Serving up a scavenger

Though better known as a bandit and nuisance, raccoons can serve another function — dinner’s main course
Wednesday, December 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:50 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Raccoons are notorious to Columbians as trash scavengers and garden thieves. These nocturnal delinquents roam the city in search of food, leaving homeowners frustrated from cleaning up their destruction.

Not all Missourians see raccoons as a nuisance, though. Thousands of raccoons end up on Missouri dinner tables each year.

Despite the raccoons’ reputation as a trash scavenger, many still regard the naturally fed population as quite tasty. A variety of recipes for raccoon meat are widespread, but most people serve raccoon barbecued.

Preparation of raccoon can be difficult. Adult raccoons develop a thick layer of fat attached to their skin, which must be thoroughly removed in order to enjoy the meat. Once the animal has been skinned, cleaned and the fat has been removed, the preparation methods vary.

Mid-Missouri resident Steve Mellis developed a custom process for cooking the animals. “I would boil it for a couple of hours, then slow-smoke in a barbecue pit for a couple of hours, then bone it and put it in a crock pot for a couple of hours. After all of that, it tasted like anything else. It’s nothing to write home about.”

The meat is said to have a strong game flavor, and therefore its popularity depends on preference. The most recommended meat is of raccoons under 1 year old. Raccoons have short life spans, so 50 to 70 percent of the population falls within this category, generally weighing between 4 and 6 pounds. Adults can grow to reach anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds.

Local raccoon hunter John Winingear regularly traps the animals, but he doesn’t care for the taste. “I know people that eat them, but I don’t myself. I just hunt them for the pelt,” Winingear said.

Raccoons are most commonly hunted and trapped for the pelts. Dave Hamilton, a resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said a drop of fur prices in the 1980s has led to a major population increase. “The state’s raccoon population is estimated at 2 million,” he said.

Hamilton said there is no quota on raccoon and that the Conservation Department plans to add a month to next year’s raccoon season.

“There is not enough pressure to have a limit,” Hamilton said. Currently between 80,000 and 100,000 raccoons are hunted and killed in Missouri each year.

Several potential dangers associated with raccoons should be considered by anyone handling the animals, said Robert Pierce, an extension wildlife specialist for the MU’s School of Natural Resources. Concerns include raccoon rabies and roundworm, diseases that can pose health concerns.

There have been no confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in Missouri. However, “The same precautions should be taken as with any animal that acts strangely,” Pierce said. “But there is no serious threat of harm from raccoons.”

If the raccoon is to be consumed, the meat should always be thoroughly cooked to destroy bacteria and parasites, he said.

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