Timber 2 Table Wilg Game Recipes

How to Skin and Prepare a Rattlesnake for the Table

By author of Timber 2 Table Wild Game Recipes

It's best to leave them alone, but if you do get a fresh rattlesnake, you might as well eat it.

Let me start this blog post with a caveat. I hate to kill a snake. Any snake. I like snakes. Even the venomous speciels. I can’t count the times I’ve shared a western Kentucky fishing hole with a cottonmouth. Or squirrel hunted in a copperhead’s backyard. As long as I see them first, it’s all good.

That said, I’m a realist. I know that venomous snakes and small kids, or pets, or livestock just don’t mix. I know there are people who consider a dead snake to be the only good snake on the planet. From time to time, a buddy will call and report a recently deceased rattlesnake in case I want it. I usually do. While I might not kill a rattlesnake unless I have no other option, I’ll dang sure eat one if I get the opportunity.

Rattlesnake meat is white, tender, and tastes like a cross between frog legs and turtle. While there are a lot of rib bones, a big rattlesnake will have a backstrap like muscle that runs the entire length of the backbone. Once cooked, that muscle will peel out easily, giving the diner a boneless bite of goodness.

Think you might want to try one in the future? Here’s how wildlife biologist Joe Lacefield and I skin and process a rattlesnake for the table, T2T style. Save the skin for a hat band, a nifty wall display, or do like Joe and use it as a decorative backing for a self-bow.

Always remove the head before handling a rattlesnake

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1 | Always remove the head before handling a rattlesnake

Step 1. Remove the head. Dead rattlesnakes can still bite. It’s a nervous system deal, similar to a turkey gobbler that flops around for a few minutes after a fatal shot. I can’t stress this enough, don’t mess with the head. Don’t take any chances. If the head wasn’t removed by a shotgun blast, use a long-handled hoe or a machete to remove it from a distance. Use a long-handled shovel to pick it up and dispose of it safely, away from curious pets or kids. If you can’t remove the head from a safe distance, just don’t mess with it at all. While rattlesnake meat is great to eat, it isn’t worth receiving a bite.

Just like wild mushrooms, you might only get one chance to mess this up. If you aren’t confident in your ability to do it safely, find someone that is. Timber2Table is not responsible for any injuries incurred in this step.

Besides safety concerns, it’s important to always check your state and local regulations when it comes to killing or possessing a rattlesnake. They are a protected species in many areas. If you plan on gifting a rattlesnake to a friend in another state or area, check the regs in both places. Transporting a rattlesnake across state lines where they might be protected can result in federal wildlife violations.

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Gloves will protect against salmonella when processing a rattlesnake.

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2 | Where gloves to protect from salmonella.

Step 2. Don a pair of latex gloves. Snakes, like raw chicken or turtle, can carry salmonella. Since you probably aren’t next to a sink and soap while you are cleaning them, gloves offer protection. Just like chicken or turtle, rattlesnake meat should be cooked to at least 165 degrees internal temperature for safety.

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Use a pair of scissors to open the snake

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3 | Use a pair of scissors to open the snake's belly

Step 3. Use a pair of scissors to open the snake’s belly starting where the head USED TO BE (before you SAFELY removed it), down to the tip of the tail.

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Use a sharp blade to start removing the skin at both the head and tail ends.

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4 | Use a sharp blade to start removing the skin at both the head and tail ends.

Step 4. Use a sharp knife to loosen the skin around the neck area of the snake to start separating it from the meat. Move down to the tail and loosen the skin in front of the rattles the same way so that it doesn’t tear when you get down to that part in the skinning process.

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Peel the skin away from the meat

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5 | Peel the skin away from the meat over the full length of the rattlesnake

Step 5. Grasp the rattlesnake in your left hand and get a grip on the skin at the neck with either your right hand or a pair of pliers. Peel the skin downward, just like peeling a banana. Roll the skin and place in the freezer, or stretch it, scales down, on a long board and apply salt or Borax liberally, covering every square inch of skin.

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Remove the entrails from the body cavity.

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6 | Remove the entrails from the body cavity

Step 6. Remove the entrails from the body cavity. They should pull out in one long piece, leaving the cavity clean.

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Cut the rattlesnake into cross sections for easy cooking and serving

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7 | Cut the snake into cross sections for cooking and serving

Step 7. Cut the rattlesnake in cross sections, about 2 to 3 inches in length. I leave the narrow sections of the neck and tail longer, since there isn’t as much meat on those. The thicker sections from the center of the body get cut into shorter lengths so that everything cooks in the same amount of time.

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