You’ve finally managed to get the woodchuck that’s been plaguing your garden all season, now what? It seems a shame to waste good meat, especially when it’s been well fed on the food that was supposed to be on your family’s table.
Groundhogs are not only edible, they’re tender and delicious if properly cleaned and prepared. They live on a completely vegetarian diet and carry no life-threatening diseases for humans. Groundhogs are similar to rabbits in taste, and most recipes for groundhog have you prepare them in the same manner.
The main difference between rabbit and groundhog is the scent glands. Groundhogs have scent glands that can impart an off-flavor to the meat if not removed promptly. The scent glands are small kernels a bit smaller than a pea just beneath their skin, located around the back, armpits, and tail.
Update: The pictures here are shown without gloves, but I have since read that the guidance these days is gloves should be worn when cleaning wild game. There’s a small chance of parasites from the digestive tract of the animal getting into your body from skin contact.
Obviously, they weren’t used historically in the backwoods, but this is one of those “better safe than sorry” scenarios. The risk may be small, but the consequences are potentially disastrous depending on the parasite. We now always wear gloves when skinning/gutting wild game, and suggest you do the same.
How to Clean a Groundhog (Woodchuck)
Start by making a small incision at the sternum with a sharp knife. Be careful to just go skin deep, rather than puncturing the meat or viscera below.
If you have a field hunting knife with a gut hook for skinning, this is one place where they’re very useful. The hook on the backside of the hunting knife can be looped into that small slit and used to “unzip” the groundhog from his skin. Carefully pull back with your hunting knife hook to open the skin down the centerline of the stomach.
If you don’t have a hunting knife, a small high carbon steel knife is also a good choice. Either way, make a very shallow cut with an extremely sharp knife so that you don’t puncture the viscera and spoil the meat. Remember, you’re only going skin deep, keeping the abdominal muscles intact so they contain the viscera.
Once you’ve opened the skin down the centerline from the neck to the groin, expand that line out in an “X” by cutting down each leg. As you open up the skin down each leg, work your fingers between the skin and the meat to loosen the skin away from the meat. There’s no need to use a knife to separate the skin from the meat at this point, and doing so will only risk putting holes in the hide.
The skin should come away from the meat relatively easily, but if you run into a particularly stuck patch, use the tip of your knife to help it along with very shallow cuts. Be careful not to puncture the hide.
Work your fingers in around each leg, separating the skin from the leg meat. Once the skin has pulled away from the leg meat, the skin on the feet should be all that’s holding together.
Slip your knife into the opening created between the skin and leg meat, and cut outward to remove the last bits of skin still attached near the foot. This should free the skin, and allow you to remove it.
If you’ve used your hands to work the skin away from the meat starting at the stomach and around to the back, once the hind feet are removed you should be able to pull the skin away at the back and work your way forward to separate the skin from the meat up around the shoulders.
After the meat is freed from the hide around the shoulders, cut off the skin at the neck and remove your finished hide.
The hide can be saved in a storage bag in the freezer until you’re ready to tan it.
With the hide removed, it’s now time to gut and fully clean your groundhog. This is another place where a field hunting knife with a gut hook comes in handy. Make a small incision at the sternum and use your gut hook to unzip your groundhog without puncturing the viscera.
If you’re not using a gut hook, be very careful at this point. Thus far you’ve kept your groundhog clean, and spilling the viscera is not only smelly, but it also makes a big mess of your meat that will take a while to wash up.
At this point, can you tell if it’s a male or female groundhog by looking at the picture above? Leave a note in the comments if you can.
Once the abdominal cavity is opened, cut around the anus to release the colon and gently pull it through the hip bones. Pull out the viscera, using a knife if necessary to cut the esophagus right as it comes through the diaphragm and above the stomach. Place the viscera in a bowl to bury or compost.
The organs inside the ribcage and above the diaphragm are still in there at this point. Use your hands to open up the diaphragm and pull out the lungs and heart.
You shouldn’t need a knife at this point, but be sure to reach all the way up to the top of the chest cavity to get everything in one piece. If necessary, reach back in and scrape any remaining lung fragments from the inside of the ribs.
Some people use game lungs as a filler in sausages, but there’s not much to them other than a spongy texture. They’re edible if you’re really hungry, but otherwise, don’t bother.
The heart, on the other hand, is all muscle and very flavorful. Filet the heart open to remove the blood jelly from the chambers and batter and fry for a real treat.
Your final step is to remove the feet and head. The best tool I’ve found for removing small animal feet is a good quality meat cleaver, and I particularly love my restored antique cleaver. Cleavers are under-appreciated kitchen tools, that come in handy taking apart game or piecing apart a chicken, and a good quality cleaver is only about $10-15.
If you’re at the point of cutting up your own groundhog, you’re definitely doing enough cooking to justify owning one. Lacking a cleaver, however, a very sharp pair of scissors or garden shears will work for an animal as small as a groundhog.
Once the head and feet are removed, you’ve now got yourself a skinned and gutted groundhog but you still need to remove the scent glands before cooking.
You can go a step further and part out the legs for cooking as individual cuts, or roast the woodchuck whole in a long slow braise with a lot of good fat and seasoning (bacon or pork belly makes a good accompaniment).
How to Remove the Scent Glands from a Groundhog
Each animal is going to have some number of musk glands around the armpits, along the back, and near the genitals. They’re small nodules, about the size of a pea or a bit smaller.
Once you have your groundhog gutted and skinned, be sure to remove the scent glands as soon as possible to keep the meat from developing a musky off-flavor. Some of them are hard to see, and to be safe, soak the woodchuck in salted water overnight to draw out any remaining musky flavor.
How much meat is on a Groundhog?
Our groundhog weighed in at 7.5 lbs before dressing, but once the skin, head, and viscera were removed the final yield was 2.5 lbs including bones. So the answer, not a whole lot.
Bones, tendons, and extra fat fully removed there are roughly 1 to 1.5 pounds of meat on an adult groundhog. A lot better than a squirrel, and a bit better than a wild rabbit, but still just barely enough for a single meal for a small family.
How to Cook a Groundhog
Groundhog meat is very much like rabbit meat, and a brine soak helps pull out any residual gamey flavor. It also helps the meat retain moisture during cooking.
Soak the groundhog in salt water for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Somewhere around 1/2 cup per gallon of water is a good place to start. Pat the woodchuck dry and cook as you would rabbit.
My favorite way to cook rabbit meat (or groundhog) is breaded and fried, which results in moist and tender meat inside a crisp breading. This is my buttermilk fried groundhog recipe, which is wicked simple and super tasty. That’s how this particular little guy found his way to the table.
Since the meat is very flavorful but tends to be a bit dry, it’s well suited to a long braise in a flavorful broth. Try this basic braised groundhog recipe. I’m particularly excited about this pressure-cooked woodchuck and dumplings recipe.
The Northern Cookbook from 1973 includes a number of game recipes including Sweet Pickled Beaver and Squirrel Fricassee, as well as this simple recipe for woodchuck in gravy:
Woodchuck in Gravy Recipe from The Northern Cookbook
2 onions, sliced
1/2 cup celery, sliced
Clean woodchuck; remove glands; cut into serving pieces. Soak overnight in a solution of equal parts of water and vinegar with the addition of one sliced onion and a little salt. Drain, wash and wipe. Parboil 20 minutes, drain and cover with fresh boiling water. Add one sliced onion, celery, a few cloves, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until tender; thicken gravy with flour.
I have eaten many groundhogs but have never bothered removing any glands. My friends and I simply skin and gut the critters then freeze them until we have enough for a party. We don’t soak them in salt water but simply wash them well, then simmer in salted water until the flesh can be removed from the bone. We then put the meat in an aluminum turkey roasting pan, douse it liberally with barbecue sauce and set it on one side of a grill and smoke it and dry it a bit with indirect heat. We have cooked dozens this way and never had any complaints. That might be because we usually accompany the sandwiches with plenty of Jack Daniels.
That sounds delicious, and a whole lot easier. Pulled groundhog sandwiches…mmmm. Thank you so much for sharing!
Great article! I had hoped you’d have pointed out the scent glands… It would have been helpful to me. Anyhow, keep up the great work…
We harvested him late in the afternoon, and it was just getting dark when we got to that point. I took a horrible picture of a scent gland once it was out under my horrible kitchen lighting, but it was so dark I gave up on everything else at that point. If we get another one I’ll make sure I take a photo of them still in. They’re hard to see…
Thank you for this well detailed article. I had been enjoying groundhog for a while but its nice to find out I have been doing some things right in the process.
The recipe and process I have enjoyed most with these wonderful critters has been a 24 hour dry rub of cajun spices with salt and brown sugar, then a long slow smokey cook in a smoker at 280 degrees . Then a pull pork method makes the whole thing amazing. Its best to put the body in a hand fashioned braise pan made out of foil and let the carcass sit a beer with a little bourbon liquid .
That sounds amazing, I wish we had a smoker!
Man i just shot one yesterday, and only had the patience to just cut off three of the legs, cut off the meat and freeze it
im thinking ill do the same as rabbit stew, i cut all of the fat of assuming it is scent glands, and also you said wicked, are you from new england?
thanks this helped.
Congrats on your harvest! Most the meat is on the back legs, and then the loin along the spine. Anything rabbit stew should work really well. Yes, we’re in New England, Vermont specifically. Glad it helped!
Great article. Never knew whether you could it it. The population of grounds may take a hit for a little while round here.
Thank you much. Great article!
Thanks for the info, after being away for months came back to find 9 woodchucks sunning on the hot tub deck and grazing the uncut lawn. Piles of gravel. They have undermined the deck and garage. Never killed or cooked wild game. But you have inspired me. Can’t shoot in this suburban back yard. Any other suggestions on harvesting?
You can use an airsoft gun in your backyard. Just be sure to check your state’s restrictions first.
I have been trying to find an arrival like this for a long time. I always knew about the glands but not what they look like.
Great arrival. Thanks for the into.
Hi! Such a great article. Thanks for sharing. I do have one question. My father is law is a hunter and he said he wouldn’t eat a groundhog because of the risk of worms since hunting season would be at warm weather. We live in New England. So hunting season for squirrels, rabbits, deers is during the cold/ winter time. Just curious because my son loves to catch them and wants to eat year round. Is it safe? Thanks so much.
You’re very welcome. Groundhog is completely safe to eat. It is recommended to wear gloves during the cleaning process because of the chance of parasites from the digestive tract getting into the body from skin contact.
HAVE YOU CONSIDERED SNARING THOSE CRITTERS,AND YES WOODCHUCKS CAN CAUSE AN AMAZING AMOUNT OF DAMAGE ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY UNDERMINE A SHED OR BUILDING.
Trap them. Then take to legal shooting area and do the deed.
charles w wallac
Hi powered air rifle of 22 cal. bow and arrow. slingshot with 1/4 in steel bearings. A blow gun will work. But with any of those you need lots of practice, Air rifle needing the least.
We remove these critters from farms because they harvest the crops. Telt a shame we did not eat them. Now will try this out. Thx debi
Great article and groundhogs are good eating. One thing I would point out though is that they can indeed carry rabies. And are considered one of the main vectors. So as far as no human disease worries that is not correct. Just make sure they are dead when you handle them. Also, the laws very by state but in VA where I live you can not legally trap then transplant a Groundhog. Once trapped they must be killed.
Rabies can only survive in saliva and dies once the saliva dries up so there would be no risk in eating groundhog.
Can anyone tell me what wine goes best with groundhog? I don’t want to get the wrong one, that would be embarassing!
A bold red wine is always a good choice!
Here in Canada our woodchucks average about 3 lbs. dressed I have been “harvesting” the little buggers, as they create risk for our thoroughbreds when turned out for the winter.
Try this method:
Feeds 5-6 people
skin, clean remove scent glands and soak 3 critters in salted beer for 4-6 hours, or overnight (chilled) Quarter into pieces and prepare as follows:
– beat one egg until consistent, mix in 1 tbs. of sriracha sauce and 1 tbs. of avocado oil( veggie oil will do)
– dust woodchuck pieces in flour with seasoned salt, smoke paprika and pepper.
– drench in egg mixture and re-dust in flour mix
– Put about 3 inches of canola oil in a deep dish fryer and bring temperature to high, but just below smoking
-place pieces in hot oil for approx. 3 minutes then turn for an additional 3 minutes. Pieces should be nicely browned.
Serve with wild rice, asparagus tips and 12 yr. old single malt scotch.
Thanks for sharing Rocky.
Just killed my fourth groundhog today (trapped and skinned over three seasons). I use a Duke 330 body trap right by the den. I check about every hour when I have it set. Kills em quick. I make pulled groundhog in my pressure cooker, just like pork butt. It tastes fine. I usually cook the head separately because I can never seem to get all the skin off until it is cooked. I then eat anything I can get out of it. Brains, tongue, and the extra meat the jowls are great. So is the tail meat. Thanks for your good explanation.
Albert H. Shearer
I remember when I young we lived out in the country, my father would shoot ground hogs and clean them, I always tried to be with him when he cleaned any wild game. My mother would soak the ground hog in salt water over night she would cook them in a little bit of vinegar water until the meat was tender then she would roll the meat in flower and fry it in lard until it was just browned it was delicious. When I got married things changed I was to busy working and planting a garden and canning and freezing vegetables, I never ask my wife to cook a ground hog but she loved venison so I left at that. I did shoot quit a few ground hogs through my life but I buried them. My wife passed away 9 yrs ago. I am 80 yrs old now the other day I shot a ground I am young now I still remembered my child hood days so I cleaned the ground hog, I soaked it in salt water over night, this is 08/02/2021 I used a crock pot I put (1) one can of french onion soup in the in the crock pot cut up another onion and added garlic salt and pepper rolled the meat in flower cooked it 6 hrs it fell of the bones it is delicious. I will not throw another ground hog away it will be table fare. Thanks for the additional information about cleaning the ground hog and other cooking recipes.
I’ve been advised to use gloves when cleaning and skinning game. My son and I attended a demonstration when he took his hunter and gun safety course for scouts and the man told us it was important protect yourself from exposure to pathogens from the animal.
I have since read that as well, and now we wear gloves too. Thanks for mentioning it, I’ll go update the article.
Great article Ashley. Hunted Woodchucks with my Dad as a kid but never considered eating them. Always thought they should be good considering that they eat the same as cattle but was always disappointed with the results. Did not know about the sent glands and suspect that was my problem. Woodchucks in Pennsylvania are a tough critter requiring head shots with a .22 rimfire to insure they do not get back down their hole. My Son-In -Law is a farmer so one of my major activities in retirement is to reduce the number of crop eating critters around his farm. Got forty last year and based on your estimates that’s roughly 40 pounds of meat. I’ll be looking for those sent glands and trying your recipe this summer. Looking forward to future posts.
Wonderful! Hope you enjoy it. If you’re getting that many woodchucks some of them could land on the table for sure. When you pull the scent glands they really do have a “beefy” meat, though more like free-range grass-fed beef so a bit more intense than what most people are used to from the grocery store. You can also try soaking the meat in milk for 12-24 hours before cooking it, as some people do with venison and other game meats. The milk makes the meat more tender, and pulls out some of the “wild” flavor leaving it milder. Just rinse off all the milk and then cook them after.
Update from Diane, I ended up live trapping and drowning. Someone had said they found cantaloupe irresistible. True. Tried straw berry, carrot, apple etc. In 4 different traps. Caught momma and 7 babies all on melon. Worried papa out looking for new girlfriend. Been studying, prepping to raise rabbits. Hubby said I’d never be able to butcher. So I showed him with the chucks. Read part of letting animals soak for a day is to let rigor pass. More tender meat.. cut the leg portions & froze. Later a little saute. The carcasses pressure cooked and meat picked off bones then canned and labeled “stewed chuck” (let them wonder) it worked great for pasties. Momma learned a new skill! Thanks for all your help!
That’s awesome Diane! Good for you. I love that you labeled it stewed chuck. It made me chuckle a little.
I am looking at “Phil” right now in the neighbor’s yard. Apparently he has been terrorizing the gardens in my neighborhood for years. I am a fishing guide and practice safe catch and release or eat what I catch but have never hunted. I think I will make him my next dinner. Hate to kill a non-aggressive wild animal but your post gave me new hope. They are a pest down here in SC and I won’t feel as bad harvesting him knowing he won’t go to waste. Thank you for the article.
You’re very welcome. So glad that you enjoyed the post. Did you end up harvesting him?
Not yet, I’m afraid. I haven’t decided whether or not to trap him first or use an air rifle. I don’t want him to suffer, and there are houses behind my land, so a 22L is out of the question. I’ll probably set a snare and wait it out all night this weekend. It’s good training though, and I need to get my gear ready for the salmon run this coming June. I’ll keep you updated though.
Sounds great! Definitely keep us posted.
My wife and I started trapping beaver last fall. It is fantastic meat! We now want to try woodchuck… your article was great and will definitely help me prepare the one I shot in our garden this morning. Thank you!!!
You’re very welcome. So glad it was helpful for you. Let us know how the woodchuck turns out.