The World Championship Squirrel Cookoff is an eccentric event, complete with live music, funnel cakes, squirrel costumes, and the best squirrel you ever ate. It takes place every fall in Bentonville, Arkansas. The competition attracts both wannabe and bona fide squirrel chefs from around the country. Up to 40 teams compete each year, going head to head for the title “World’s Greatest Squirrel Chef.”
The winning teams last year, Nutty Cheeks Squirrel Squad, Big Time Barbecue, and Rawhide Nut Pirates, took home first, second, and third respectively. Here’s what they prepared and how you can replicate their squirrelly dishes.
1st Place: Braised Squirrel Tacos – Nutty Cheeks Squirrel Squad of Kansas City, Missouri
Special Equipment: Blender, large saucepan, large pot
Time: 5 hours
4-5 whole squirrels
9 dried guajillo peppers
1 can whole tomatoes
1 large white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp. chicken bouillon
1 can beer (preferably Saison)
Grape seed oil or cooking oil of your choice
Salt and pepper
Limes, red onion, queso fresco, and cilantro to garnish
- Take dried guajillo peppers and soak in water overnight. Make sure peppers are fully submerged in water. Prepare squirrel by breaking down into quarters. Season with salt and pepper.
- De-stem the soaked peppers and remove veins and seeds. Cut a white onion into quarter pieces. In a blender, add peppers, onion, canned tomatoes, garlic, bouillon, 2 tablespoons of salt, Mexican oregano, and fill blender ¾ of the way with water. Blend until smooth.
- In a large saucepan add 2 tablespoons of oil and warm the pan to a medium-high heat. Add sauce and stir until it’s reduced and begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Cover the bottom of a large pot with oil and set to medium-high heat. Add squirrel and sear on both sides by flipping after 2-3 minutes. Once seared, remove squirrel with tongs and set aside.
- Add ½ can of beer and deglaze pot. Break loose all the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Reduce slightly.
- Once reduced, add sauce and squirrel and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Let braise for 3-4 hours, or until meat is tender. Turn heat off and let stand for 15 minutes.
- After the braise has rested, shred all the squirrel meat from the bone and add to the braise sauce.
- Warm the tortillas in a small saucepan by adding a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, take a tortilla and slap some braise sauce on both sides to lightly coat. Add it to the oil and cook quickly so the tortilla is still pliable. You want it hot, not fried.
- Prepare your tacos by filling with braise and topping with cilantro, red onion, and queso fresco.
2nd Place: Squirrel and Dumplings – Big Time Barbecue of Pea Ridge, Arkansas
Special Equipment: Pressure cooker, big pot, frying pan
Time: 45 minutes
2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1 white onion
2 cans homestyle biscuits
2 cups white flour
3 slices bacon
Salt and pepper
- Cook three to five quartered squirrels in a pressure cooker with water for 20-25 minutes (or boil them until tender and the meat falls off the bone). Add enough water so the squirrels are half submerged. Once cooked, shred the squirrel meat off the bone and chop into small pieces.
- Chop the onion and jalapeño (take out the seeds if you don’t like it hot). Cook bacon slices, let them cool for a few minutes, and then chop into small pieces.
- Open the canned biscuits and dust them in flour. If they’re large cut them into quarters.
- Pour two quarts of chicken broth into a large pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the chopped squirrel, onion, jalapeño, bacon, and biscuits. Let it cook at a good boil for about 3 minutes, then reduce to a slow boil for approximately 25-30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve while it’s hot!
3rd Place: Squirrel Enchiladas – Nutty Cheeks Squirrel Squad of Springfield, Missouri
Special Equipment: 9×13-inch baking pan, saucepan, pressure cooker
Time: 1 hour
8 8-inch flour tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterey cheese
3 tbsp. butter
14 oz. squirrel broth (or chicken broth)
1 cup sour cream
1 17 oz. can of diced green chilies
1 tbsp. white flour
- Use a pressure cooker to cook the quartered squirrels for 20-25 minutes. Put in enough water so the squirrels are half submerged. Debone and shred the squirrel meat by hand. Combine one cup of cheese with the shredded meat and stuff it all in the tortillas. Fold the tortillas enchilada style and place them in the in baking pan.
- In a saucepan on low heat, melt three tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of flour then whisk together. Slowly stir in the squirrel broth (acquired from the pressure cooker) and reduce until it thickens. Slowly stir in sour cream and green chilies. Cook until the mixture thickens, or about 10 minutes. Pour the sauce over the tortillas in the pan.
- Set an oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes covered in aluminum foil, then remove foil, sprinkle cheese on top of the enchiladas, and cook for another 10 minutes.