It's no surprise that pork rinds are the popular kids of snack food high school. They're the cheerleaders, the homecoming kings, and the lead singers of the band.
What about cracklins though?
We've got news for you: pork cracklins are the cool, older cousin of pork rinds.
Cracklins are similar to bacon but smaller in size, and they consists of crispy fried skin, softly rendered fat, and a small pieces of chewy meat.
The Southern delicacy is often seasoned with a unique blend of Cajun spices to give it a kick or simply salted to compliment the natural flavor.
Cracklins are Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused, minus the awkward age difference. Like Wooderson, cracklins can be hard, but they can also be tender. They drive the coolest car, have the sweetest ‘stache, and take everything we love about pork rinds up a notch!
Throughout history and culture, cracklins have possessed many names. Whether you call ‘em cracklings, pork rinds, chicharrones, or scratchings, it's all zen in the pigpen!
Who deserves credit for inventing this meatier version of pork rinds that fill up our grocery stores and pantries today?
Dr. Ted Rogers, a food historian, argues that folks living in modern-day Spain invented the frying of pork skin long before recorded history. In the 16th century, cracklins and pork rinds were introduced to the Americas by the ocean-faring Spaniards.
As pigs are raised easily compared to other livestock, it has been the main source of high protein for most communities.
Early on, Americans in the deep South became particularly enamored with cracklins; the ingredient has long been combined with cornbread to create the delicacy crackling bread.
So popular was this particular recipe that it was referenced in the seminal novel To Kill A Mockingbird as the narrator's favorite snack.
Before we answer this question, it might help to understand what a pork rind is. Typical Pork rinds is a crunchy, puffy, and curly snack chip made of nutritious fried pork skin (back or belly of the hog).
Where do cracklins fit into this?
They are simply pork rinds with little bits of meat, some extra fat, and skin attached. This excess fat provides a meatier texture and a more intense, savory flavor than its traditional version.
Since they have more fat, they don't expand as much during the cooking process as pork rinds. Also, have a much denser mouthfeel. Some cracklins are downright hard, hence the name and your teeth, but we'll get into that later!
Much like pork rinds, they are low-to-no carb, high in good fats, and an excellent source of collagen protein.
Before cooking, raw pig skin is sliced into pieces called pellets. The skin used for cracklins is from a different cut of the hog than pork rinds (see above).
The highest-quality pellets embark on a curing journey that introduces a smoky, bacon-rich flavor. Once cured, the finished cracklin pellets have the appearance and smell of tasty bacon. Next, they are rendered, or heated in their own lard, to cook the skin and release excess fat.
For hard cracklins, this is the end of the journey. On the other hand, since hard ones are not fried after rendering, they do not expand like pork rinds and retain a much harder, denser structure. Another variety, tender cracklins, are fried after rendering.
During this process, the meaty pellets slightly expand into the nostalgia-provoking snack available on PorkRinds.com.
The tender version of cracklins are denser than traditional pork rinds but softer than hard cracklins.
Tender cracklins are traditionally fried in lard, but adventurous chefs (like Southern Recipe Small Batch) use modern alternatives, such as sunflower oil.
Which is better?
It's all a matter of dietary and flavor preference!
After cooking, they are typically sprinkled with seasonings that accentuate their piggyness. Popular flavors include red pepper, salt, vinegar, and many more!
For example, PorkRinds.com offers honey chipotle cracklins that marry the mild burn of chipotle peppers with the sweet, full-bodied taste of honey.
When it comes to cracklins, there's more than meets the sty. Modern production techniques have allowed for the creation of many cracklin varieties: dipper cracklins, cracklin strips, washpot cracklins, pork curls, and more!
Despite all of these fancy names, there are really just two core types of cracklins: hard and tender.
Hard cracklins are the traditional country style that are not fried after rendering. This results in a very dense, hard snack that is not crispy like a pork rind. We've often heard urban legends of folks cracking their teeth on them, hence the name.
Let's just say that hard cracklins are not for the fainthearted.
Tender cracklins, on the other hoof, are fried after rendering. This allows the snack to expand into a slightly crunchier, softer version of the cracklin. The snack is still very dense compared to pork skins, but our soft-toothed friends can enjoy them without worry!
In recent years, we've seen an explosion of interest in both cracklins and pork rinds thanks to gluten-free and low-carb diets. More specifically, ketogenic diet practitioners flock to pork rinds and cracklins for their high fat and low carbohydrate content.
Even better, cracklins continue the historic tradition of utilizing every piece of the hog to minimize waste. Who can't admire that?!
If you've been asking yourself if freezing cracklins is the best way to store them, you can find all about it here.
We hate to toot our own oink, but what better place to experience cracklins than PorkRinds.com?
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