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What is Squab?

Niki Acker
Updated May 16, 2024
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Squab is the culinary term for young pigeons. While many modern cultures consider squab an unusual or exotic dish, it has a long history. Pigeons have been raised domestically for centuries. There are records of squab being eaten in Ancient Egypt and Rome. Squabs are killed for food about a month after birth, when they have attained adult size, but have not yet flown.

Squab originally referred to the meat of all dove and pigeon species, some of which were once game animals, but today the term is typically limited to domestic pigeons. In the medieval era, it became popular for estates to feature a dovecote, a small building in which pigeons or doves could nest, allowing the estate owners ready access to the birds' eggs and meat. Dovecotes are still used in some areas today, and may be referred to as colombiers or pigeonniers, particularly in French-speaking or historically French-speaking areas.

Squab is a rich, moist dark meat similar to duck. It is tender, lean, and milder than most game fowl. Commercially raised meat is more tender than that of traditionally raised squabs, and therefore has a shorter cooking time and can be used in a wider variety of dishes. Squab features fewer pathogens than many other kinds of poultry, and can be served medium to well done. Squabs do not produce much meat per bird, and most of the meat is found in the breast.

Today, squab meat is most popular in traditional French and Chinese cuisines, as well as in North Africa. The bird is often served deep fried as part of celebratory or holiday meals in Chinese and Chinese-American culture. They may be sold live or dressed. Squabs dressed in Chinese-style, or Buddhist slaughter, retain their heads and feet, while those dressed New York-style or Confucian slaughter retain their entrails as well. Squab is one of the most expensive types of poultry, because of both its rarity, and the relatively small amount of meat per bird.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By Terrificli — On Jan 03, 2015

Interesting that dove meat was once referred to as "squab." Dove and quail hunting remains popular in the United States in some part of the nation, but I have never heard anyone refer to dove meat as squab.

By the way, it takes quite a few dove, quail or pigeon to feed a family. No wonder that stuff is not as popular as it once was.

By Phaedrus — On Jan 02, 2015

I have had squab one time, when my cousin in New York City invited us all to an upscale restaurant before going to the theater. I'd have to say it does taste a lot like duck, but it also had some of the same qualities as a really savory turkey. There wasn't a lot of meat on the plate, but it was very rich and satisfying. I'd definitely order it again if I ever saw squab on a menu.

When I got back home from NYC, I went to my favorite grocery store's meat department and asked a butcher where to buy squab locally. He said they used to order squab during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, but they didn't sell enough to make it worth the investment. People just don't like the idea of eating pigeons, even though squabs are nothing like street pigeons.

It's a tough sell, unless the customer is already familiar with the product and knows how to prepare it properly.

By Inaventu — On Jan 01, 2015

To be honest, I've never been to a restaurant that had squabs on its menu. I've always heard about squab, usually when the discussion is about exotic or expensive foods. I wouldn't even know where to buy squab if I ever had to prepare it myself. I suppose the best grocery store in town could probably have it shipped in frozen.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range...
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