See ya later, alligator

I was a regular at Joe’s OK Bayou back in the early 2000s, and that was where I first tried alligator tail. It was fried, a bit chewy and nothing special, but I ordered it fairly often because it was something different, something novel. Maybe there was just something interesting about being able to eat something that could theoretically eat you back.

Recently, I was in Taylor’s Cajun Meat Company, a relatively new establishment in New Albany, and while poring over the meat case I noticed a tray of vacuum-sealed packages of alligator legs. Most everything there was pretty basic stuff, such as steaks, pork chops, sausage and the like, so the alligator legs stood out (no pun intended).

They were only about $10, so I had to try them.

The Taylor’s website offers cooking tips, and the two instructions were to batter and fry the legs or to simply cook them on the grill. They were pre-marinated and seasoned, so they essentially were ready to go.

It was dark and cold outside, so grilling wasn’t an attractive option. Nor did I want to go the batter-and-fry route, so I pulled out my trusty George Foreman grill and plugged it in — it was a ready-made barbecue for one.

When I opened the package, I noted that two of the legs were thick and meaty, maybe the size of a turkey wing, while two were smaller, closer to the size of large chicken flappers, but with more meat. It dawned on me then that I appeared to have two front legs and two back — were they from the same animal? No way of knowing, but it was a thought I couldn’t shake. The owner of Taylor’s had told me the legs were from young gators, but was it one gator per package?

I grilled the large legs for about eight minutes and the small ones about five.

The aroma was wonderful.

The lean meat took a nice char that helped lock in juices — there was very little runoff, unlike with most meats you put in one of those grills.

The cliché is that alligator tastes like chicken, but that’s not quite right. Alligator is a darker meat, for starters, with a consistency and look that more closely resembles pork. But the flavor, to my taste buds, is its own thing — comparable to chicken, yes, and also comparable to pork, with a hint of earthiness. This particular gator also possessed a touch of interesting brightness in the flavor that was almost fruity.

Meanwhile, the Cajun seasoning added a hint of savory spice, with black pepper, cayenne and garlic peeking through and blending nicely with the meat. The brut IPA I chose to go with my all-meat meal was a nice pairing, but I suspect I might have done well with a dry red wine as well.

The back legs were distinctively different than the front legs in texture and even seemed to differ a tiny bit more of the earthiness. They were thick and muscular, no doubt from being responsible for the burden of carrying the tail around. As such, each one had big, thick calf muscles that were tender and delicious.

But those legs also were a bit more rubbery in texture than the front, which were a bit closer to the density and texture of frog meat — leaner and easier to eat. If the back legs had a bit more of the unique earthy flavor, the front legs tasted a bit, if you will, cleaner.

I topped off the meal by adding a splash of garlic-habanero hot sauce on my plate for dipping, in the form of Pain is Good Batch 37, which was a perfect touch. I had originally thought I would eat two of the legs and save the other two for later, but once I got started, it became clear to me that wasn’t going to happen. With my dog, Atticus, drooling next to me, I polished off all four legs and picked the bones as clean as I could manage.

Later, ’gator.

Honestly, I would have probably eaten the tail, too, if I’d had it. I suspect I would have gone full-on Bobby Boucher, if you’ll forgive the reference to “The Waterboy.”

Alligator legs might not be for everyone, but if you like to branch out, they’re definitely worth a try, and available for easy pickup at Taylor’s (taylorscajunmeatco.com), which is located just off Grant Line Road. One thing I should add is this: When you eat alligator legs, be sure you have plenty of floss. You’re going to need it.