Ignite of the Iguana

by Green Deane

in Critter Cuisine, Recipes

The cookbook’s title says it all. South Florida, parts of Texas and Hawaii have iguana issues. While teaching a class in West Palm Beach last fall I could not help but think of Iguana a la Carte when a 30-inch one slithered into a pond next to me. No, they don’t taste quite like chicken, nor like alligator which can be swampy. Think chicken and crab combined.

Adult Green Iguana

Iguanas are not native to any of the three areas mentioned. They got there the way exotic weeds do, by man. More specifically self-liberated pets, pets intentionally released, and poor control at pet stores. In one example a few pets let loose on a key turned into several thousands in just a few short years. In Florida there are no doubt hundreds of thousands of them flourishing. Cookbook author George Cera has captured or killed over 16,000 of them. Guess what’s in his freezer?

Male Spiny-tailed Iguana

The edibility of the iguana is not an issue though the Green Iguana is preferred over the other species. In its native range they are called Chicken of the Trees. Iguanas can be cleaned then ah…peeled… and cooked on the spot, or grilled, or made into delicate soups. Usually, however, the meat is parboiled in salted water first, skinned, then used in various recipes. Iguanas can be caught in traps or in cool weather the cold-blooded denizens actually drop out of trees, stunned by the chill. The hard part is sorting them out. You see, Green Iguanas are not always green, and there are other large lizards as well, and I don’t mean alligators.

Female Spiny Iguana

Green Iguanas are Iguana iguana are indeed green when little but then they grow up and change color. In the same areas you will find the Mexican spiny-tailed iguanas which is Ctenosaura pectinata and Black Spiny-Tailed Iguana, or Ctenosaura similis. Large male spiny-tailed iguanas (C. pectinata) are often mistaken for alligators by startled homeowners because they are dark in color and have low dorsal spines, making many a person think they are small alligators. .

Female Brown Basilisk

There are also several other  other large lizards now calling Florida home that some people misidentify as iguanas. The Brown Basilisk,  Basiliscus vittatus, is a large lizard (up to 2 feet) often mistaken for an iguana and is found in the same areas as introduced iguanas. Knight Anoles,  Anolis equestris, reach between a foot to a foot and a half and are green. The Jamaican Giant Anole, Anolis garmani, can reach a foot long. Incidentally, deep fried little Cuban anoles usually taste like bacon. Occasionally other self-liberated pets have established breeding populations and are spied. These include large lizards like the Nile Monitor Lizards, Varanus niloticus, the Giant Whiptail, Cnemidophorus motaguae, and the Tegu, Tupinambis sp.

Traps are prebaited, top, to attract and then later are set to capture, bottom

Where do you find them? They usually find you, often nesting in attics. Adult iguanas feed on landscape plants, shrubs, trees, orchids, many flowers, figs, mangoes, tomatoes, bananas, lychees, and similar fruits. Iguanas do not eat citrus. If they did, he said cynically, the state would have eradicated them long ago. Occasionally they’ll eat small animals such as  insects, smaller lizards, nestling birds and eggs. Basilisks and Anoles generally eat insects and small creatures whereas Knight Anoles occasionally eat small fruits and flowers as well. Iguanas like to bask in open areas; sidewalks, docks, seawalls, landscape timbers, gutter, or open mowed areas. When scared, they  dive into water (Green Iguanas and Basilisks) or scurry into their burrows (Mexican Spiny-Tailed Iguanas). The habit of diving into the water to escape makes Green Iguanas difficult to capture thus traps are required. Mexican Spiny-tailed Iguanas disappear into burrows which undermine sidewalks, seawalls, and foundations often leading to structural collapse.

Knight Anole

And while most folks think the Muscovy Duck is the most foul at dropping droppings iguanas are the all time champs… more and worse. Iguanas are also a possible source of salmonella bacteria, a common cause of food poisoning so they have to be handled carefully. Adult iguanas are more powerful than they look and can bite, scratch severely, and deliver a painful slap with their muscular tail. Iguanas usually avoid people but will defend themselves against pets and people that try to catch them or corner them.

Iguana Soup

According to the state of Florida: “Iguanas can be captured and removed from private property at any time without special permits. They are considered exotic unprotected wildlife. They may be caught by hand, noose pole, net, or traps. Only live traps and snares are legal in the State of Florida. Check with local authorities for any local ordinances that may limit control options.” The state adds: “It is illegal to release iguanas in Florida (39-4.005 Florida Administrative Code). Iguanas are not native to Florida and so are not protected in Florida, except by anti-cruelty laws. Green iguanas are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species II because of their economic importance and over-harvest for the international pet trade in their native range. In Florida, all captured iguanas must be kept in captivity as pets or captive breeding stock, or must be destroyed. Feral adult iguanas rarely make acceptable pets. They never tame sufficiently and are dangerous.”

The state would like to see iguanas disappear for many reasons including the fact they munch on rare plants that are food for even more rare butterflies and the like. And for the record,just in case you’re hungry, there’s also an estimated 25,000 edible pythons in the Everglades. Their meat is chewy but sweet.

Iguana Gourmet George Cera

George, right, used to sell his book from his own site.But now you will have to go to Amazon or the like to order it. Or, for information about the cookbook Save Florida, Eat an Iguana, you can e-mail George Cera at theiguanahunter@yahoo.com.

Basic Iguana

1 Iguana
1 large Onion
2 Cloves Garlic
3 Tomatoes
2 Green Peppers
4 teaspoons oil
1 small  hot pepper
Salt  to taste

Kill the iguana by cutting off its head. Open the belly lengthwise and remove all the entrails. Cook in salted water until the meat is tender (take care not to let it get too soft). Peel and cut in portions. Season with all the above ingredients and cook with about 1 cup water, until almost dry

Less Traditional Iguana

1 Iguana
2 onions
1 tablespoon of salt
6 to 8 carrots
1 tablespoon of cilantro
1 small ball of recardo (optional)
1 cup vinegar
1 lime
1 sweet pepper
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1/2 head of cabbage
2 cloves of garlic or to taste
two cups diced tomato
coconut oil
Skin and clean iguana, then wash it in a mixture of vinegar and lime. After that, mix all seasonings and spices together in a bowl and rub them into the meat. Leave the rubbed meat for half an hour. Pour coconut oil in a pot, just to cover the bottom and place it on the fire.

When the oil is hot, put in the iguana meat, then cook it for another half an hour, turning a few times and adding a bit of water if needed. During that time slice the carrots, tomatoes and cabbage. Add them to the meat and cook for another half an hour. Serve with rice and beans.

Iguana Stew

Here’s one of Cera’s iguana recipes:

Remove head, organs and tail.

Dip in hot water and scrape off scales or skin. Practice safe food handling. Iguana, like chicken, can carry salmonella.

3 to 4 pounds of iguana

1 teaspoon salt

3 peeled and sliced potatoes

1 large sliced onion

1 cup lima beans

1 cup canned tomatoes

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup frozen corn

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon ketchup or Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup of butter

Place iguana in Dutch oven with enough boiling water to cover. Add salt and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add potatoes, onion, lima beans, tomatoes and sugar. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until beans and potatoes are tender.

Add corn, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and add ketchup or Worcestershire sauce if desired.

Add butter and stir well.

Serves 8.

Source: Save Florida, Eat an Iguana


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

R2 October 1, 2014 at 04:44

Can’t one just skin ’em like a bull frog and fry? I have an overpopulation of tegu here I’d like to try.


DaveB13 August 17, 2013 at 10:18

Check on the head chopping as a killing method. For tiny iguanas ( 100 grams ) you can just break the neck. Larger iguanas have to be “stunned” first and then the head chopped off. I’d be pretty stunned if my head were chopped off, but I would think a hammer blow to the head would comply with the anti-cruelty requirements. It would be safer for the butcher’s fingers as well. Shooting them probably is in compliance with anti-cruelty rules, but even airgun discharge in an urban area can become a problem.


Jill July 12, 2013 at 20:38

Well,…. I live here in Key West and I’ve had it with them! We actually kill them and throw them in the trash! They eat all the vegetation! I have a culinary background and have been dying to try and cook one! I’m thinking maybe par boil to tenderize and then put them on the barbe! What do you think?


Kyle March 5, 2012 at 16:57

Are Burmese python good to eat?


Green Deane March 5, 2012 at 17:38

Yes, cooked.


Shannon December 21, 2011 at 02:40

Thank you so much for writing this…Every time I visit my dad in Plantation/Ft. Lauderdale I see huge iguanas everywhere, sunning themselves on the sidewalk next to the canals and large green spaces. I knew they were edible(and a plentiful exotic species to boot) and was hoping you’d do a post on them soon.


Rich December 19, 2011 at 23:26

If Iguana taste any thing like a bombi lizard I’m in! great food value. Bombi are found running lose East side of Polk county Andrew Zimmern ate one in Suriname .Get ready for hate mail from Iguana lovers Ive read some nasty remarks to others online about removing/eating them. Thanks for all your work love the new site.


Green Deane December 19, 2011 at 23:28

Turtle defenders have already chastized me about my evil ways.


Rich December 19, 2011 at 23:43

I have always held the belief if the good Lord didn’t want us to eat them he had made them less tasty.


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