Introduction: How to Skin and Clean a Dead Snake

About: I helped start Instructables, previously worked in biotech and academic research labs, and have a degree in biology from MIT. Currently head of Product helping young startups at Alchemist Accelerator, previous…

So you've got a dead snake- now what?

Learn a useful skill, and leverage roadkill for fun and profit.

A companion to How to Cook a Snake.

Step 1: Acquire Snake

This is probably going to be the hard part.

Snakes do a fine job keeping the world free of unnecessary rodents; don't kill them unless absolutely necessary! That said, if you do kill a snake, or find one dead, don't let it go to waste.

The snake in this Instructable was run over by a car; Eric found it a couple minutes later, its heart still beating, in the process of expiring by the side of the road. Since we knew both time and cause1 of death, and refrigerated the carcass promptly, it was safe to eat. If you just want the skin, the time and mechanism of death isn't as relevant. Just be sensible, and make sure to clean yourself (and the snake parts) up properly.

A bit of internet research identified it as a probable Black Rat Snake, a non-poisonous Indiana resident.

1 Note that snakes can also die from eating poisoned rodents. You dont want to eat a snake dosed up with warfarin or other toxin2. Pay attention to context.

2 It's apparently fine to cook and eat poisonous snakes- cooking is sufficient to inactivate any venomous residue.

Step 2: Off With Its Head!

Just like the queen of hearts says.

You can use a nice sharp knife, or a pair of kitchen/poultry shears. Just stay away from serrated knives, as they don't do very well with snakeskin.

This is also the time to make sure you've properly prepped your area- I put a large cutting board on top of several layers of newspapers in the driveway, and put a wad of paper towels and a plastic bag for trash nearby.
Make sure to leave space for your implements, and bring bags and/or a bowl to save the good bits. If your mother is willing to take pictures that's a bonus!

Step 3: Find the Vent

Find the snake's anal vent.
This is an opening a couple of inches away from the tail, on the ventral (belly) side of the snake.

Step 4: Cut Open

Insert your poultry shears (or knife, or hefty scissors) into the snake's anal vent, and cut along the middle of the stomach towards the head.

If you want to keep the stomach skin intact, choose the site of your cut accordingly. You can even start cutting from the head; the vent just makes a great entry point.

Step 5: Observe Tire Tracks

I was using a (presumed) road-kill snake, so wanted to verify the cause of death. Thankfully, this was easy.

Check out the pictures below. You can clearly see where the tire ran over the snake's body- there's a massive hematoma slightly wider than a car tire. None of the ribs are broken, though; there's enough give in a tire (and flexibility in the snake's ribs) that they survived intact.

Step 6: Trim Connective Tissue

Next step: preparing to peel the snake skin off the body.

There's quite a bit of connective tissue working against you, as snakes generally like their muscles to stay tightly attached to their skins. We want to remedy that situation.

Grab a small sharp knife, again non-serrated, and carefully work under the skin near the head. Cut through the threads connecting the muscles and skin, being sure not to puncture the gorgeous skin. Work from the stomach around towards the back, tugging the skin away as you go to expose more fascia. Continue until you've got a good couple of inches clear near the head.

I used a pocket knife; a paring knife would work just as well.

Step 7: Peel Away

Once you've freed enough skin to act as a handle, put away the knife and do this the easy way.

Grip the snake body with one hand, the skin in the other, and pull gently but firmly until the skin separates. Use a paper towel if necessary to maintain a firm hold, and adjust your grip as you move down the body.

If the skin seems too delicate for this operation you can trim the whole thing off with your pocket knife, but it should work with most snakes.

You may need to make an additional slit to get the tail off, but try to leave it as intact as possible.

Step 8: Save Skin for Later Use

Now you've got a great snake skin! Use it now, or store for later.

I was visiting my parents in Indiana, and didn't have time to process the skin before my flight home to CA. Instead I scraped off the residual goo, rolled the skin from head to tail, double-bagged it in freezer bags, labeled it, and stuck it in the freezer for a later visit. (Thanks, Mom!)**

What should I do with the skin? All suggestions are welcome.

**UPDATE: my parents had a power outage before my next visit, and purged the contents of the freezer including my snake skin.  D'oh!

Step 9: Remove Guts

Now you're left with the denuded carcass.

Grab the guts, and pull. They're conveniently arranged in a tube along the snake's body, so just rip everything out.

Bury the guts in your yard- they'll be great fertilizer. Just make sure to dig deep enough that the raccoons and feral cats won't get to them easily.

Step 10: Clean and Prep

Wipe the chest cavity out with a paper towel, and give it a rinse if necessary.

You've now got a clean, dry snake carcass, ready for use in the recipe of your choice!

Chop it into manageable portions, and proceed with your recipe.

Step 11: Cook and Serve!

You can basically treat the snake like a small pond fish, or like a piece of chicken- it's a flexible critter.

Check out this Instructable to learn how to fry your own snake.

Eat, and enjoy!