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Getting to the Meat of Things: How to Process Your Rabbit Meat

Slaughter time is not something anyone truly looks forward to, but it is a necessary element in a back-to-basics lifestyle. In order to get the meat you raised, you have to do the “dirty work.” Fortunately, rabbits are one of the easiest and least messy animals to butcher.

It can be difficult to overcome the 21st century way of thinking, that slaughter is cruel. One of the greatest benefits of the back-to-basic style of livestock care is that cruelty doesn’t enter the picture. The job is handled in the cleanest, most humane way possible. By raising animals with care, attention, and the best food and environment possible, we give them lives that are stress-free and enjoyable. When it is time for them to provide food for our tables, the methods used are humane and as painless as possible. For many homesteaders and followers of a back-to-basic lifestyle, knowing where your food comes from, ensuring it is chemical free, and knowing that your stock is cared for in the proper way is vital to the way of life you are trying to achieve.

Getting Started

Assembling the tools you will need to get the job done is the first part of preparation for butchering. You will need the following:

• One small, very sharp paring knife
• One medium-sized, sharp knife (a steak knife works fine)
• One large, sharp carving knife
• A gambrel hook
• A ten-gallon bucket and garbage bag for collecting “offal”
• Folding table
• Hard surface (a tree stump works very well)
• A connected water hose (optional, but very useful)

You’ll notice I mentioned “sharp,” specifically in each knife description. Nothing will make your job harder than a dull knife. Another item on the list that may look unfamiliar is the gambrel hook. There are several styles of gambrel used by butchers for all types of animals. The gambrel is a tool that holds the animal in position at the proper height for your work. You can make your own fairly easily. Find a straight stick, approximately 2 inches in diameter. Tie a hook (the type at the end of a typical bungee cord works great) on each end, but tie it so that the loops slide on the stick to make it easy to adjust for each individual rabbit. Next, tie an adjustable rope to each end of the stick so you can hang it on any available hook or strong tree branch low enough to put the top of the gambrel about eye-level. Don’t make your job harder by having the hooks at the wrong height. Iit will kill your back after just a few rabbits.
Before you start, it will make your job easier and less messy if you remove food and water from the butcher rabbit’s cage for at least 12 hours prior to slaughter.

The Job at Hand

When you have your area set up, it is time to get to the job at hand. While you can butcher a rabbit of any age, the prime butchering age is 8 to 12 weeks. At that age they have reached a good weight while still being tender. Older rabbits who are being weeded out of a breeding program are still useable, but the meat is best for stew or ground meat, and the hide is thicker and tougher to cut and remove.

Remove your first rabbit from its cage and take it to the slaughter area. Carry your rabbit with the hindquarters in your palm, the body laying across your arm, and its head tucked under your arm by the elbow. This provides them with security and reduces struggling. It is the best way to carry your rabbits even when doing regular chores with them.

When you get to the site, hold the rabbit by its hind legs for control, and lay it flat on the hard surface (a tree stump or other solid object – the ground is too soft, and even cement is difficult to get the right angle at). This part is important for the most humane method of slaughter. It is hard to do for some people at first, until you realize it is the method that produces an instant stun, and less-to-no pain for the animal when done correctly. Deliver a sharp blow with your hand if you are strong enough (or a hammer if not) to the BACK of the head, just behind the ears. This will knock the rabbit out instantly. Immediately take the rabbit by the ears so you have control over the head, and use your carving knife to remove the head at the top of the neck.

There, the worst part is over—really.

There may be a little twitching. This is neither pain nor conscious movement. It is merely reflex action and will stop quickly. Do not let it alarm you. Hang on to the hind legs so the body does not fall into the dirt.

On To the Butchering

Take your paring knife and pierce the hind legs at the hock (knee joint), in between the tendon and the muscle. You will easily feel the “empty” space there with your fingers. Hang the rabbit from the gambrel from those two slits in the leg.

With your paring knife, gently slice the skin around the leg at the hock. Then use the tip of the knife to slit the skin down the inside of each leg to the anus.
With the steak knife, cut off each front foot at the knee joint. Doing it at the joint allows easier cutting than attempting to cut through the bone, but if you miss, it will still cut. The bones are very thin in the front legs.

With the paring knife, or, if necessary, the steak knife, start at the base of the tail on the top where the back meets the tail, and cut through to the anus. Do NOT completely severe the tail at this point. You do not want to cut through the bowel. Grasp the tail and pull gently to pull a small part of the bowel out, and tie it off. This will prevent fecal matter from spilling out as you remove the “offal” (the intestines, stomach etc.).

Grasp the skin at the hock joint of each leg, and pull in a swift, downward motion. The skin will peel off easily. At the beginning of the body area, carefully slice away any connecting tissue between the skin and the bowel, and continue to pull downwards on the skin, removing it in a sheath from the rabbit.

Now you have your carcass before you. Open the belly by inserting the very tip of the paring knife at the base of the anus (still careful to not cut the bowel), and make a shallow cut, just using the very tip of the knife to ensure you do not cut into the intestines and other matter in the belly. Slice the very fine muscle over the belly to the point of the rib cage. Open the belly and, before you do anything else, grasp the end of the bladder and remove it by pulling down and out. Be careful not to spill any urine that might still be present. Once you have the bladder removed, insert one hand inside the body cavity and pull the organs out in one movement. You will have to use your fingers to pierce the diaphragm and remove the lungs, heart and trachea. Discard all of the offal in the garbage bag-lined bucket. If you wish to keep the kidneys, heart, and liver, place them in a dish on your table. Rabbit liver is delicious, and makes a great meat, as well as an awesome pate.

Use your hose to wash down the inside of the rabbit. Place the carcass immediately in ice water or a sealable baggie in the refrigerator.

There are two rules of thumb when using rabbit meat – cook it within an hour of butchering, or place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow for rigor mortis. Using the rabbit after an hour, but before 24 hours, results in a tougher meat. It won’t hurt you, but it won’t be as tasty either. Do not put the carcass in the freezer until after the 24-hour cool down. Once the rabbit has cured for a day in the refrigerator, you can either move it to the freezer for storage, or cook it up for dinner.

Processing the Liver

Rabbit liver is a delicacy. It is easy to prepare, but there is one part that is important to do correctly to avoid contamination. Holding the liver in one hand, you will notice a dark green sack firmly attached to the liver on one side. That is the gallbladder, and it contains bile that will spoil the meat if it gets out. Thankfully the gallbladder is a tough sack (even if it doesn’t look like it), so removing it is easy enough if you know what to do.

Grasp the thin vein of the gallbladder that leads to the liver with your fingers and quickly pull the sack off. If any bile does get on the meat, rinse it off immediately or cut off the area that it comes in contact with.

Below is a simple recipe for fried rabbit from

Rick’s Fried Rabbit
1 rabbit, cut up
2 Tbspn. salt
3 eggs, beaten
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4. tsp pepper
Cut up rabbit.

In a large pot, fill about half way with water. Add 2 Tbspn. salt, and bring to a boil. Add rabbit, and parboil for 1/2 hr. Drain and let cool.
Beat eggs in a bowl.
Put flour on a plate, and mix with salt and pepper.
Dip rabbit pieces, one at a time, into egg, and then flour mixture.
Meanwhile, on high, heat 1/2″ of oil in a lg. cast iron frying pan.
When oil is hot, add rabbit pieces, one at a time into the oil.
When one side is golden, flip over to the other side. Cook until golden brown and crispy.
Drain each piece on a paper towel, to soak up grease.
Serve hot, with your favorite side dish.

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