For 20 years alligators were listed as endangered in South Carolina, but you couldn’t prove it by me. The pond where I fished as a child used to get so overrun with alligators that we would call wildlife officials to remove them to distant locations. It was no surprise to find that often the same gators—tagged by the game officers—found their way home from some 100 miles away.
There have been so many developments along the coast of South Carolina in the past 20 years that lands once populated only by gators, bears, and other denizens of the swamp now sport golf courses, tennis courts, and condominiums. Gators appear in people’s yards; they steal golf balls, mistaking them for eggs; they are said to have a particular liking for dogs. They are reported to the wildlife department.
Strictly controlled killing of officially designated “nuisance” gators over 5 feet long by a handful of licensed trappers is now allowed. The meat is inspected, carefully labeled, and sold to licensed vendors. It is now a popular appetizer item in area restaurants.
The meat of the alligator does not fare well in the freezer. Fresh or frozen, though, it cooks best slowly, at a low temperature. The flesh is perfectly white, and, like turtle, marries well with spicy hot red pepper. It is most often teamed with a Creole sauce, but I prefer it smoked. If you live near gator farms, try to obtain a skinned tail from a small gator, right at 5 feet. Marinate the meat as you would for smoking fish or poultry and smoke according to the manufacturer’s directions on your smoker. This is a general recipe.
Make a brine of the salt and water in a large stockpot. Coil the gator tail down in the brine and refrigerate overnight. The next day, pour off the brine and lay the tail on a greased rack to dry in a well-ventilated place. (I put a coat hanger through the meat and hang it outdoors.) Allow a thin skin to form on the surface. In the meantime, start your smoker and soak the hardwood chips in water. Thoroughly oil the grates of the grill. Mix the cayenne into the oil and baste the tail with the oil. Place the tail in the smoker and smoke-cook over the chips for about 35 to 40 minutes for each pound of meat. The tail will be cooked when the meat is uniformly white all the way to the bone.
Serve as you would smoked fish—warm as the main course, warm or cold as an appetizer. Store what you don’t serve immediately well wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.
© 1992 All rights reserved. Published by UNC Press.