How to Eat Roadkill

Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr.

I once knew an environmental activist who ate a strictly vegan diet, except for the occasional roadkill.

"It's basically vegan," she'd argue, making the case that because she was not contributing to demand for slaughter or farming, she could ethically consume roadkill meat without causing further suffering. That might be the case, but I can't say that her argument has ever gotten me enthusiastic about eating roadkill myself.

Others, however, are more sanguine. In fact, all over the world there are very serious, enthusiastic proponents of roadkill cuisine, many of whom argue that food safety is simply a case of following a few common sense rules.

Here's what I can glean about roadkill and how to eat it. (Disclaimer: I have never eaten roadkill myself and am not advocating that you should!)

Inspect for damage

There's obviously a world of difference between a pheasant that's been lightly clipped by a car versus a hedgehog that's been utterly squashed by a semi. Similarly, deer may look OK on the outside, but if the intestines have been ruptured, there may have been contamination of the meat on the inside. It's worth reading up on or taking a course on how to field dress hunting game before venturing into the world of roadkill. That way, you'll have a better idea of how and if an animal is salvageable, and what to do to keep it fresh.

Assess freshness

There's a good reason why grocery stores keep meat in the fridge or freezer. So if an animal has been sitting dead in the road, you need to inspect it carefully to figure out how long it's been there and whether or not it's still edible. Check the meat for signs of rotting or decay, telltale odors being one of the most obvious issues. Also look for parasites or worms, as well as any foreign objects that may have been squashed into the animal post-mortem.

Know your species

Some species are safer to eat than others. Moose, deer and pheasant are obviously a good bet, as are any other species that are typically hunted or farmed for food. Squirrel is also popular and, in England, there's a long history of enjoying hedgehog stew. Badger, however, has to be cooked extremely well to avoid trichinellosis, a disease contracted by eating raw or under cooked meat from animals infected with a microscopic parasite called trichinella. Rats should be given a wide birth because of the risk of Weil's disease.

Know the law

Strange as it may seem, eating roadkill may or may not be legal depending on where you live. Generally speaking, however, there's been an increasing acceptance of roadkill cuisine among legislators, with many suggesting that legally regulating what people harvest from often remote country roads is impractical if not impossible. (Cash-strapped authorities may also appreciate the help in dealing with this expensive problem.)

Cook extremely well

A quick Internet search of authentic roadkill recipes (there are many spoofs out there) will tell you one thing: soups, stews and casseroles are extremely popular. Medium-rare steaks, not so much. One of the basic tenets of roadkill cuisine seems to be, quite frankly, to cook the crap out of whatever animal you harvest to minimize the risk of food poisoning, parasites or other diseases.

If in doubt, don't do it

"How flat and how fresh is it?" may be the mantra of experienced roadkill chefs. For the rest of us, however, we would do well to be a little cautious. Much like mushroom hunting, one of the simplest rules of roadkill cuisine ought to be that if you're not 100 percent sure of the safety of your harvest, you are probably better off leaving it well alone and hitting up your local grocery store instead. If you really do want to try roadkill cuisine, your best bet is to first find someone experienced who is willing to share their secrets.

Sadly (or perhaps fortunately?) there don't appear to be as many roadkill societies as there are mushroom clubs. Still, try reaching out to outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, survival skills specialists and anyone else with a good sense of safety and common sense in the great outdoors. Whether or not they have direct experience of eating roadkill, their skills and expertise will be invaluable in teaching you how and if to venture on this fascinating, if somewhat unconventional, culinary adventure.

Feel free to share your own thoughts and tips on how (and if) to eat roadkill in the comments section below.

In the meantime, here's how one Minnesota man does it.

The Perennial Plate Episode 40: Road Kill (Deer in the woods, Deer in the road) from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.