It’s been mistaken for a beaver or groundhog. It’s known as marsh rabbit, if you’re fancy. The meat is fried, baked, stewed, roasted, and even tucked inside a taco shell. In certain parts of Chesapeake country, you can find its image on mugs, greeting cards, and T-shirts with the encouragement to “eat more muskrat.”
Eastern Shore icon or food source, the muskrat is a vital part of the hunting, trapping, and culinary culture of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In February, take advantage of not one, but two opportunities to celebrate the region’s favorite rodent.
Maggie’s Coleman’s Tavern Muskrat Cookoff
On Saturday, Feb. 4 in Rock Hall, Maggie’s Coleman’s Tavern, the second-oldest business in Rock Hall, will host its 7th Annual Muskrat Cook-off. Imagine muskrat spring rolls, pot pie, stew, poppers, and even pizza. From among the many entries submitted by community cooks, three winners will be selected. Under a heated tent, enjoy live music from the Everafter and soul food from Chestertown’s Phat Daddy’s BBQ. According to Carolyn Jones, a member of Coleman’s four generations of owners, the festivities begin “around 12-ish” and end at five.
More information here: Maggie’s Coleman’s Tavern Muskrat Cookoff
Cambridge Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Leg Eating Contest
If you want to know how the crawfish and the muskrat found their way onto the same table, come to Cambridge on Sunday, Feb. 26 for the annual Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Leg Eating Contest. First, some history: the competition began during a weekend of the National Outdoor Show (held this year on February 24-25 at South Dorchester School in Church Creek). At a social gathering between Dorchester County and Cameron Parish, its Louisiana sister county, the idea began as a joke. But over crawfish flown in fresh from Louisiana and inspiration from the Outdoor Show’s muskrat skinning contest, a new competition was born. Dorchester County Chamber President Bill Christopher recalls how the contest got its name. “We called it the world championship because the organizers couldn’t find a similar contest anywhere in the world.” But word spread far enough that a Chinese news station heard about the competition and came to cover it.
How hard could it be to scarf down a few tiny muskrat legs? In this case, winning could be easier said than done. According to contest rules, each contestant must eat 13 muskrat legs in three minutes. “Muskrat meat is hard to get off the bone,” Christopher says. “And if the bone has one scrap of meat left when time is up, you’re out.” Reigning champion, Daniel “Chunky” Hesson, known as the “child phenom”, was 15 years old for his first win. This year he’ll return in hopes of holding on to his crown. During the day’s events, a memorial will be held for the late Ralph “Peg Leg” Bramble, the original Muskrat Leg Eating Champion, and a scholarship established in his name.
The Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Leg Eating World Championship festivities take place on Feb. 26 at the Portside Restaurant in Cambridge. You can find information on the contest here.
Plan to come earlier in the weekend to experience the National Outdoor show and learn about its mission to highlight Dorchester County’s outdoor heritage: National Outdoor Show
If you’d like to try your hand at muskrat, here’s a recipe by James “Jim Dandy” Bennett of Centreville, Maryland. He’s a home cook whose dishes are always in demand by family and friends. And like many home cooks, he prepares his food by sight and taste. This is a guide for you to alter to your own taste.
James “Jim Dandy” Bennett‘s Muskrat and Gravy
6 muskrats, cut up for frying (available at
Italian bread crumbs
Lawrey’s Garlic Salt
Salt and pepper to taste
Lipton’s Beef and Onion Soup Mix
Peel the skin back to remove white musk gland
Soak the muskrats in salt water for two hours
Rinse, drain and soak again
Mix bread crumbs, garlic salt, salt, and pepper.
Dredge muskrat in flour mixture
Fry in the same method as chicken
Place a layer of onions on the bottom of the roasting pan
Place muskrat on top of onions
Add a cup and a half of water
Roast at 350 for an hour; stir to make gravy
Add a package of Lipton’s Soup if the liquid isn’t thick enough for gravy