The Farm Chronicles/Preparation, Considerations and Methods for Cooking Rattlesnake

Preparation, Considerations and Methods for Cooking Rattlesnake

When you're living on the prairie, you're going to run into rattlesnakes; and if you're in a car, "run into" could look more like "run over." If that happens, there are a couple things you can do: leave it there like roadkill (sadness), give it a proper burial, or you can explore the culinary possibilities. The Sparks family decided to make a stew; it worked with their ingredients, tools and skills, but there are so many options. The intent of this article is not to give you a specific recipe for cooking rattlesnake but to give you some informational tools to help you cook up something lovely given your situation. We hope you enjoy the Sparks family's agrarian adventure in Rattlesnake Stew and find helpful the following summary of our study and learnings about the ways you can cook up this critter if the opportunity presents itself.

In the event that you unintentionally ran over a rattler like the Sparks family did and don't want its life and meat to go to waste, or you intentionally killed one to eat, here are some things to keep in mind when preparing rattlesnake for dinner or lunch ... or breakfast for that matter.

Skinning and Gutting

The first thing you're going to have to do before you even start thinking about how you're going to cook the snake is skin and clean it. Unlike a chicken, beef roast, or fish fillet that you picked up at the store that is gutted and nicely packaged, what you're starting with here probably still has its skin on and insides in. The nice thing about rattlesnakes is that, while there are a couple important things to account for, snakes are supper easy to skin and gut.

Here are the important things to remember ...

  • ​​Rattlesnakes are poisonous and their poison doesn't go away just because they are dead: it's still waiting there behind some perfectly designed puncture tools that are also still fully functional, and ... this is the really critical part ... a rattlesnake's protective strike is a strong and instinctual reaction. Their nerve and muscle memory enables them to strike and bite long after they are dead: their heads will keep biting after they are beheaded and their bodies will keep striking. So don't get close to the head. Hold it down securely with long tongs or a stick and don't let it just sit around while you prep everything else; go bury it or burn it.
  • ​​Rattlesnakes are kind of stinky and have been running around in the dirt, so they could have soil bacteria on their skin. You might consider wearing gloves, particularly if you have cuts or scrapes on your hands, are concerned about cutting yourself, or have an issue with the smell of snake. My problem with gloves is that they reduce my tactical perception; and the reality is, if you're eating snake, you're probably already in contact with the bacteria hanging out in the soil.

Like all animals, snakes are just a central cavity of organs in a tube of muscles, bones and skin. They just happen to be really long in the torso, have no arms or legs, and have no breastbone connecting their ribs. So if you slice them down the belly, their insides just lay open, which is how you go about skinning and gutting them.

  • ​​Slice them down the belly opposite from where the backbone is, making sure that you don't slice into their innards. Scissors work well here or a knife with a gutting hook could be useful—but you don't need anything special.
  • ​At the top of the snake near where the head would have been (but isn't because you've removed and disposed of that bit), stick your finger behind the top of the organ track, grab a hold and pull down. The whole track of internal organs—from the esophagus all the way down past the lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, and anus—will pull out.
  • ​Starting again from the top of the snake, pull the skin apart from the muscle and bone. Once you have it started (and because there are no arms and legs to get in the way) the whole skin will just peel off.

You don't have to do things in this order. You could skin it first. But then you would have to make sure you can keep the long piece of meat clean while you remove the guts. The advantage of skinning it first is that you don't have to slit all the way down the belly, you can just slit the top and then pull the whole skin off like a sock. But if you want to tan the skin, you'll have to slit it down the belly eventually anyway. So I liked this order of operations because it uses the skin to protect the meat as you're gutting it.

Cherstin had never skinned and gutted a snake before this particular agrarian adventure, but she had butchered chickens and sheep, so she let that knowledge direct her. If you don't have any previous butchering experience to draw on then great! You're starting with a really simple animal. A snake is way easier to gut than a chicken, so your snake skinning experience can inform any future experience you might have with chickens or rabbits or sheep or ... you get the picture.

If you want a visual, here are a couple videos that I found to be both respectful and informative. I've included time stamps for the cleaning instructions featured with each.

Cooking up a Rattlesnake

Instead of giving you a list of recipes (that you may or may not have the ingredients for I want to talk about the characteristics of rattlesnake and the implications those characteristics have on cooking one. Then you can take what you have at your disposal and cook up something lovely based on these principles. The first consideration is that rattlesnakes are lean which means their meat will tend to be tough unless you compensate for this either in how you prepare the meat for cooking or your cooking technique itself. If you're going to use a cooking technique like grilling, smoking, frying or roasting that take more skill to keep things tender consider using a preparation technique that will help lock in moisture or tenderize it first. The second consideration is that rattlesnakes have a lot of bones so it would be nice to use cooking techniques that take advantage of bones, make them easier to remove or eatable. Here are the methods and techniques for preparation and cooking that captured my attention.

Brining is a really simple preparatory technique using a saltwater solution that pulls additional moisture into the meat and holds it there through the cooking process. Basically you soak the meat in a saltwater solution; as the meat sits in the solution it takes in the salt via osmosis, which interacts with the meat proteins and sort of loosen them up. This allows the water to penetrate the meat which is then held there by the meat protein matrix and the salt through the cooking process. The result is a softer, juicier or more tender meat as a result of the loosened protein matrix and the higher moisture content.

A traditional brine solution ratio is 1 part traditional table salt to 16 parts water, that works out to be 1/4 cup salt to 4 cup water. If you want to get really accurate the brine solution ratio is a weight based ratio of 1 oz salt to about 13 oz of water. This is important to note because not ever cup of salt is created equal. If, for example, you're using a sea salt, it's granules are bigger, so a cup of Himalayan sea salt will weigh less than a cup of traditional table salt and you'll want to compensate by adding more salt by volume to your brine solution. If you want to get really creative you can add other spices or sugar to your brine solution and those flavors will be pulled into the meat along with the water.

​It doesn't actually take very long for a brine to work; because a rattlesnake is a pretty thin piece of meat you would only need to soak it for 30-60 minutes. The risk of soaking it longer is that the meat will get more salty but you're not going to mess things up if your rattler stays in a brine for longer than that.

Marinating is another preparatory technique and like brining it's a soaking process but instead of using salt to hydrate the meat it uses acids to start breaking down the meat proteins. With marinating you're essentially predigesting your meat, which makes it more tender. Along with the acids marinates have fats and seasonings. The seasonings add flavor and the fats help retain moisture and soften the tart flavor of the acid.

Depending on the flavor you're going for you can choose from a wide variety of acids, fats and seasonings. Mix and match them in all sorts of ways for new possibilities, or use what you have available in each category.

Acids -- citrus, pineapple, buttermilk, vinegar, yogurt, soy sauce, miso

Fats -- butter, olive oil, vegetable oil, lard, bacon, whole milk

Seasonings -- herbs and spices, onions, garlic, peppers and sugars

Like brining, marinating a snake shouldn't take that long because it's a thin meat. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes, Marinating for multiple hours will just increase the seasoning and tenderness, though if you're going to marinate for longer you're going to want to make sure you keep it somewhere cool.

Cherstin used this technique in their rattlesnake stew adventure using apple cider vinegar, olive oil and seasonings like garlic and smoked turmeric. She employed a Ziploc bag to do her marinating. Bethany Mondel has a couple great overview articles on marinates that are worth looking through if you want to try marinating your rattler.

Anatomy of a Marinade -- A really clean overview of marinating basics.

Top 10 All-Purpose Marinade Recipes -- A collection of Bethany's most popular marinade recipes that give a great snapshot of the potential flavor variety associated with marinates.


Stewing isn't a traditional choice for cooking up rattlesnake, it's more common to see people grilling or frying rattler, but it has some advantages that might make it a great choice. First off stewing is known as a cooking method for cuts of meat that tend to be more tough because because it's a slow cook liquid environment and it's hard to stay tough, and really hard to get more tough, in that environment. This would also help the meat separate from the bones more easily. The other advantage of stewing is that it spreads the meat out.

Here are the basic instructions for stewing ...

Sautee you're meat in a your favorite type of fat or whatever it is you have available: lard, butter or some type of oil ... this will help seal in the meat flavors.

Sautee you're onions, peppers or garlic if you're using any of these things.

Add in your liquid base, this could be a broth or a tomato based sauce or it might just be water. Cherstin used milk.

Let all of that simmer for an hour or so.

Add in your vegetables: potatoes, carrots, celery, summer or winter squash, peas, you get the idea.

Let all of that simmer some more.

It was a variation on the theme of stewing that the Sparks family employed for their rattlesnake. It worked well with the ingredients they had on hand and helped round out the rattlesnake meat with potatoes, it was after all a relatively small snake without a whole lot of meat and they were feeding 8 people. Cherstin didn't follow any of these instructions though, she just added everything together in a dutch oven and let it all cook up together and it turned out lovely.

The Bacon Wrap

I have always associated the bacon wrap method of cooking with jalapenos, peppers, garlic and cheese. But when I saw Bob Hansler's video Bacon Wrapped RATTLESNAKE -Eating the Snake that Bit ME I decided I have clearly been missing out. Bob stuffed the snake with onions and peppers, wrapped it in bacon, coiled it up in a cast-iron lidded skillet, put it in coals and let it do its thing. Using this technique for a lean meat like rattlesnake struck me as a brilliant idea because cooking it inside a wrap of bacon would do two things, first off it keeps the meat isolated from direct heat letting it cook slower in a moist environment and second, the moist environment is a fat which would moisten and soften the meat so you're going to get a tender meat that just falls off the bone which addresses both of the rattlesnake challenges and is exactly what Bob experienced. This is the technique I want to use the next opportunity I have to cook a rattlesnake.


Frying seems to be a common preparation technique for rattlesnake which is why I've included it here but as a cooking technique that naturally address the lean meat challenge it it strikes me as a being a little tricky because you have to get the temperatures and timing right to lock in moisture and not dry things out or get them too greasy. But if you've got a knack for frying it's a classic and if you get it right the bones will be crispy enough for eating. For sure if you go with this method consider brining or marinating your rattler first. The chuck wagon cook Kent Rollins has a good blog post and associated video on Fried Rattlesnake, he used buttermilk as an overnight marinade which I thought was a clever because it's got an acid and some milk fats all in one package.


A bone broth is probably not the first thought for cooking a rattlesnake but given how much of a snake is bone it could be a great choice. Bone broths are made by simmering bones for a long period of time in order to extract the nutrients of the bones themselves. They make incredibly nutritious broths. But, because this method takes time, it might not be the solution for you if your heat source is a camp fire. Rattlesnake bones are small so they wont need as long as something like beef bones but you'll want to let them simmer for 4-8 hours to get a really good bone broth.

If you decide to go with a bone broth here are a couple tips ...

Vinegar will help extract the minerals from the bones giving you a more nutritious broth. So add a generous tablespoon of vinegar for every gallon of water you're using to make the broth, them let your meat soak in it for a half an hour or so before heating it up.

Load it up with spices and vegetables to help flavor the broth. When I first started using bone broths I didn't build in enough flavor so the bone broth experience was a "take your medicine" experience rather than a culinary one. Bone broths can be incredibly rich and satisfying if you're willing to play with the flavors. Salt and pepper for sure but try anything that you have around: Italian seasoning, BBQ seasoning, smoked paprika or turmeric, ginger, garlic, carrots, celery, I particularly like chili powder.

Cherstin's conclusion after their rattlesnake stew experience was to make a bone broth and soup out of the next snake they got a chance to cook up. The rattlesnakes we have in Wyoming just don't get as big as the ones in Texas so bone is their primary contribution.

Once you've worked through these rattlesnake cooking considerations the process for frying or roasting or grilling is the same as any other meat. So if you're a master on the grill, try grilling; if you like fried food, by all means take your frying skills to a new level; but maybe you're a fan or Pho, I bet rattlesnake broth would make an awesome bowl of Pho.