I was recently rereading Micheal Crichton’s classic novel, “Jurassic Park.” At the beginning of the book, a girl is attacked by a small dinosaur called procompsognathus, which the author describes as being about the size of and moving like a chicken. This got me to thinking: What would a dinosaur taste like?
Current evolutionary theory suggests most dinosaurs died off entirely in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event – probably an asteroid impact – 66 million years ago. By that time, however, a group of smaller, carnivorous dinosaurs had branched off and started evolving into their descendants we still see around today: birds.
I wasn’t going to eat a bird in my quest to taste a dinosaur, though. I eat birds on a regular basis; it would be boring to do so for the sake of this. Back to the drawing board.
Pivoting, I decided to taste something vaguely dinosaur-ish instead. Tracing the evolutionary tree backwards, it turns out that dinosaurs belong to a group of animals called archosaurs. That group has a second, non-dinosaur/bird branch that ends in a number of species that exist today, in the form of crocodilia.
Crocodilians came to exist around the same time as dinosaurs and lived alongside them for as long as dinosaurs roamed the earth. They’re different in a bunch of ways – for instance dinosaurs, like modern birds, were likely warm-blooded, whereas crocodilians are cold-blooded reptiles. Still ... look at an American alligator, the most local crocodilian to here, and tell me it’s not a dinosaur. (In reality, Alligators first appeared on this planet during the Oligocene epoch, about 37 million years ago.)
As I sat, waiting for my alligator po’ boy with a side of baked beans, I imagined what the prehistoric beast was going to taste like and sipped on a hurricane. (Pro tip: The blended cocktails at T’s taste, and feel, a bit boozier than average. And occasionally, somebody will drop by your table to top them off.)
When the food finally came, I lifted it to my mouth, bit in ... and was treated to one of the most anticlimactic revelations in my life as a meat-eater. It sounds like a joke, but alligator tastes like chicken and has a similar texture. Like, eerily so. Had you handed me the same sandwich and told me it was turkey, I would have corrected you, “No, this is chicken.” The alligator meat in the sandwich came in little chunks, breaded and fried, almost exactly like popcorn chicken.
As soon as I got over the fact that one of the scariest apex predators in North America is indistinguishable in my mouth from the meekest farm animal, I realized that it was still a pretty decent sandwich, especially with the brown mustard that complemented the chicken-esque gator. Paired with the smokehouse’s slightly spicy and not-too-sweet baked beans, it was a good meal — just not as exotic of one as I had thought it would be.
I later did some research and found out that while an alligator’s tail tastes like chicken, if you can get your teeth on an alligator leg, it tastes like and has the texture of pork or turtle. Based on the fact that chickens are descended from dinosaurs, and alligators, which evolved from the ancestors of dinosaurs, taste like chicken, I’m concluding that if I ever got the chance to eat a Tyrannosaurus rex, it would taste like a 140-ton chicken.