Roadkill cuisine: a guide to why and where you should pick up that possum

Reduce, reuse, recycle is hardly a new concept. Except when it’s applied to roadkill. Oh, sure, backwoods folk, the itinerant, and gritty survivalist types have been making good use of roadside casualties for years. Slowly but surely however, the benefits of roadkill cuisine have been creeping into the public conscience.

Witness the popularity of The Original Roadkill Cookbook and its ilk, or the new Travel Channel series, “The Wild Within,” in which host/outdoor journalist Steven Rinella travels the world channeling his inner hunter-gatherer (see “San Francisco Roadkill Raccoon” clip at the end of this post). It’s only a matter of time before hipsters get in on this, mark my words.

Lest you think I’m making light of what is essentially a tragic waste of life: I’m an animal lover, grew up on a ranch, and my dad is a large animal veterinarian. I’ve slaughtered livestock, and admittedly have a somewhat utilitarian outlook on the topic of meat. That said, few things upset me more than seeing a dead animal or bird on the road.

The first time I ever thought of roadkill as having a purpose is when I visited Alaska a decade ago. A guide informed me that the state not only permits the use of roadkill for human consumption, but that there’s a waiting list. Think about it: a moose carcass can feed a family for a year. It’s only fairly recently that I learned every state has different regulations that apply to roadkill (more on that in a minute).

If you can overcome your initial disgust at the thought of plucking a carcass from the road and doing the necessary prep to render it casserole-ready, utilizing roadkill makes sense. No, seriously.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Irargerich]Pros

  • It’s economical.
  • It utilizes a perfectly good (usually) protein source that would otherwise go to waste.
  • It’s giving a purpose to an otherwise wasted life
  • It’s ecologically responsible.
  • It’s a free, nutritious food source that can help sustain anyone, including individuals or families in need.
  • Many roadkill species taste great, and command premium prices when farm-raised and sold retail (elk, venison, boar, certain game birds).
  • It’s free of the hormones and/or antibiotics found in factory farmed meat and poultry.
  • It’s a better, kinder, more responsible alternative to poaching.


  • Parasites and disease

Obviously, if the meat looks bad, don’t use it. But wild animals can also play host to a wide variety of parasitic and bacterial critters invisible to the naked eye. It’s critical to thoroughly cook meat to kill any pathogens (fortunately, braising is the best method of preparing most roadkill species, as it renders the meat more tender). If you’re freaked out by the thought of ingesting roadkill for this reason, think about how often ground beef recalls are issued due to E. coli. Personally, I’d rather eat roadkill, when I think about what’s in the average fast food burger.

So now that you know roadkill is generally fine to use as long as it’s fresh and not too damaged, what are the rules? Well, it depends upon what state you’re in (for the record, roadkill cuisine isn’t just a U.S. thing, waste not, want not being a global concept). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website has a state-by-state directory of Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Fish and Game/Fish and Wildlife/Division of Wildlife offices; each state has different rules as to which office oversees roadkill regulations. In many states, permits are issued by state troopers or county law enforcement.

Be aware that in many states, collection of roadkill is illegal, although drivers are asked to call and report dead animals so they can be properly disposed of. The most expedient thing to do if you hit an animal/see fresh roadkill is to call local law enforcement.

For your perusal, a sampling of regulations for states that permit collection (or “salvage”) of roadkill:

Western U.S.
Alaska: Sets the bar for philanthropic roadkill rules. All specimens are considered the property of the state, and by law, drivers must alert state troopers if they spot roadkill. If the meat is fresh and in good condition, the carcass is butchered by volunteers, and distributed to the needy. Roadkill wait lists are also available for the general populace living in rural areas.
Wyoming: As long as you have it tagged by a game warden (to deter poaching), it’s yours.
Colorado: Obtain a “donation certificate” or tag issued by the Division of Wildlife, first.

Illinois: If you hit it, you can keep it, as long as you’re a resident, not delinquent in child support payments (um, okay…), and don’t have your wildlife privileges suspended in any other state. Deer must be reported to the DNR prior to claiming.
Nebraska: If you hit a deer, antelope, or elk, report it to the Parks and Game Commission to obtain a salvage permit before you butcher the carcass.

New Jersey: Get a permit by calling a state trooper, and you can collect deer.
West Virginia: If you report the fatality within 12 hours; it’s legal to remove and consume any and all roadkill. There’s even an annual roadkill cook-off.

Southern U.S.
Georgia: Hit a bear, report it, and it’s yours. Deer don’t have to be reported.

A few states that prohibit collection of roadkill

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of roadkill
Ideally, the goal is to avoid creating roadkill at all. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration estimated between one and two million vehicular collisions with large wildlife species occur annually in the U.S.. Only a small number of those result in human fatality, but it can certainly wreck or mess up a car. When you also consider smaller animals/birds, collisions can have a devastating impact upon wildlife populations, especially on already threatened species. Many states have instituted wildlife tunnels underneath highways that are considered high impact zones (this could be due to migratory patterns, easy road access, etc.).

Please drive carefully in designated wildlife or rural areas (you know, where you see those glaring yellow, triangular road signs with deer or cows or elk pictured on them), and try to avoid driving at dawn or dusk, which is when large game head out to feed. Night driving should also be avoided if you can avoid it, or undertaken with extreme caution. Trust me, after years of living in the mountains of Colorado, I’ve seen more than my share of wildlife road death (and unfortunately contributed to the early demise of a few prairie dogs and rabbits). I’ve also seen what a run-in with a moose can do to a car, and it’s not pretty.

Obviously, it’s not worth causing a multiple-car accident to avoid an animal in the road, but stay alert, don’t text or use your cell phone without a headset, drive within the speed limit, and odds are, you’ll never have a problem. Worst case scenario, please be a responsible citizen, and pull over to make sure the animal is dead. Regardless of how you feel about animals or eating roadkill, no living creature should be allowed to suffer. Have a heart. Then take it home and cook it.

[Photo credit: bbq, Flickr user The Suss-Man (Mike), deer, Flicker user Eric Bégin]

Photo of the day (1.6.2011)

Part of the joy of travel is trying new foods, like wild boar spare ribs or roasted chestnuts. Or barbequed monitor lizard. Flickr user LadyExpat spotted these enterprising young men in Ubud, Bali, taking the unfortunate reptile to market where it is apparently in hot demand for its skin and meat. Perhaps Mike Barish can tell us if it tastes like chicken when he returns from Bali.

Why not add your exotic food pictures to the Gadling Flickr pool? If they look tasty, we might choose one for a future Photo of the Day.

Montreal Musts, To Eat: Liverpool

Little Burgundy was once home to jazz musicians who fled Prohibition for Montreal to resume “normal” living – or at least get wasted regularly. Now, the pace isn’t what it was in the 1920s, but you can still find plenty of reasons to head over to this part of town. Among the best is Liverpool House, a small restaurant with a profound menu.

From the outside, Liverpool House looks like a neighborhood restaurant, the sort of place I’d find in my part of New York. The signage is subtle, hinting that you should really know about the restaurant already, and the external décor is almost unassuming. Yet, when you step through the front door, the scene changes entirely. The restaurant is overflowing with activity, from guests talking over meals to waiters and waitresses dashing around with plates of delicious food.

Make sure you have a reservation, particularly for peak nights, or you could be waiting for a while. If you don’t mind sitting at the bar, though, you should be able to squeeze yourself in at just about any time. Whether you choose this or to eat at a table, make your first stop Ryan. The bartender, he obviously has his finger on the pulse of this restaurant and can recommend dishes and wine pairings, explain the food in front of you and provide the insights that can unlock a spectacular culinary experience.

I had no idea, for example, that the boar belly I ate was smoked in the restaurant’s back yard … in a smoker the owner built with his own hands (literally welded it together himself). This is why you have to talk to Brian.

The service was prompt without being rushed. I received the courses as I expected them – they didn’t stack up on each other and did not leave me waiting impatiently for the next round. The oysters were from eastern Canada and perfectly delightful, and the boar belly evades any attempt at complete description. The combination of tenderness, texture and taste was perfect, but you’d have to taste it to understand. I also ordered the caprese salad and learned that some of the tomatoes are grown in the garden out back (in the same yard as the smoker). Liverpool House mixes in some of its own tomatoes but isn’t able to grow enough to support the entire restaurant (and the other two – on the owned block – that the owner has).

The star of the evening was the “lazy lobster.” By 8 PM, there were only two left, so it’s obviously a popular item (if you want it, get to Liverpool House fairly early). The lobster is served cracked and on a bed of lobster roe-infused mashed potatoes. Even if it means eating earlier than you’d like, make sure you have reservations that keep you from missing this.

The Little Burgundy neighborhood – and thus Liverpool House – is a bit of a hike from the downtown and Old Montreal hotels, so take a taxi both ways. It’s a bit of a pain compared to the ease of just eating near (or even in) your hotel, but the experience will be worth the 30 minutes (roundtrip) spent in a cab.

Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.

Shopping Rampage?

Glad to hear that my Christmas was a little more mundane than Christmas shopping in Poitiers, France, where a wild boar went tearing through a store.

This was one wild and crazy boar: it ran through a clothing store in western France, throwing around it’s 198-pound frame and frightening customers. It was not content to simply shop normally and civilly like the rest of the patrons.

It was shot dead by police in the store, when it attempted to charge. (yuck, yuck.)

Two more boar were sighted in the area, but they had, apparently, already completed their holiday shopping.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Czech couple from northeast of Prague, near Mlada Boleslav (home of the famed Skoda auto), decided they’d go for a walk…to Rome. The couple just reached their destination, completing the 1500 km (932 mile) trip entirely on foot.

The couple, the Koziskas, have three adult children, and the husband, an avid travel book reader, got the idea reading the story of a similar trek by Moravian priests last decade. Mrs. Koziskova, who works at the Skoda plant, suffers from back pain and wasn’t quite sure she’d make it. Further, they were forced to sleep outside a few times along the way, coming in close contact with some foraging wild boar and even a curious badger.

However, now she says, she “can’t imagine spending [their] next holiday lazing around.” Nothing like good travel writing to inspire a trip!