It's getting to be that time of the summer when you've overdosed a bit on the classics—even the most die-hard grillmasters can only eat so many variations on a cheeseburger. So it's time to get a little weird. Let's talk about alligator meat. It's usually viewed as a kitschy "try before you die" food, mostly eaten fried. But chef Kenny Gilbert, a Top Chef season seven contestant and owner of Gilbert's Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach, Florida, is trying to change that perception. Gilbert takes a nose-to-spiky-tail approach when it comes to the reptiles, using the meat to make everything from charcuterie to a twist on a pulled pork sandwich. Especially in a time when there's more and more talk of alternative protein sources, it's never a bad idea to start branching out. Below, some of chef Gilbert's most brilliant alligator dishes.
Gilbert cures alligator steaks until they take on the salty, chewy character of a well-cared-for ham. He serves thin slices with a creamy sassafrass and celery dressing, and replaces the old-school tasso ham in a potpie with chopped alligator (tomato jam and pickled okra keep things from feeling too unfamiliar).
The spicy, smoky flavors of traditional Andouille blend well with alligator's mild flavor. Gilbert also replaces the traditional spicy ground Italian sausage in bolognese with ground alligator, which gives the sauce a lighter body (necessary, since the accompanying gnudi are made with pimento cheese).
Braised and Pulled
Slow-cooked, shredded and doused in a sharp, vinegary South Carolina–style barbecue sauce, pulled alligator is a surprisingly perfect sandwich filling.
Did you know alligators have wings? Gilbert does. He treats the combined fore- and hind-leg shanks like tender, meaty wings that even Buffalo fanatics can love.
Gilbert can't keep these spicy, dry-rubbed ribs in stock for good reason: Though they have a similar texture to pork ribs, they're more lean and have a delicate flavor that's similar to (you guessed it) chicken.
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