The other day I found myself in a conversation with a large, handlebar-mustached man who insisted -- and I really don't know how we got to talking about this at all -- but who insisted that rattlesnake was the tastiest kind of snake to eat. Now think about that. This was a man who had eaten enough different kinds of snake that he had a favorite. And not only did he inform me of this being his favorite kind of snake, but that he had had it a bunch of different ways, and had a favorite snake meat preparation methodology.

So this fellow gave me a few tips about how to prepare and eat a rattlesnake. Now, at this point I told him, "I'm a vegetarian, so I don't really see myself eating any kind of snake," but he insisted on telling me anyway. You know, in case I end up lost in the desert and must turn to meat to survive.

Update: I agree with RedOmega who observes that "If you're in the desert I imagine it'd be far easier and less dangerous to cut up a cactus and strip the spines with a knife than try to capture a deadly venomous snake. To each their own."

Firstly, he explained, because it's a poisonous snake, you obviously can't eat the head. If you eat the head, the fangs may rupture your intestines and all the poison will go right into your blood, killing you. The fellow told me that he's in fact heard that because it's a poisonous snake, you have to cut the head off about 2 inches down the neck from where the skull ends. He wasn't really sure that this was a necessary defense against is poisoning but having heard it somewhere, he though it seemed like a good rule of thumb.

Update: TheAnglican tells me: "What you do is BURY the head. It can strike for hours after being severed."

Once the head is off, my mustached connoisseur continued, the next thing is to slice the snake open along its bottom, all the way down to the tail -- he became quite excited while explaining this part and gestured demonstratively with his hands.

Update: Maevwyn quotes a friend thusly "While cooking and even hours after death, the snake and many other reptile nervous systems are still intact. So don't be freaked out if the body tries to curl around your arm when your trying to skin it, in addition to attempting to standing erect and coiling around while searing in whatever pan you choose to fry it in, because that totally happens."

Because it's a rattlesnake, you'll want to keep that rattle for.... other uses. Maybe to give to a baby. So stop cutting short of the rattle. The skin being split so, you simply peel it away from the neck, down the body, until you get down to the rattle, and then slice through any meat holding the rattle to the tail. The rattlesnake's rattle is connected to its long, snakey spine, so that too will need to be snapped through before the tip.

Now, what to do with this peeled off snake skin? According to my self-appointed guide into this realm, you lay it out in the sun where there are ants. The ants will eat away any eatable parts, leaving behind a cleaned skin and rattle. He didn't suggest what ought to be done with the head, although I picture him using those for doorknobs.

He again became quite excited and gesticulating when describing how to bleed out and gut the snake, holding it by the tail with both fists with the neck pointing down and squeezing while sliding one hand from that end down, while blood trickles forth, and then slicing the meat open down the belly, carefully leaving the alimentary canal intact for removal in (based on the gesture) a single pulling-out motion. The snake, it must be remembered, like you and me, has a heart and lungs and a liver and kidneys and all that. Because the snake's anatomy is distributed lengthwise, the lungs don't sit side by side; one stretches out in front of the heart and the other behind it. My conversant pointed out that all these organs can be eaten too (just as in a cow he noted, or, I responded, in a human), so there's no need to remove them.

The last preparatory step my new friend described was the slicing of the skinned body of the snake. Most people, he explained, like to cut a snake of several feet into five-to-six-inch lengths for cooking. But not this fellow, no. He craved something more delicate, so despite the extensive additional effort involved, he cuts his into inch-thick snake disks, carefully working between the ribs (of which snakes have dozens, and which you don't want to loose from the spine before cooking). And those, my friend explained, he would fry in the pan, lightly breaded with peppers and various other flavor-inducing vegetables (I honestly can't remember the actual cooking parts, the prep description completely occupying my thinking as he went on about the other ingredients). The last tip I recall from this exchange was that in eating the cooked rattlesnake slices, the ribs will now hold tightly to the spine, so all the meat is to be sucked off them like -- well, like eating meat off any other kind of ribs, I suppose. Even those of a human.

Update: According to moeyz: "I had rattlesnake ONCE & got an allergic reaction...and it 'did not taste like chicken.'"; Maevwyn relates: "According to a friend of mine who has done this, eating copperhead is very like eating chicken wings - tastes quite similar, and requires a similar technique to suck the meat off the bones"; and as per jessicaj: "I've had rattlesnake. From my experience the meat was chicken like in appearance with a much drier texture. Perhaps this man's preparation method would be tastier..."

And that's what I've learned about snake meat.