If you’ve never tried smoked raccoon you seriously don’t know what you’re missing.
To be completely clear I’m probably the last person who should be eating raccoon. I never ate is growing up, though we did eat quite a bit of elk as a kid. My family doesn’t really need to eat it. We usually have other wild game in the freezer in addition to beef. And speaking of beef, my in-laws happen to operate a well-respected ranch that produces high quality beef. What in the world am I doing eating raccoon then?
Not really sure to tell you the truth. I started trapping them for their fur a few years ago and have enjoyed my time doing that. However, I was a little curious each time I would chuck away a carcass as to why I was tossing it. I also guessed that in history people would have certainly eaten the meat. I didn’t figure there was anything inherently wrong with raccoon as far as the meat goes, but yet it got tossed away. Why and what was I missing?
I was in fact missing out on a historically popular meat. Not only was raccoon meat enjoyed by Native people, but it also has deep roots in the history of European America as well. Raccoon meat was so popular in certain areas of the country that some communities even had local celebrations and cook-offs featuring the meat. A favorite on farmsteads as well, this meat is something people have been using for generations prior to the last few. If people ate it for so long, what’s been my holdup?
The best I can reckon is that raccoon has earned a bad rap for a few reasons. One reason is that coon seem to be viewed as kind of scavengers who feast mostly in garbage dumps and sewers. I guess it depends on where they are living, but I would assume the raccoons I’m trapping to get the bulk of their food from more natural sources. Most the ringtails I’m trapping are likely eating a variety of foods they natural would including fish, insects, and small critters, in addition to their diet of grains. As omnivores they can eat about anything, including the rubbish that many people associate them with. I guess I didn’t imagine my coons were eating too much refuse so I was safe there.
Another reason raccoons likely fell out of favor is their reputation for carrying diseases such as rabies. The CDC reported that in 2014 5,398 wild animals were reported to have confirmed rabies. Of those, 1,822 were raccoons. Sure, raccoons may be the #1 carrier of rabies in the United States, but that is mostly for folks east of the Appalachian mountains. This is due to the fact rabies is mostly a species specific virus. In other words there are raccoon strains, skunk strains, bat strains, fox strains, and so on, of the virus. The CDC also reports each strain can jump species, but it’s not common. You can examine these maps and see what strain of rabies is most common to your area. It will give you a clue as to which animals would be likely carriers.
Rabid animals are said to be easily identified by their behavior. This video shows a rabid raccoon one citizen happened to catch on camera.
In reality one of your biggest concerns when consuming raccoon may be the presence of worms. The linked source offers some good information about the worms and safety concerns. It also relates what is probably true in most cases; cook the meat and you’ll be safe. When eating all meat, it’s generally a good idea to cook it thoroughly and you’ll kill most bacteria that could potentially harm you. Knowing raccoon meat had a few strikes against it, I still decided to go all-in and give it a try.
The first job was to get the skin off the carcass. I skin all my own raccoons anyway, so this wasn’t a big deal to me. Once the skin was off I fleshed the pelt and hung it to dry until tanning. With that chore done I then needed to get all of the fat off the meat. Wild game fat is not like fat on domestic animals. Anyone who has hunted or trapped these fur bearers probably realizes how fatty coons are. They also probably realize that whether you’re eating deer, elk, raccoon, or goose, getting the fat off can really improve the table fare. Coons are extra greasy, so this job took some time and I wasn’t able to get the fat entirely off.
With the fat off I started to remove the big cuts of meat. These came mostly from the back end and back. The surprising thing is how little meat the carcass actually holds. Although these animals appear to be fairly full animals, they are mostly fur. Meat was not very abundant, and I would guess one raccoon would provide enough meat for one day for a semi-active hunter.
Next came the cooking. My wife mixed up a batch of our family secret; Uncle Dean’s famous rub. As you might guess it comes from Uncle Dean himself. You could smear this rub on a Goodyear and it would be palatable. The rub provides a nice blend of sweet and spicy and we put it on nearly everything we smoke. With the meat covered we put it in the fridge for a few hours to help the rub soak in.
After a few hours in the fridge the meat went on the smoker. Now, as I mentioned there wasn’t a whole lot of meat on the carcass. Not only that, but the pieces I got off had been chunked into even smaller pieces. This not only helped the rub soak in, but would also help the smoker do its thing. As mentioned, cooking the meat was to be extra important. With the smoker set at around 250˚ I let it cook and smoke for around four hours. Once the internal temperature was near 180˚ I knew we were in the money.
With the meat fully cooked and smoked I was ready to give it a try. I’ll fully admit I wasn’t sure what I was about to bite into when I stared down that first piece. What I found was an extremely tender, moist, and sweet meat. After the first few bites coon meat was flying off my plate and into my mouth. Compared to most other wild game I’ve eaten, this was very tender with little gamey taste. I wouldn’t say I could stand eating the meat, I would say I enjoyed eating the meat.
Eating smoked raccoon is surely a recipe I’ll add to my yearly diet. I saved the meat from the all the coons I’ve trapped so far this year, and will certainly keep their meat in the future. In fact one aspect of eating a wild game diet and growing our own food I like so well is getting to enjoy seasonal food. Whether it’s radishes in the spring, tomatoes in late summer, venison in the fall, and waterfowl in the winter, we get a good dose of it all. It circles back to one of my main goals; to recognize more of the abundance that is lying all around.
Not only that but it helps me make more use of the animals I trap and turns my trapping adventures into a full-circle endeavor. If you trap I’d encourage you to try smoked raccoon at least once. It’ll help your catch go further and you might enjoy it like I did. If you’re looking to experiment at catching some of your own food, you should give trapping a try. Catching coons is relatively easy and they are very abundant. You’ll not only procure some good food and fur, but you’ll help balance a population. I’d encourage you to give it a go. Happy eating!
If you’d like to learn more about having gratitude for your food, you might find Lessons From the First Thanksgiving a good read.