Coniglio allo spiedo (Spit-Roasted Rabbit)

Rabbit is one of the most under-appreciated types of “fowl”. Many people have a visceral negative reaction to eating rabbit, since in some countries rabbits are more likely to be pets than a dinner item, but in Italy and other countries, rabbits are highly esteemed for their culinary value and, in these days of tasteless factory chicken, rabbits make for a fine alternative, if you can find them. 

Rabbit can be used in just about any dish where you would otherwise use chicken. In fact, many chicken dishes we know today got their start as rabbit dishes. Rabbit was the original ingredient for the cacciatora, for example, which makes a lot of sense, since who hunts chickens? 

Most rabbit dishes employ moist heat, which helps keep the meat moist. (Unlike chicken, rabbit has little or no internal fat and lacks the fatty skin that helps chicken meat stay juicy.) But if you’re careful to take a few precautions, rabbit is also very good roasted. And on a hot August day, what better way to roast a rabbit than on a barbecue spit? 


1 rabbit (whole)

For the marinade:
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh sage
2 sprigs of fresh parsley
2 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed
A few black peppercorns
The juice of half a lemon
Olive oil


Place the rabbit in a plastic bag large enough to hold it comfortably. Then add the marinade ingredients, seal the bag completely (letting out as much of the air as you can manage) and shake it up. Place the rabbit in the fridge to marinate as long as you like, as little as an hour and as long as overnight. 

When you are ready to roast the rabbit, take it out of its marinade bag, reserving the marinade. Place the rabbit on a spit, using kitchen string to tie it to the spit so it will rotate properly. Place the spit on your barbecue, placing a aluminum foil pan below the rabbit to catch the drippings from the rabbit, which would otherwise cause flare ups. Pour some water (or better, some white wine) into the pan. 

Get the spit rotating and roast over a very hot fire until the rabbit is nice and golden brown. While it roasts, make sure to baste the rabbit often with the reserved marinade and replenish the drippings pan with water or wine. 

When the rabbit is done, let it rest for a good 10-15 minutes (or more) and then remove it from the spit (carefully, as the spit will still be hot!), cut away the kitchen strings and cut the rabbit up into serving pieces. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and serve. 

NOTES: The marinade will help to keep the rabbit moist, but you should be careful to baste often and not to overcook the rabbit as well. For extra protection, you can opt to brine the rabbit before you marinate, as you might a turkey or chicken. 

Rabbit is also excellent when spit-roasted in porchetta, or in the manner of suckling pig. The recipe for pollo in porchetta can be easily adapted: just make sure to tie up the rabbit well so the stuffing doesn’t fall out. 

Post scriptum: By the way, speaking of spit-roasted rabbit and hot August days, anyone remember Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 film, Swept Away? (Original title: Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare di agosto.)

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15 Responses to “Coniglio allo spiedo (Spit-Roasted Rabbit)”

  1. 15 September 2012 at 21:51 #

    We LOVE rabbit – it's one of Stefano's mom's specialties. It's actually a little hard to find here in the Midwest. Fortunately there are a few local butchers that carry it, so we also prepare it from time to time. We will give your marinade a try!

  2. 7 September 2012 at 03:28 #

    I love rabbit and we often eat it at home. So true, here in Italy we can buy it any supermarket or butcher, so it is an easy alternative to chicken.

  3. 28 August 2012 at 21:28 #

    I couldn't agree more. Rabbit beats chicken every time!

  4. 28 August 2012 at 00:34 #

    I grew up eating a lot of rabbit, which, if given a choice, I prefer over chicken. Allo spiedo is a nice way of cooking either kind of meat. Rabbit is quite versatile too.

  5. 22 August 2012 at 09:31 #

    Ha! Following Bambi dietary laws, as you would say? Anyway, the recipe would certainly work just as well on chicken. And I'll let you know how the Swedish meatballs turn out. Anxious to try out the recipe!

  6. 22 August 2012 at 07:13 #

    I just can't eat rabbit thanks to my pet, creatively named 'Mr. Bunny' just don't have the heart. I often use rabbit recipes on chicken… and this is a good one to try… the marinade looks delicious. (PS, those Swedish meatballs are the best ever… you will love them).

  7. 21 August 2012 at 10:21 #

    Wow, 20 rabbits… that's impressive!

  8. 20 August 2012 at 05:42 #

    Here in the UK we eat a lot of rabbit in fact on one memorable day I skinned 20 or so until my arms nearly fell off. The farmers are very pleased to have them shot as they cause so much dammage to crops. I think I have cooked them in every conceivable fashion. They do make excellent pies!!!!!

  9. 19 August 2012 at 21:58 #

    The rabbit scene was memorable–a bit disturbing, but memorable.

    And dinner is usually at 8… ;=)

  10. 19 August 2012 at 21:57 #

    Thanks so much, Maja!

  11. 19 August 2012 at 21:56 #

    Nice to hear rabbit is making a come-back!

  12. 19 August 2012 at 19:22 #

    Frank – You have me drooling and wishing I had a spit on my barbecue. I've never eaten rabbit that way, but I'm sure your marinade and the basting must make it delectable. What time is dinner? I can catch the next train down there. And yes, I do remember “Swept Away” – a very provocative movie – but I forgot the rabbit scene. Will have to watch again.

  13. 19 August 2012 at 11:05 #

    I'm from Slovenia and eating rabbit is also often seen as negative and cruel. In my family however, rabbit is eaten as a festive sunday dish. That's why I love it and it looks mouth-watering in these pictures! :)

  14. 19 August 2012 at 10:38 #

    spit style cooking is one of the best ways to cook many game, especially fowl as you mentioned. It really actually keeps the meat so moist by self-basting. Quail is a favorite down here although many folks prefer to braise with wine.
    very nice roasted rabbit – and it is so timely as just last night at dinner we discussed around the table how 'more popular' rabbit has become. rabbit in every fashion is in the butcher counters especially in Louisiana.

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