How to Cut Up a Squirrel for Cooking

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A squirrel ready to dress and clean
Photo by Hank Shaw

Squirrel season is upon us here in California, so I reckon it’s time to offer up to you how I cut up a squirrel for eating.

As with any sort of butchery, different people do it different ways. Some people simmer them whole. The Hmong hunters I know actually scald their squirrels and scrape off the hair — or just toss them into the fire to burn off the hair. I need to try that scalding sometime to see if squirrel skin is any good.

Until then, I skin and cut up my limb chickens. If you’ve never done it, skinning a squirrel is a bit harder than you might think. Squirrels have a thick, dense hide, whereas rabbits, their woodland colleagues, have more of a light pelt. Skinning a rabbit takes seconds. Skinning a squirrel takes a few more seconds.

To skin, gut and break down a squirrel properly, you will want to have handy:

  • Water
  • A cutting board
  • A small, sharp knife, such as a pocket knife or small paring knife
  • kitchen shears
  • A trash bin
  • A platter or tray to put the finished squirrel pieces on

Start by snipping off Mr. Squirrel’s head, feet and tail with the shears. Use the bone-cutting notch at the base of the shears if you have one. I do the same thing with the head, but it a) requires some hand strength and b) deprives you of that Appalachian delicacy, squirrel brains. I am not a fan, so I toss those heads. If you happen to be a squirrel brain enthusiast, by all means skin and split the skull in your own way.

You are now left with a sad-looking, tailless, headless squirrel. Take your knife in one hand, and with the other pinch up the loose skin at the center of the squirrel’s back: Use the knife to make an incision perpendicular to the squirrel’s backbone about 2 inches long. (Incidentally, the process is similar for cutting up rabbits for cooking. )

To skin the squirrel, work two fingers of each hand under the skin through the incision you just made. Now pull – I mean really pull! — and the skin will come off in either direction. You’ll get it most of the way, but the skin will hang up under the legs and at the center of the belly.

Poke your finger through under the legs to free the skin off them. Use the knife to carefully start the belly skin going, then pull it, too. It takes a little practice, but it’s not rocket science.

To gut Mr. Squirrel, use the knife with the blade facing away from the guts to open up the wee beastie. His guts will spill out. Reach with your fingers upwards toward the heart and lungs and wrench them out. Save the heart. If you want, save the liver and kidneys, too. They’re tasty. Use the kitchen shears to split the pelvis so you can get the remaining bits of poop chute out.

Wash the squirrel under lots of clean, cold water and you are ready to break him down.

Skinned squirrel ready to cut up
Photo by Hank Shaw

I start by removing the legs. The front legs of most mammals are completely free of the rest of the skeleton. Trippy, eh? But not you and me — we have a collar bone. So does Mr. Squirrel. He’s the only game animal I know of with one.

Even so, use your knife to slice down to the ribcage behind the front leg, then slice along the bones toward the squirrel’s neck until you free the foreleg; you will have to slice through a skinny little collar bone at the end. Do this on both forelegs.

The hind legs on pretty much everything, including us, are attached with a ball-and-socket joint. So too with Mr. Squirrel. Use your knife to slice the meat on the inside of the squirrel’s leg where it attaches to the body until you can see the ball joint. Bend the leg backwards until you pop that joint out. Slice around it to free the legs. Do this with both sides.

A squirrel cut up for cooking
Photo by Hank Shaw

You’re almost done. You are left with the torso and belly flaps. I slice off the belly flaps and save them for either stock or for stir-fries. That leaves the ribs and backstraps.

Use kitchen shears to snip off the ribs. Save for stock. Now you want to portion out the backstrap. A big squirrel might give you two pieces, but most are just one. You can either use your shears for this, although it requires a bit of strength, or you can use a cleaver and whack it into pieces. One thing you definitely want to do is chop off the hips and the neck portions, as there is not much meat there; again, save these bits for stock.

Cutting the loin of a squirrel
Photo by Hank Shaw

When you’re done, it should look like this:

A cut up squirrel
Photo by Hank Shaw

Don’t sweat it if you mess up the first couple times, or if it takes you a while. You’ll get the hang of it, and when you do, this process can be done in less than 10 minutes per squirrel.

Now that you have a squirrel ready for cooking, here are all sorts of squirrel recipes to choose from!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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83 Comments

  1. This is wonderful, including how other people clean their squirrels. Skinning is not the only way to do it. Where I come from, you can’t afford to waste food. Skinning is waste of vital proteins/meat that cold save your life/feed your family. On the other hand, scalding and scrapping/pulling all the hair off makes for a very nice hairless squirrel. Cooking it and eating it with the skin on is very good. I can’t see myself eating a squirrel w/o the skin. With the skin on, just cook until the skin and meat are both tender, then enjoy. It’s wonderful. Thank you for being very open and inclusive to other ways of doing things.

    1. Chao: Are you Hmong? I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that with squirrels! I hear the skin is like pork skin, rich and crispy. Any tips on going about it?

  2. My dad used to clean squirrel just as you describe, but left the tail on to use as leverage when pulling the skin off the back. He hunted small game for food all his life with his father and brothers in Ohio, West Virginia, and Indiana and I loved it. My mother made squirrel fricassee in a pressure cooker, served with homemade rolls and squirrel gravy.

    I went squirrel hunting with my dad once when I was 11. He let me take a shot at a squirrel in a tree with a .22 – first time I ever shot a gun. The kick near killed me and I missed the squirrel, but Dad got him.

  3. Thanks for this! I just cleaned my first squirrels, but (no surprise since I’m new to this) I did end up with a wee bit of fine hairs on the meat that won’t come off even under a heavy rinse of cold water.

    Do you agree with those who recommend a quick burn with a blow torch to remove the hairs?

  4. Yes, agree with statement above but I’ll explain the method a little further. Do not snip off head or feet before skinning. Make an incision on the underside of the tail right at the base where it meets the body. Cut through the tail completely, being careful not to cut the skin on the other side (the top if it were standing on all fours). Use your knife to separate skin from squirrel about 1 cm up the back from the tail and make small incisions on either side of the tail so that the tail hanging on by a flap of skin. Stand on the tail of the squirrel with all of your weight, grab hind legs firmly and pull up slowly and steadily. The skin should pull off of the entire back and front 2/3 or so, and will leave skin on hind legs and lower part of the belly. Next, work a finger or two under the skin that is still on the belly, then grasp the head or front legs with one hand while pulling the skin off of the belly and hind legs. Snip off the feet and head with shears and then clean as explained above. This is the fastest way, my pappy showed me how to do it 30+ years ago, he grew up in Kentucky hunting small game for subsistence. He could call in squirrels like nobody’s business and would hit them right between the eyes with a wrist rocket from 40 yards. Nothing went to waste – he would fry up the brains and have them with scrambled eggs, but I have to agree with Hank that I’ll pass on the squirrel brains. He would even pickle the testicles and eat them, I made the mistake of asking him why he did that when I was less than 10 years old and he proceeded to tell me about how myself and my 9 siblings were conceived. Don’t make em’ like that no more! RIP Jethro “Jerry Lee” Johnson, sure do miss that man.

  5. Never had it ” SQUIRRELS ” or rabbits , but I am now very intrested in this very available food source, thanks

  6. Thank you for sharing such a clear instructional. I look forward to getting started and the tasty rewards

  7. Thanks, ate many a squirrel with my dad by my side. He was an old Italian who grew up eating wild game, hunting, gathering, gardening, making spirits. He grew up in the depression and taught me that if your hungry you can live on almost anything.

  8. Always skinned like a rabbit notching the two back legs on nails with the heads cut off and driven through a board. Cut circles around the back leg skin and cut them open and begin to skin. Seems some seasons, they are more difficult to skin so if that is the case I use two medium pairs of vice grips. Pull towards where the head was and sometimes you get a whole skin all in one piece. Then gut. Here cooking is always like country fried steak or some call chicken fried steak but after that they go into a gravy for about 45 mins before serving.

  9. The method of stepping in the tail is much faster and cleaner. Also I alway soak in salt water for at least twelve hours or so to take the wild out and it’s more tender.

  10. My dad used to skin squirrels as stated in comment above. By stepping on the tail and pulling up on the legs. Then he’d cut off the head and gut it. Mom would then clean it and cook it whole in the pressure cooker.