Most areas of the United States are highly populated with wild game, including rabbit. Also, domestic rabbit production is increasing in many locations. Maximum use is not made of this meat because most individuals/sportsmen are not knowledgeable about meat processing. This publication presents guidelines for handling rabbits from the time the animal is sacrificed until it is consumed.
WARNING: Proper precautions should be taken when handling and processing rabbits. Rubber or other non-porous gloves should be used when handling wild rabbits. Wash the animal as soon as possible to remove Tularemia spores from the fur. Tularemia is a disease of wild rabbits which is transmissible to humans. It occurs in the United States in every month but especially in the autumn. Additional information under
"Eviscerating Procedures" is provided.
Rubber or plastic gloves
8 penny nail
Generally, rabbits are stunned mechanically from a blow on the top of the head (Figure 1-a). Humane slaughter electric stunning devices produce anesthesia by passing an electric current through the brain of the animal. One electrode is placed on the animal's skull and the other on the thoracic, abdominal or perineal region of the body. NOTE: Excessive electrical dosage will electrocute the animal with an immediate stoppage of the heart and respiration. Carcasses from animals killed by electrocution should not be processed for food.
The Humane Slaughter Law (Manual of Meat Inspection Procedures of the United States Department of Agriculture, Section 380.1) requires that animals stunned by mechanical, electrical, chemical, gunshot or other methods shall be unconscious before they are shackled, hoisted or cut.
Rabbits should be skinned and eviscerated as soon as possible after sacrificing and while the carcass is warm.
Hang the rabbit by inserting a nail or hook near the hock joint between the tendon and the bone of the right rear leg (Figure1-b).
Sever the left hind foot at the first joint
Cut the pelt around the right rear leg at the hock (Figure 1-g).
Slit the pelt inside the leg from the hock to the base of the tail.
Cut fat away from pelt and pull (using both hands) pelt down off the carcass.
Rinse the carcass with high pressure cool (<40° F) water.
a. Check for scent glands. These small, waxy-looking glands are located under the front legs at the natural seam where the legs join the body.
b. Avoid cutting the scent glands or bringing them in contact with the edible portion of the carcass. Flavor of the meat is affected to varying degrees by these glands due to physiological changes in animals with seasons.
c. Slit the belly from the anus to the breast bone (sternum). Avoid cutting the viscera by making a small cut in the flanks between the rear legs, inserting two gloved fingers to hold the viscera and guide the knife, and cutting from inside the body cavity outward.
d. Carefully cut through the center cartilage of the aitch bone (ilium) and free the bung (anus).
e. Remove the entrails with minimal handling using a gloved hand.
f. Wash the carcass inside and out with cool (<40° F) water.
g. Place the carcass in 50ppm chlorine 36° F water to chill. The chilled carcass will have a residue of 15-20ppm chlorine and maintain acceptable
quality for 14 days under refrigeration.
h. Check liver for cysts (visible white spots). If none are visible and the liver is dark blood-red, the rabbit does not have evidence of Tularemia.
i. If cysts are present, place the carcass and the gloves in a solution of bleach or other disinfectant (200ppm chlorine or mix according to manufacturers direction on the container) prior to burying/discarding.
j. Wash your hands thoroughly and rinse them in an appropriate chlorine bleach or other hand sanitizer according to manufacturers directions on the containers.
NOTE: Sportsmen who bag wild rabbits should handle them with nonporous gloves and eviscerate them in the field soon after harvesting. Pelts should be left on to prevent drying. Complete the dressing procedure and refrigerate carcasses as soon as practical.
Cutting the carcass:
Rabbit carcasses are usually classified as "fryers or young rabbits" and as "roasters or mature rabbits." A fryer is usually a domestic rabbit weighing 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds (<12 weeks of age). Its flesh is fine grained, a bright pearly pink color and tender.
Roasters usually weigh 4 pounds and are from animals at least 8 months old. The flesh of a roaster is more firm and coarse grained than that of a fryer. Roaster carcasses may contain a cream colored fat, have a slightly darker colored flesh, and be less tender than that of a fryer.
The following cutting diagram and description yields portions for individual servings.
A. Remove Rear Legs and Tail
Cut parallel to and on each side of tail forward until knife contacts leg bones.
Cut perpendicular to spine in front of hip joint on each leg.
Remove by twisting to separate joint.
Cut through spine to remove tail and tail head.
B. Remove Back and Flanks
Cut through spine and along ribs.
Remove flanks by separating thinner flank from thicker muscles of back.
C. Remove Front Legs through the natural seam between the foreleg and ribs
D. Split the Rib with a cleaver or large knife by cutting through and parallel to the spine.
The Icons below will guide you to the other Rabbit Pages.