need to pull them out in the same way as the back legs, by working your fingers between the muscle and the hide. As you begin to work the front feet out with your fingers, next give a swift tug—a tug that that will separate the hide from the feet at around what would be considered the “wrist” area. Once both of the front legs have been worked out, continue to pull the back legs until the hide is all the way up to the head of the squirrel and around its neck.
Step 5: With the squirrel’s entire hide now up around his neck and head area, it’s time to cut off the head. To accomplish this, again place the squirrel on a flat, hard surface, and, using your knife, slice through the meat around the neck. Next, using your hands, you can snap the bone in the neck. Although a good knife can cut through the bone, we don’t recommend you use it for this purpose. In doing so, you can quickly dull your knife. It may also create little shards of bone that can be troublesome, if not impossible to remove. The same technique that you use to snap the bone in the neck and thus remove the head, is the same one you will use to remove the feet at the “wrists” and “ankles” of the squirrels—although that step comes a bit later.
Gutting the Squirrel (Removing the Entrails)
The next major step in the field processing procedure is gutting the squirrel, also known as removing the entrails. Like with skinning, this is a multi-step process.
Step 1: Removing the entrails is a fairly easy and straightforward process. To begin, lay the squirrel on its back, and simply pinch the stomach, and then make a small slit with your knife to open up the body cavity. If you are working with a male squirrel, you will first need to cut off the penis and gonads with your knife before performing this step.
Step 2: Next, insert your forefinger and middle finger into the slit you created with your knife. Run your knife between your two fingers with the cutting edge of the knife facing upwards towards the neck of the squirrel. By doing it this way, it allows for a little clearance so that your knife doesn’t accidentally penetrate any of the entrails such as the bowels or bladder. This is very important, because when you accidentally open up the bowels or the bladder, the meat of the squirrel can be tainted and ruined. This step is very easy when you simply guide and glide the knife through the skin between your fingers. Continue to slit the hide via this motion through the center of the rib cage and all the way through the neck.
Step 3: After you have made your slit through the middle of the squirrel, you will then merely need to split the pelvic bone in the center using your hands or your knife. By splitting open the pelvic bone, you will open up the entire midsection of the squirrel, giving you access to the organs.
Step 4: In Step 4 of this process, you will finally remove the entrails. With the body cavity of the squirrel now open, look for the membrane that encases the entire chest cavity. By sweeping two fingers, from the neck down, you will be able to catch this membrane and pull the entrails out in one fluid motion. Of course, if there is still some “guts” remaining, you can sweep these out with your fingers afterwards.
After the entrails are removed, be careful not to just throw everything out, unless you are sure you have no desire for any of the organs. Even if you have no desire, you should still inspect the liver. A healthy liver can mean a healthy animal. The liver should always be a rich, deep red color. An off-color or spotted liver might be a tell-tale sign that the squirrel (or any animal) has some health problems, in which case we would recommend not eating it. However, if the liver looks absolutely perfect—a sign of a very healthy squirrel—then it’s bon appétit.
Once the entrails have been removed, use your hands to snap the bones in the “wrists” and “ankles” of the squirrel, and remove the front and back feet. This is typically as easy as snapping a pencil in two. You can now throw out all the entrails if you wish, but we recommend you keep the heart and liver to prepare with the squirrel, as these are seen as delicacies in some cultures.
You now have a perfectly field dressed squirrel that you are sure to enjoy. Keep in mind that you may make some mistakes along the way. This is normal. But practice makes perfect, so keep at it. Once you have mastered the technique for field dressing a squirrel you can move on to other similar animals—like rabbits—and even larger game such as deer and elk.
How to Cook a Squirrel in the Wild: Techniques and Recipes
Now that you have a perfectly field dressed squirrel, the next step, of course, is to prepare it and eat it. There are many ways to cook a squirrel in the wild—on a spit, on a grill, in a Dutch oven, etc.—but the first thing you will need is a campfire.
When cooking in the wild, the best type of campfire to build is one that will burn hot and low, with minimal flames and lots of heat. The best type of campfire design for this purpose is known as the Cross Fire. To make a cross-shaped fire, stack your kindling in a criss-cross pattern over the tinder—small twigs, etc—followed by the firewood. This type of assembly is great for a long-lasting fire.
Recipe #1: Roasted Squirrel on a Spit
Once your campfire has been lit, allow it to burn until the flames die down somewhat. For this recipe, you are looking for a fire with a lot of heat, but not much flame, as you don’t want to burn the outer portion of the squirrel before the insides of the meat have an opportunity to cook all the way through.
Our first recipe is going to be a simple one: squirrel over a spit. To make this recipe, you will first need to rinse and clean the squirrel, and then season the meat as you wish. We recommend the following seasonings, but this is really up to you:
- Olive Oil
- Seasoning Salt
- Creole Seasoning
Rub a small amount of olive oil over the squirrel until the entire hide has been lightly covered. Next, rub the remaining seasonings in, using an amount of each spice that suits your tastes. We have found this to be a great combination for squirrel meat. However, if you prefer to spice it up even more, you can add cayenne pepper or red chili flakes to your rub.
Once you have cleaned and seasoned your squirrel, find some small sticks near the campsite and place them through both the hind legs and front legs of the squirrel. You can also use string if you have some, and tie the legs together. The sticks should be “green”—meaning not dry. However, if all you can find are dry sticks, be sure to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before using them, as this will prevent them from burning.
Next find a small fresh branch about 1 inch to an inch and a half in diameter. It’s important to find one small enough to pierce through the carcass of the squirrel, yet large and sturdy enough to prevent it from breaking during the cooking process. Once you find the perfect live branch, use your knife to remove all the bark, this will usually be enough to prevent it from burning while the cooking is taking place.
Stick the branch through the squirrel horizontally, connecting it to the feet on each side. Be sure to leave about six inches to a foot of exposed branch on either side of the squirrel. Remember, the branch will have to reach all the way across the fire, so be sure to measure the fire pit before selecting your branch. Here you can also secure the carcass to the legs if you so choose, but this is not really necessary with a small game animal such as this. A branch with a small knot or gripping point on one end would be ideal, as this can serve as a “turning handle” during the cooking process.
Prior to cooking the squirrel, you will need to create the apparatus on which your spit will turn. To do this, you will need to find (or create) two branches—branches that are straight on one end and “Y” shaped on the other end. The straight end of the sticks will go into the ground on either side of the fire pit; while the “Y” shaped end of the branches will face each other at each end of the fire pit—running parallel to each other.
Make sure to cook the squirrel over non-direct heat. You can accomplish this by pushing the coals or embers to one side of the fire pit. Be sure to rotate the squirrel frequently, giving each part of the meat ample time to cook. Brush it occasionally with the extra olive oil and seasoning mix. The squirrel should be cooked until the juices run clear, and until the inside temperature reaches approximately 155-165 degrees.
Once your golden brown squirrel has finished cooking, merely slice and enjoy. One squirrel is usually enough to feed one person, so be sure to have extras if feeding the entire camp.
Recipe 2: Bacon Wrapped Squirrel Legs on the Grill
The next recipe is by far the easiest in terms of preparation. After preparing your cross-shaped campfire, again allow the flames to subside until you are left with a hot low fire on which to cook. Place a clean grill over at least part of the campfire. You may want to apply a small coating of oil to the grill to prevent the meat from sticking. After all, squirrels are small enough without having to lose some meat during the cooking process.
To make this recipe, you will need some seasoning ingredients. However, if you lack some of the spices, this recipe still turns out great. Of course, bacon makes everything taste better. Here are the ingredients we recommend:
- Squirrel legs
- Garlic powder
- Minced onion
- Hickory smoked bacon
- Toothpick (optional)
Once you’ve compiled all of your ingredients, merely follow the steps outlined below for the best tasting squirrel legs you will ever taste.
Soak the Legs
Using beer, you will definitely want to soak the squirrel legs for about two to three hours before cooking. This is a very important step that lends to the taste and texture of the finished product. If alcohol is a no-no for you, fear not: the alcohol burns off during the cooking process.
Season the Squirrel
To properly season the squirrel, sprinkle the legs with garlic powder, pepper, salt and minced onion to taste. This will vary from one individual to the next, so there really is no need to measure—that’s one of the great things about cooking outdoors. Feel free to substitute or add more spices if you wish.
Wrap the Legs with Bacon
Take the bacon and wrap each seasoned leg with one piece of bacon. If you have trouble securing the bacon to the leg, feel free to use a toothpick to secure it.
Using the grill you have previously oiled, place the wrapped squirrel legs over indirect heat. The squirrel legs need to cook over medium heat all the way through, so be sure to turn them over frequently.
Once the legs have been cooked all the way through, feel free to sit back and enjoy nature while munching on this tasty treat of bacon wrapped squirrel legs.
With this guide, you now know how to properly field dress a squirrel that you have freshly harvested in the wild. You also have a couple great tasting recipes that are sure to please even the pickiest eaters in your group. As the old saying goes, eating squirrel is just like eating, well, chicken.
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