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. yea, that’s how I learned it too. also much faster. We also would ‘nail’ the squirrel up to the barn by the tail, then work from there down, using gravity as an aid to skinning and gutting. When done, the skin will be wrapped around the head and each foot, so just cut them off.! We would leave the tail nailed to barn as ‘trophies’ and later to be used as decoration on our bikes.
    As soon as he’s skinned, put in a pail of salted water and massage the meat to help tenderize and prepare for cooking.

  2. This method is guaranteed to get fur all over the meat.

    The method described in older editions of The Joy of Cooking is vastly superior.

    Make a cut at the base of the tail, going between the bones of the tail and leaving the tail attached to the back by a strip of skin.

    Put the tail on the ground and pull up on the hind legs. The skin will peel off of the abdomen and front legs. Leave the inside out skin wrapped around the head and front paws while you cut them off at the wrists and neck.

    Then pull off the skin from the legs and remove the hind feet the same way.

    Slit the abdominal cavity and cut through the front of the pelvis, then remove the entrails.

  3. A video tutorial would be helpful, being I have never done this before…
    (I’ve only assisted in Veterinary surgeries)

  4. I want the cook book for wild game. But you got to wait for the first of the month. Thank’s for the handy tip on Squirrels. We have a lot of Red, Gray and this is the first time i have seen Black squirrels. They are definitely Black. Thanks Again.

    1. What you’ve seen is a melanistic fox or red squirrel, the opposite of albino, fox squirrel. It’s uncommon but not unheard of.

  5. I used to help my dad skin squirrels. We disburse little different from this. Dad always started at the tail and cut down the back. Then he cut down the hind legs and pulled them thru. Then he would step in the tail and pull the body thru by pulling up on the squirrel. Only took about 8 seconds or less. The we gutted it and cut it up. I’m a woman now and I miss it. You’re right, a rabbit took a little longer, but I liked to help with them too. Didn’t know people did that anymore. Brings back find memories of time spent with my dad. Thank you.

  6. I was taught by my Pop to cut under the base of the tail and use your heel to hold it and pull. Its clean and hardly any hair. Plus no mention of removing the 4 sweat glands.

    1. Tomio: Not really. Some people say to do so, but I never have and there’s no off flavor. Other animals, notably raccoons, are different.

  7. I spent many cold mornings hunting fox squirrels in the woods surrounding my grandparents small farm when I was younger. My grandmother would make fried squirrel, squirrel and dumplings or pressure cooked squirrel in gravy. They were all delicious !

  8. This is amazing, in uncertain time and being from a big city I know I can use more guides like this one. Thanks for publishing I love the funny bits too!

  9. Thank you Hank, me being from The Appalachian Mountain area of West Virginia, I am not a fan of the brains either. looking forward to more tips and how to’s .

  10. Thanks for a great article. I grew up with a father and mother who could gain weight by living off the land. My father’s vast wilderness knowledge was gained primarily by being raised poor, by hardworking sharecropping parents. Over the course of being raised, I’ve eaten: Deer, hog, squirrel, frog, dove, quail, blue crabs, and all variety of fish from North America. I watched my dad clean all the aforementioned game many times. However, upon reaching adulthood I realized that those are distant memories are fading and your article helped me in recalling some very fond memories of hunting and fishing with my dad. Thank you.

  11. I really like squirrel, we make stew or sauce piquant. Also pot roast them and serve with red or white beans. We made a squirrel & Andouille gumbo too. Several years ago the squirrels in the neighborhood had grown in population and when they got in my Dad’s attic, he gave my son permission to shoot them out of his oak trees. With a Benjamin .22 pellet gun, he shot 15 squirrels that year and we had a few good meals from them.
    I pretty much clean them the same way as described here, but I keep the hip and neck sections. My Mawmaw taught us to get every little bit of meat, don’t throw nothing out. (We keep the whole frog and even the whole dove and other small game birds!)

  12. I grew up on tree rats(squirrel), rabbits, deer ,bear,birds,fish,snapping turtles. Still enjoy them. And yes I can field dress all. Or take some home to clean and cut up. I am 72 yrs. Old

  13. My cousin & I would go out and harvest a half dozen squirrels and take them to my Grandmother. She would clean them for us and make the most fabulous “Squirrel Pot Pie” I’ve EVER had. This was in the 50’s on the farm in Pennsylvania!!

  14. If you never eat a squirrel or a rabbit you’ve missed out good some eating I was raised during the Depression and this is what we ate during the season during the summer raise rabbits it was my job to get a bushel of grass and clover every morning to feed them.