What Does Alligator Taste Like?

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Alligator meat is considered an exotic delicacy. People around the world enjoy it, but does that mean that you would too?

Most people say that alligator meat has a similar flavor to chicken, though it may have a mild fishy taste that certainly is not common to chicken. It also is worth knowing that many different parts of the alligator are edible. Accordingly, the flavor of the dish may depend upon whether the alligator meat comes from the tail, legs or ribs. Additionally, with so many different ways to prepare alligator meat, it’s possible for every meal to be an exotic taste adventure.

What Are Alligators?

Alligators are large reptiles of the crocodilian family. Equipped with impressively powerful tails, these animals are strong swimmers that also use their tails for defense. 

The eyes, nostrils and ears of the alligator are placed on top of its elongated head so that they can project just a bit over the surface of water. It’s possible to distinguish alligators from crocodiles by looking at the teeth and jaw. The alligator has a distinctive snout that is shaped like a “U.” Another distinctive feature is their overbite, which enables the teeth in the lower jaw to fit into sockets in the upper jaw. Crocodiles have a snout that is sharper and more V-shaped.

Alligators are discovered in rivers, swamps and lakes where they can find plenty of meat to feed upon. By digging burrows, these reptiles are able to avoid extremes in weather and get the rest they need between meals. Wild specimens may live for 50 years, but those in captivity can live for more than 70 years.

American Alligators are found in the southeastern United States, and they typically measure approximately 19 feet in length. It is possible to obtain a hunting license in some places so that you have the opportunity to bag your own specimen. Another species of this reptile, the Chinese alligator, is found in China’s Yangtze River. It is highly endangered, and therefore cannot be legally hunted.

Many alligators are now raised on farms in the U.S. for the sole purpose of providing food.

A Brief History of Eating Alligator Meat

If you look at a picture of a full-grown alligator, you might wonder what crazy person had the inspiration to actually try to eat this animal. The reality is that alligators have been on the menu for people in the southeastern United States for centuries.

There are even stories of European explorers encountering, and eating, alligators. One of these was Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who explored what is now part of the state of Louisiana in 1699. He records encountering an eight-foot alligator that he and his men killed and ate. In his journal, d’Iberville remarks that it was “very good to eat.”

It seems that people have been eating alligator meat ever since. In the middle of the 19th century, it was widely used across the southern U.S. Gumbo was perhaps the most popular dish that routinely contained alligator meat.

People also began dining on alligator eggs at the time, a practice that continues through today. Anyone who wants to harvest wild alligator eggs may only do so with a government-issued permit. Doing so without a permit will lead to fines and some serious time in jail. 

Similarly, it is possible to hunt alligator with a license in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas. It is much easier to source meat from an alligator farm if you are not interested in hunting.

What Does Alligator Taste Like?

Most people remark that alligator tastes a lot like chicken. The flavor is closest to dark meat chicken, but other diners say that alligator flavor actually is a little closer to quail. Overall, alligator meat tends to be a bit chewy, but this can vary depending upon how it is prepared and the part of the alligator that the meat comes from. 

One chef who works in Florida and frequently prepares alligator dishes described the taste as a cross between a chicken and a grouper fish.

In other words, you will probably like alligator meat if you like both chicken and seafood.

Which Part of the Alligator Do You Eat?

Similar to several other animals that are eaten by people, alligator meat is obtained from a variety of muscle tissues. The texture and flavor of the meat will change depending upon which portion of the reptile you are eating. Moreover, the cut you choose will affect how you prepare it, if you’re brave enough to make it yourself.

The Tail

This is a favorite portion for many people who enjoy alligator. Known as the tenderloin, the tail is composed of four lobes that are cylindrically shaped. Some chefs pound this meat like veal to improve its tenderness.

It is the tail portion that the majority of people say tastes the most like chicken. It’s a white meat with a mild flavor. Tender and juicy, there is no need to marinate alligator meat that is obtained from the tail.

Butchers frequently portion the tail into fillets or steaks. These are considered to be delicacies and can be prepared just as you would any other steak. Whether your pan fry, grill or choose another preparation method, the result is tender and delicious.

Often, alligator tail is seasoned, fried and served as an appetizer with a rich sauce. Many people who are a little intimidated by the idea of eating alligator find the tenderloin to be the most approachable cut.

The Legs

If you see a dish called “alligator wings” on the menu, chances are good that you’re being tempted by alligator legs. The legs are considered dark meat, which means that it is gamier and tougher than the tail meat. However, this does not mean that it isn’t tasty.

Making alligator wings involves frying the legs until they are crispy brown and then eating them with a spicy sauce. Some chefs also grind up the dark meat with pork and a variety of other meats to make sausage.

The Ribs

Alligator ribs are best when they are marinated for at least two or three hours before being cooked. Sometimes, they are grilled, but most people find it easier to marinate and then braise the ribs. Try a citrus marinade or a sweet glaze, then place the ribs in the oven until the meat is falling off of the bones. Be sure to cover the meat with foil to prevent them from drying out while cooking. 

Each rib has plenty of meat, and there is very little shrinkage during cooking. Keep tabs on them while in the oven as they can get overdone and become tough. 

Do you have a smoker? If so, consider smoking some alligator ribs. It’s a delicious treat.

The Whole Animal

Are you ready for a genuine adventure? If so, then try ordering a whole alligator. Many farms will ship an entire skinned alligator out to you, no matter where you live. 

Don’t worry. Most farms do not have 20-foot alligators that they’ll ship to your home. If you order a whole alligator, it will probably weigh a total of about 12 pounds. An animal of that size is estimated to feed about 20 people.

If you order a whole alligator in a restaurant to feed your party, these will probably be even smaller. Restaurants are required to obtain alligator meat from farms, and they usually work with animals that are about two to three feet long. 

One animal could make a memorable feast for your entire family.

Is Alligator Meat Healthy to Eat?

Alligator meat actually is good for you. An average serving of three-and-a-half ounces contains approximately 143 calories with only about three-percent fat. It boasts 29-percent protein and 65 milligrams of cholesterol.

Staying Safe While Eating Alligator

The safest alligator meat for human consumption is the meat that is grown on farms. This is because wild alligators may have lived in polluted water and consumed large amounts of mercury-heavy fish. Thanks to government regulation, farm-raised alligator is always safe to eat. 

Typically, alligator is ordered by the customer and shipped to their home. The meat is received frozen, and it’s wise to keep it in the freezer until you are ready to prepare it. If you do defrost alligator meat, it is best not to re-freeze it as this can affect its quality.

When cooking alligator, always make certain that it is completely cooked before serving it. Rare alligator does not taste as good, nor is its texture pleasing. Moreover, there may be bacteria present that could make you sick.

To keep alligator meat as healthy to consume as possible, try to remove as much fat as you can and use only a small amount of oil.

You can marinate alligator before cooking. Marinating for between two and six hours is recommended. However, make sure that you do not reuse any marinades to avoid the potentially harmful bacteria that may be left behind in the raw juices.

Where to Buy Alligator Meat

If you are living or visiting the southeastern U.S., it is easy to purchase fresh and frozen alligator meat at a variety of food stores, markets and alligator farms. Handle frozen alligator meat just as you would any other frozen meat product. Sold with bone-in, deboned or deboned and tenderized, frozen alligator meat is available in a wide variety of manners. You may want to mark the purchase date of the frozen alligator on the packaging. Ensure that it is tightly wrapped to guard against freezer burn. Place the meat in the refrigerator when you want to defrost it, and be certain to use it promptly upon thawing.

If you buy fresh alligator meat, make certain that you remove all excess fat and consider using a meat mallet or other tool to tenderize it. Freezing fresh alligator meat is easy. Just wrap it in plastic wrap and freezer paper. It can be kept in the freezer for up to four months.

Many companies situated throughout the southeastern U.S. have websites from which frozen alligator meat may be ordered. Each one offers its own guarantees and options. For instance, many of these operators can ship your order on the same day if you order it early enough in the day. It may be possible to choose a specific delivery date if you’re planning a dinner for a certain occasion. Overnight delivery is offered by several companies. However, it pays to check out shipping costs before you buy.

Some providers offer price matching and even free shipping, so shopping around can definitely save you some money.

Once your order arrives, store it immediately in the freezer if you won’t be using the alligator meat right away. Otherwise, place the frozen alligator meat in the refrigerator so it can start defrosting and be ready to cook.

Are You Ready to Experiment with Alligator Meat?

Is alligator really the chicken of the swamp? Many people argue that it is, especially those who are devoted to eating meat from the alligator’s tail.

If you are planning a visit to the southeastern United States, then it is an excellent idea to try alligator at a reputable restaurant. Few things can compare with a professionally prepared alligator meat dish.

Otherwise, it is possible to order frozen alligator meat from wherever you live. A variety of companies specialize in overnight shipping to guarantee the safety and usability of their products. With good preparation, alligator meat could become your new favorite dish.

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