Serving animal dishes with the head attached...ewww...why?


I’ve always been grossed out by seeing a roast animal with the head (or for example, feet) still attached. OK, not in the case of fish, which look pretty character-less, but why, for example, are some small birds (squab, for example) sometimes prepared with the head? Or skinned rabbits being sold with the head still on…or Peking ducks hanging in the restaurant display on hooks through or around the head…or how about this? Years ago, I was walking past a Greek restaurant. In the window there was a lamb roasting on a spit. It had the head attached, and of course this, as the rest, was skinned. So you could basically see this hideous sheep skull at the end of a big hunk of food. Talk about uncanny valley. I couldn’t eat meat that day. And today, I saw a photo of possum and potato, and yes, there was a whole possum on the plate.

What’s the point of this? We’re in the 21st century, not in Ice Age B.C. We all know that when we eat meat, we’re actually consuming dead cow, sheep, chicken, etc. But why would anyone not remove the part that reminds us of this fact? A chicken with its head, neck, feet, and feathers removed looks more like like an object than like the once-living creature that it was. Add the head or any other one of those parts, and it just looks more like a carcass. Why would anyone serve an animal with such ugly - and hardly edible - ballast still on it?

Maybe others aren’t as squeamish as you are. It is just as legitimate to ask you why you want your animals delivered to your plate in such a way that you don’t have to confront the reality of what you’re eating? If it’s so disgusting to you, why eat meat at all?

Well, as someone else noted, not everyone is as bothered by this as you are. My old college roommate and I, for example, are not bothered by this but when we together cooked dinner one Christmas for my family we did remove the head of the roast because we knew some of the other people present would have issues with it. Some families have been doing the “head attached” thing so long and so traditionally it might not occur to them it’s a problem.

Second - before many modern laws regarding food purity and safety people wanted to purchase meat with the head still attached so you could be somewhat assured that you were getting what you paid for. To make sure that rabbit was actually a rabbit and not a local cat, or that mutton really was from a sheep and not someone’s dog, and so forth. This might still be the case in some parts of the world.

It might also be a leftover from a time when literacy was less common, so instead of a sign saying “pork for sale” the butcher displayed a pig’s head by way of identification and advertising.

As other posters have noted, because many people who eat animals don’t object to being visually reminded that they’re eating an animal.

Also, many people do eat the cooked head on a carcass, which may even be considered a delicacy although there tends not to be a lot of meat on it.

“Well, in my opinion, not enough people have looked their dinner in the eye and considered the circle of life.”


Been to a few pig roast and it’s common to leave the head on. Afterwards entertainment was provided by cutting off the head and letting the dogs tear into it. I just thought of it as a drunken American tradition. I mean we were enjoying the same animal anyway so why not let the dogs enjoy?

Sometimes the head is eaten. A lamb on a spit, for instance, has lean meat in the masticatory muscles, and the brain is a delicacy for some.

I like a whole fish. I don’t eat any of the head, but the eyeballs are delicious, a Chinese friend tells me.

As for the rabbit, it proves the carcass is a rabbit and not another small mammal.

On a lot of animals, cheek meat is some of the tastiest. That’s true of fish, it’s true on roast pork and it’s true on beef.

After the cases of BSE in Britain, does anyone really think it’s all that safe to eat the brains of any mammal? I realize it was in part due to the animal husbandry practices in Britain, but still, I don’t think you could convince me that it’s safe now.

It’s funny how we rationalize these things.

Head still on is gross, but ripping the flesh off of bone is perfectly fine.

Is it the accusatory stare? :smiling_imp:

My (Chinese) wife mentioned a couple of reasons to serve an animal with the head on:

  1. There’s some meat there.
  2. It provides some confirmation that the cook isn’t pulling a fast one on you (e.g. serving cat instead of rabbit, or serving a diseased animal).

A Chinese co-worker of mine told me that when she was a kid her mother told her that eating chicken brain is good for the brain. I think that’s stretching it a bit.

That’s a waste of some good meat. The snout and ears can go to the dogs but let me pick over the face meat a little before letting those mutts have it.

I think it’s less deliberate rationalization, and more like what we’re used to.

I was once at a dinner party where the main course was duck. One of the guests was a foreigner whose English was pretty good, but he didn’t know the word “duck”. Some of us knew his language a bit, but not how to say “duck”. We tried describing what a duck looked like, we made quacking sounds, all to no avail. (This was in the early 1980s; googling a photo was not yet an option.)

Finally, I asked him, “You know who Mickey Mouse is?”
“Of course.”
“You know his friend Donald?”
“This is Donald!”
His face lit up, and hilarity ensued.

I suppose leaving the head on might have been a good idea.

Some grocery stores I go to offer the heads (and brains, tongues, ‘fries,’ tails…) of lambs and pigs. No dessert until you finish your head tacos.

The pigs’ heads are huge but lamb fries are a lot bigger than I’d have guessed. They’re the size of lemons.

When I do whole hog roasts I leave the head on partially for presentation purposes (think apple in its mouth), and partially because I’m lazy and cutting the head off is more difficult before it’s cooked. I butcher the hog after it’s cooked into pieces for people to eat but I don’t put more than the cheeks into the meat pile.

My wife can’t deal with food that looks like animals including serving her a roasted duck with the head and the love legs removed but the wings still whole. I can’t serve fish with the head on and she really hates when I do a shrimp boil and toss in whole shrimp. It doesn’t bother me at all I just don’t like eating the head/brain but most of the time I make the effort to cook for her preferences, but I’m not pealing 50 pounds of shrimp just to make her happy.

Add me to those confused. It’s a dead animal. Why does it matter if it looks like a dead animal? Iron Chef agrees with the above posters who says that large fish have tasty muscles in their cheeks. I stopped eating beef a few years ago when I became allergic. If that weren’t true, I’d have no problem eating flesh from a cow’s head. I imagine the ears are quite tasty, but removing the hair would be dificult.

Re Mad Cow Disease

I don’t see what eating brains has to do with it. It was my understanding that Bovine Spongiform Enchepalitis left prions throughout the whole animal.

Almost any cheek meat is delicious. It has a lot of muscle, so it needs to be cooked slowly, like a pig roast and braised beef cheeks are amazing. Plus leaving the head on can add a lot of flavor to the dish, someone mentioned shrimp, leaving the heads on during cooking makes a huge difference in a soup or sauce.

My understanding (although I am not an expert) is that BSE prions hang out in the nervous system. So yes, it’s throughout the animal but there is a higher concentration in the spine and brain. So… no brains and no oxtail soup I guess.

Right. I think the issue arose when cattle were fed on feed supplemented with the ground-up bones and meat of other animals, including brains and nervous tissue.