CRACKLINS

Anyone older than 40 and raised in the rural South can probably and fondly recall the taste of cracklins. "Man," they say, "those cracklins fresh out of the grease were some fine eatin'."

Grandfather's HouseMy memory of cracklins fresh out of the grease goes back almost 50 years. In the photo on the right, that's the rear of my grandfather's old house–vacant for many years but still standing. In the center foreground, the circle of ash-loving ornamental grass marks the exact spot where my grandmother's big black cast iron wash pot sat. It was about 15 or 20 gallons in size. My mother and grandmother washed clothes in that pot. They'd fill it with water and build a fire around it. Come hog-killing time, they cooked cracklins in it. After almost 50 years I can still remember the taste of those cracklins.

My grandfather, my father, and my uncles must have killed many hogs that day so long ago. The smokehouse sat to the far right of the photo, and they would have filled it with a year's supply of pork. While the men did that, the women cooked cracklins. Actually, they rendered the oil, lard, from the fat clinging to the skins of the hogs. Cracklins, therefore, are the by-product of rendering oil.

Since they will last for months at room temperature, they were a handy snack item in the days before refrigeration. Hey, they're still a handy snack item.

Stack of MeatI started my 1999 cracklin-cooking with fat- and meat-on slabs of pig skin given to me by friends. Each slab you see was about 1 to 2 inches thick, 8 to 10 inches wide, and 10 to 12 inches long. Most of them contained lots of meat, and thinly sliced, would have made fine bacon. If your butcher can't provide you with fat-on pig skin, ask him/her to get you a side of not sliced, not smoked bacon.

You can't tell by the photo, but my slabs were frozen solid. It made for much easier slicing–trust me. I stacked them on top of each other, separated with foil, on the bottom of my chest-type freezer so they would freeze somewhat flat, also for easier slicing.

Since I didn't want any pig hair with my cracklins, I began by singeing stray hair over a stove burner. I used a rag and wiped the singed side when finished. Singeing Meat

Then I used a sharp butcher knife and sliced strips about 3/4 inch wide from the frozen slabs. Then I cut the strips into end-of-thumb sized chunks. Notice the chunks in the blue bowl. Slicing Meat

Here's the finished product, ready for the pot. The large chunks of meat in the middle are destined for a smoker where they will become smoked meat for beans, etc.

Click here to learn how I did that.
Ready for the pot

Now it's time to head outside and cook the cracklins. Believe me–you don't want to cook cracklins on your kitchen stove.

  1. It'll heat up your kitchen something awful.
  2. It makes a terrible mess.
  3. Your house will smell like cracklins for months.
  4. You might burn down your house.

We cooked the cracklins in a Lodge #8CF 3 quart cast iron chicken fryer, on a fish cooker in my dad's front yard. Don't try to cook cracklins in anything but a cast iron pot--a big cast iron pot.

That's Randy Tyler, my sister's husband and my favorite brother-in-law. He's stirring the pot. On the edge of the porch, from left to right, notice some essentials for cooking cracklins:

  1. Cold beer.
  2. A large pot w/ladle for collecting oil.
  3. Raw meat with skin and fat.
  4. Beer flat with absorbent paper inside it.
The Cooking

Remember: We actually rendered oil from fat. Both that large pot on the porch as well as the cast iron pot on the burner were full of oil when we finished. We had to transfer oil after cooking every batch of cracklins.

  • Start with about 1 inch of oil in cooking pot.
  • Heat oil about 350° to 400°.
  • Cook cracklins until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Here's a great example of why you should do this outside. We got hot oil all over what used to be my mother's flower bed. If she'd been alive, we would have been in trouble. Spilling oil

Here's what they look like when they're ready to come out of the cooking oil. It takes about 25 minutes, even at 350° to 400°. Watch your pot closely. If the oil starts smoking, the cracklins are about to burn. Quickly turn down the fire and remove the cracklins, in that order. Close up

Even dogs love cracklins fresh from the grease. Here's Randy feeding cracklins to my dog, Sable, the brown border collie, and to his dog, Molly, the yellow mutt.

About 30 seconds after I snapped this photo, a dog fight erupted over a cracklin.

Feeding cracklins to dogs

Here's Randy salting down cracklins and getting ready to munch down.

"Man," he said, "this is good!"

Salting down cracklins

Here's me offering y'all a cold beer and a fresh cracklin. Notice that the original 2 large bowls of meat and fat lost 3/4 of their volume. That lost volume became almost a gallon of oil.

That oil contains lots of cholesterol, I agree, but it only contains about 1/3 the cholesterol of butter. I'll use it for something, maybe just for seasoning biscuits and cornbread. My ancestors used it for cooking almost everything they ate. It even made a decent grease for their wagon wheels and muzzle loading firearms.

The Result

Speaking of biscuits and cornbread, one of the best uses for cracklins is for seasoning cornbread. Slice off the hard, skin portion as you see me doing in the photo. Feed it to your dog. Chop the crisp meat/fat into pea-sized morsels and add it to your cornbread batter. You talk about good cornbread! Man!

Can't cook good cornbread? Click here.
Cracklins for cornbread

Well, now y'all not only know how to make cracklins, you know how to render fat and make oil, lard. That might be good info if everything shuts down for Y2K or another depression. Lard is handy stuff.

My mother said that some kids who lived near her during the Great Depression were so poor that the lunches they carried to school consisted entirely of lard sandwiches. My father said he was poorer than that. When he worked during the Great Depression for the WPA, the Works Progress Administration–also known as We Piddle Around–he said he was so poor that all he ever had for lunch was turnip green sandwiches. One day, he said, he threw the brown paper sack containing his lunch under the wagon seat with all the other brown paper sacks and decided he'd had enough of those damn turnip green sandwiches. He broke early for lunch that day, reached under the wagon seat and came out with the heaviest sack. Then he sneaked off behind a tree. Lo and behold, he said, when he opened the brown paper sack, he realized that someone was poorer than he was. The sack contained a ball-peen hammer and some hickory nuts.

Back to the Juke Joint.     Back to the recipe page.