How Do I Choose the Best Alligator Meat?

Jeremy Laukkonen

Choosing the best alligator meat can depend on your own personal tastes, and what you are specifically looking for. The tail section is typically considered to be the best tasting type of alligator meat, though personal preferences can differ. Other types of alligator meat, such as the ribs and midsection, are darker, and usually have a stronger flavor, which may be what you are after. There is also a section in the tail known as the tenderloin, which is often highly sought after. Alligators can also taste differently depending on whether they are farm raised or caught in the wild, and the tenderest, most flavorful meat typically comes from animals that are under six feet long (about two meters).

An alligator.
An alligator.

There are two different species of alligators, one in North America and the other in China. The Chinese alligator is listed as a critically endangered species, while the American alligator is plentiful, and can be found throughout the Southeastern United States. Both species are consumed by humans, though the American alligator is widely farmed for its meat and hide, and many states also have short hunting seasons each year. The meat of alligators can have a similar taste to chicken, frog legs, or fish, though the soft texture is sometimes compared to veal.

Jambalaya containing alligator meat.
Jambalaya containing alligator meat.

Most of the alligator meat that people consume comes from the tail, though the best cut can depend on your own personal tastes. Alligator tail meat is white, has a mild flavor, and can be used as a substitute in many recipes that call for seafood, chicken, or veal. Meat that has been cut across the grain is typically the most tender, as are cuts that come from animals that are not too old or long. Two years old and six feet (about two meters) long are typically the upper limits for the most flavorful, tender meat.

Other cuts of alligator meat can also be well suited to different purposes. Alligator ribs and midsection meat is darker and has a stronger flavor than tail meat. Ribs and midsection meat typically also have a texture that is courser and more sinewy, somewhat comparable to pork shoulder. Those cuts, along with leg meat, are well suited to use in burgers, stews, sausage, and regional dishes such as jambalaya and etouffee.

Another factor to consider when looking for the best alligator meat is how it was raised. Farm raised alligator meat can taste like chicken, while wild alligators are often said to taste more like fish. Neither type of meat is necessarily superior, though your personal tastes, or the recipe you plan on making, may fit better with one source or the other.

Alligator meat.
Alligator meat.

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