hook and barrel tastes-like-chicken-cooking-squirrels-feature-1
Illustration by Sam Morton

Cooking Squirrels

Around my grandparents’ house in the 1970s, we fished and hunted with only one rule: “If you kill it, you have to eat it.”

I learned that rule one afternoon as a boy of less than ten, after I walked in on my mom nonchalantly skinning a squirrel that my granddad had just sent to its squirrely reward. I was shocked by how not-at-all-shocked my mom and granddad were. This rule—that I never knew existed—had been in place for a very long time, they explained.

That’s when I first heard the expression, “It tastes like chicken.” How is that possible? Squirrels are not chicken, I distinctly recall telling my mom. “Duh,” she said. I may be paraphrasing her there, though.

“It depends on how you cook ‘em,” my grandma said, as she walked into the house casually, unfazed by the deceased squirrel anatomy lesson displayed on her kitchen table. My grandma ran a country restaurant for many years in my hometown of Clanton, Alabama. The country-fried steaks and open-face hamburgers were not made from squirrel, to the best of my knowledge.

She said that if you fry the squirrel just right, it tastes amazingly like chicken. I have since learned that if you fry anything, it tastes amazingly like chicken, up to and including the cardboard box that the food comes in.

So my mom and grandma fried up the squirrel, and we ate it, because eating it was the right thing to do, they said. Nature takes care of itself, and if we take care of nature, nature will take care of us right back, my granddad said.

Now, my granddad had no issue with sport hunters. They are entitled to get out in the woods and have fun, too, but not eating their kills just seemed wasteful to him. “I don’t sport hunt for one reason,” he said, “I ain’t got time to skin and eat a whole deer by myself. We got church on Sunday.”

He made this statement while covering the fried squirrel in a deluge of Golden Eagle syrup so thick that the squirrel would surely have drowned had it not already been, you know, dead.

But yes. The answer is yes, the fried squirrel indeed tasted like chicken. Years later I discovered that some people who I was not related to found the idea of eating a squirrel pretty gross.

I haven’t yet had the heart to tell them about the Rocky Mountain oysters.