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Cast iron and Dutch oven cooking

Ten reasons to eat rabbit meat, and one award-winning rabbit recipe

Ten reasons to eat rabbit meat, and one award-winning rabbit recipe

Rabbit meat is usually overlooked as a protein source. It shouldn’t be. Here’s why rabbit should be on your menu.

by Leon Pantenburg

My brother, Mike Pantenburg, and I were looking for unique main dish for a Dutch oven cookoff. But this wasn’t just any cookoff – we had qualified for the International Dutch Oven World Championships in Sandy, Utah.

The Pantenburg Brothers Cooking Team has never been beaten in Dutch Oven competition, in the "having fun" category.

The Pantenburg Brothers  Dutch oven team has never been beaten in the “Having Fun” category.

After a lot of consideration and discussion, we decided to go with rabbit. Mike tweaked the rabbit recipe in a couple other cookoffs, and we did well enough to qualify for the world championships.

To my surprise, rabbit was considered unique at the contest. The other teams used the standard beef, pork or chicken. We got a lot of attention from the spectators and TV crews, but we didn’t win. We did place in the top ten, after two days of intense competition.

(We realized we were out of our league as soon as we saw several Dutch oven catering companies in the competition. First prize was $5,000, but the bragging rights were more important to the pros. They had fancy food service quality equipment, and we had the coolers we took to elk camp!)

But back in the 1940s and 1950s rabbit meat was as common for dinner as chicken is today. My aunt Mildred raised a lot of rabbits, and my dad hunted rabbits and squirrels for the table during the Great Depression. It was the meat that got many people through the tough times.

You can generally substitute rabbit for chicken in just about any recipe. An older rabbit, like an older chicken, will probably be tougher than the younger ones.

The technique for frying fish outside is similar to frying chicken: Start with hot oil, cook quickly, and keep the oil temperature from cooling down. (Pantenburg photos)

Rabbit can be fried just like chicken. (Pantenburg photo)

Rabbits are the most harvested game animal in the United States and the most widely distributed prey animal in the world. Unregulated, rabbit populations can quickly overpopulate a habitat area and cause extensive damage. In Australia, rabbits were introduced, and quickly became overpopulated. Today, they are considered a vermin, and periodic eradication efforts have to be made.

Rabbit hunting is a good way to start out the youngsters. Bag limits are generous, and success is pretty much guaranteed.

As with any game meat, how it will taste depends on how the meat is handled after the animal is killed. I like to gut a rabbit or squirrel as soon as possible. I generally carry a pair of latex gloves, a culinary plastic bag, such as rice comes in, and a good small game knife.

Cleaning a rabbit is easy. You don’t need to “skin” it, since the hide generally just pulls off. You’ll use the knife to slit the belly and pull out the guts. I can skin and gut a rabbit in a couple minutes, and it is an easily-learned skill.

Ideally, I’ll be near a spring or creek so I can wash my hands afterward.  Typically, I’m not, so I’ll take along several single pack hand wipes.

The faster the meat is cooled and washed, the better it will taste

So why eat rabbit meat now? Here are ten good reasons from Rise and Shine Rabbitry

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Cast iron and Dutch oven cooking

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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