When the Europeans arrived in North America, two of their primary objectives were to collect as many beaver pelts as possible, and to convert the native population to Catholicism.
The locals liked to eat the beaver meat, which was convenient for the Europeans, who cared only for the skin. The newcomers changed their tune, however, during the Catholic season of Lent. On Fridays throughout this stretch leading up to Easter, the faithful are forbidden from eating meat, specifically land-dwelling animals. To accommodate new converts (and probably meat-loving Europeans), they turned to the beaver.
In the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec petitioned the Church to make beaver meat permissible during Friday fasts. The logic: Fish were permitted and the semi-aquatic rodent did spend much of its time in the water. The Church, which has a long history of creative cheats around meatless fasts (such as capybaras and muskrats), granted the request.
Beaver still serves as a Lenten meat substitute in some areas, particularly St. Louis, Missouri. To counter its gaminess, barbecue pit masters often add a dry rub and savory or spicy sauce. Diners, who may enjoy the smoked meat in tacos, gumbo, or stuffed mushrooms, liken it to chewy beef. Some even claim that you can detect slight woody notes from the animal’s diet.
Need to Know
Make sure the beaver you're eating has been humanely trapped (Bootleggin' BBQ in St. Louis ensures this). The smoked meat is supposed to pair particularly well with a strong British ale.
Where to Try It
Bootleggin' BBQ1933 Washington Ave, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103, United States
This barbecue joint is known for featuring beaver-based specials on Fridays throughout Lent. They're often not listed on the menu (but are promoted on the restaurant's social media accounts), so you'll need to ask your server.
Soulard Farmer's Market730 Carroll Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63104, United States
This market offers fresh produce and game, including beaver, raccoon, and opossum.