Barbecue Digest: It's a pig, not a fruit
July 11th, 2012
12:45 PM ET
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Editor's note: All summer long, the Southern Foodways Alliance will be delving deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of barbecue across the United States. Dig in.

Will you just look at these pork skins for a second? Most people's inclination would be to call them "pork rinds," but pitmaster Rodney Scott - a man at the vanguard of the current puffed pork reclamation movement - goes out of his way to inform his customers that pigs are not, last he checked, a kind of fruit. So skin, not rind. At least not while Rodney's around.

While the South Carolinian has made it his mission to perfect the art form, he's far from the first hogsmith to maximize his yield by dunking pig skin into bubbling fat (perhaps even the pig's own, though peanut oil will do for some) until it's puffed up into an airy, crispy, porky, perfect snack. He is however, very, very good at it.

Call them pork rinds, pork skins, cracklings, cracklins, chicharrones, gratons, scratchings or a panoply of other names, in the southern United States especially, they're a fixture at truck stops, convenience stores, bodegas, barbecue joints, taquerias, Thai and Cajun restaurants - not to mention a white tablecloth establishment or two. They run the gamut from homespun to haute and pop to the forefront of America's noshing consciousness every few years, depending on the dining or dieting zeitgeist.

A 2009 trends report from market research firm Packaged Facts noted, "Swanky pork rinds illustrate natural pork’s snack food form and connect to this year’s gastropub trend, the newly updated tavern with tasty food and craft beers to match. The love of pig unites them all."

Pork skins soared to their commercial apex around 2003 when followers of the Atkins diet sought a carb-free fix for their crunch craving. Since then, they've rooted out just over one percent of the salty snack foods market - small potatoes compared to chips, puffs, doodles, pretzels and crisps. That's an oinking shame, and here's why.

While a pig-based snack may seem like a whole truckload of terrible, it comes about its deliciousness honestly. There's no Chartreuse Dye #79, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or much of anything artificial going on - just pig skin, lard or peanut oil and salt. Maybe some vinegar or paprika if one's gone all wacky with the flavor options, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. And it's oh so nose-to-tail to boot, which is very sustainalocaganivore, no doubt, and they're increasingly coming from heritage breed pigs.

Professor and researcher Jeff Volek went so far as to dub pork rinds "junk food that's good for you," citing that a one-ounce serving is carb-free, contains 17 grams of protein and nine grams of fat, which is nine times the protein and less fat than a serving of carb-packed potato chips. He also noted that 43 percent of the fat is unsaturated, and most of that is the same healthy fat found in olive oil. So while they're not as angelic as, say, a cup full of celery sticks and some apple slices, a little goes a long way and a satisfied snacker may feel less inclined to make a midnight foray to the chip and cookie cabinet.

But truth be told, the objection often seems to be based in a bit of cultural bias. They're trashy or tacky or somehow déclassé and...just get over it. To eschew a pork rind for reasons other than ethics or religion is to cheat one's self out of a world-class snack experience, and as we often say at Eatocracy, "If it tastes good, it is good." And if they're the fruit of Rodney Scott's labor, that's very, very good, indeed.

Today's photograph comes from the lens of Denny Culbert, documentary and food photographer who's chronicled the highways and byways of South Carolina and North Carolina barbecue and who is currently roaming about the country on the Barbecue Bus.

Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog

Previously - The secret history of BBQ sauce



soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Gilberto Essman

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    August 13, 2013 at 11:50 am |
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    July 16, 2012 at 7:45 am |
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    July 15, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  4. Fredrick

    I'll diss them if I want to. You can't stop me.

    July 13, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  5. gen81465

    My favorite flavor: Salt & Vinegar ... now THAT's pork! ;-p

    July 13, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • gen81465

      By the way, it's ok to call them "pork rinds"; according to the online dictionary, a rind is defined as "A tough outer covering such as bark, the skin of some fruits, or the coating on cheese or bacon."

      July 13, 2012 at 2:20 am |
  6. janey33

    "Don't diss pork rinds"...Why? Will it hurt their feelings? I remember eating them when I was a kid way back in the dark ages, and at the time they were okay because I really didn't know what I was eating. I'm not sure if I would want to try them now. Cracklngs are different. I have no problem with cracklings. I grew up eating a Dutch delecacy called balkebrai, which uses cracklings and it's very good.

    July 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  7. Nancy

    I've TRIED to eat them, but the HAIRS turn me off !!!!!!!!!!!!! Yuck.

    July 12, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • UncleJohn

      You're supposed to cook them first.

      July 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
      • Paul

        seriously. hairs?? The skin should be blanched or scraped or in some way prepared so that there are no hairs around. plus, any that make it into the oil should pretty much disintegrate or burn up.

        I've eaten pork rinds dozens of times, since I was a kid and never once have I noted any hairs. lord.

        July 13, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  8. basketcase

    "Pork skins soared to their commercial apex around 2003 when followers of the Atkins diet sought a carb-free fix for their crunch craving."

    Great logic. Looking for a healthy snack while I'm on a diet? How about some pig fat fried in pig fat!

    July 12, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Nuts, right? I had a few friends who did Atkins and would get these salads that were essentially bacon, cheese and mayo. Lunches were an exercise in grossness. They'd lose a bunch of weight, which would all come back once they reintroduced bread and chips to their life. Not sustainable.

      July 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
      • RRabbit

        So maybe don't reintroduce the bread and chips?

        July 13, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  9. ANDORIFWHAT

    one of the more interesting ways to eat pork "rinds" is to add them to a bowl of instant noodle soup "ramien"...
    the rinds get soft and chewy and add a more flavor and protein to the soup. I call it "gringo manudo" and it's very tastey
    with out the weird "poo" smell.

    July 12, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  10. JMK

    Let me echo some of the other posters that pork rinds and cracklins are not the same thing, although both are delicious. If you can't find proper cracklins for your corn bread at the local store, go to the butcher and ask for pork belly, then cut up the fatty part in 1-inch squares and cook it low and slow in a cast iron. After a few hours you should have cracklins fit for your New Years Day cornbread, to go with the black eyed peas (for good luck in the coming year) and the greens (for money).

    July 12, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I'm going to stand by the terminology. I definitely grant you that depending on where you are, rind and crackling can mean different or highly specific things, but they're often used interchangeably - especially on packaging and on menus. Skins are touted as cracklings and vice-versa, and depending on where you are, there will be more skin or less, more fat or less.

      Viva les regional differences - and Rodney Scott can call 'em whatever he likes, so long as he shares.

      July 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Paul

      yeah, in my experience (grew up and now live again in the south), "cracklins" are ANY crisped up fat from an animal, though usually pork. Thus, they can come from any highly fatty source, whether the skin (as in rinds) or, as you suggest, from cuts such as pork belly (essentially unsmoked bacon) or fatback.

      In short, yes, what you describe ARE cracklins, but they're not necessarily the only sort OF cracklins.

      July 13, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  11. clubschadenfreude

    perhaps if I had fresh ones, like having the skin off a freshly roasted chicken, I'd like them. However, the ones in the store always taste just on this side of rancid, no matter how "fresh" they supposedly are.

    July 12, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  12. 0h_hey

    I like how eatocracy treats the sodium content as negligible. Pork rinds have waaaaaaay more salt than potato chips, and are not a health food by any means. According to eatocracy, anything with protein in it is good for you, even if it has high cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fats (I\'ve seen other articles on this blog that tend to glaze over those statistics). Folks, you eat whatever you want, but don\'t treat the eatocracy blog as a nutrition guide. They just publish what will be popular with the readers. They want those facebook shares.

    July 12, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  13. Ewwwwwwwww

    Had these a couple of times in my life and always felt a little queasy even without knowing exactly what they were – now I'm totally grossed out. Rinds, skin – whatever you call them they're a fatty horror.

    July 12, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Hannibal Lecter

      Fry 'em up and call me " Sparky " !!

      July 12, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  14. AleeD®

    Been eatin' 'em since I was 13. Got braces and wasn't allowed to participate in our family's Friday nite tradition of eating popcorn while watching our fave TV shows. Instead I snacked on Doritos or pork rinds. Love 'em to this day and I don't care who knows.

    July 12, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  15. ala-kat

    Pork rinds (light and airy) are not the same as cracklin' (compressed, hard, capable of crackin' your tooth). Their only connection is they come from a pig.

    July 12, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • ala-kat

      and I'd venture to say they've been called 'rinds' for longer than Rodney Scott has been on this earth, pitmaster or not.

      July 12, 2012 at 3:16 am |
    • Paul

      I see what you're saying about the difference, but, as I suggested above, where I come from you're simply describing two different TYPES of cracklins.

      And I seem to think if they're hard enough to crack a tooth then they either haven't been prepared right, or you're dealing with a tissue other than fat (improperly cooked down connective tissue maybe?).

      July 13, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  16. Cizzler

    31 Muslims...

    July 12, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  17. FYI

    The author may want to do a little more research on the definition of 'rind', before accepting (or simply passing on, as though it were fact) the word of a random pig skinner;

    rind
    n.
    A tough outer covering: such as bark, the skin of some fruits, or the coating on cheese or bacon.

    The last three are examples, the first bit (a tough outer covering) is the definition which fits pig skin just fine. It's the same as a person, who is more, or only familiar with the term 'rind' being used for pork skin, correcting those who call the skin of some fruits a 'rind', simply because he's not familiar with it. =-P

    July 11, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • Schoolmarm

      "It's the same as a person, who is more, or only familiar with the term 'rind' being used for pork skin, correcting those who call the skin of some fruits a 'rind', simply because he's not familiar with it."

      It's really actually not the same – it's people who work with food in different ways having some fun playing around with language. Stop trying to show off so much, and you might have a good time, too.

      July 11, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • RichardHead@FYI

      Lettuce take a look at a pig-seriously. When skinning a pig ( full grown ) they have from 1 to more than 2 inches of fat surrounding the body. It's called fat back-normally along the upper back portion of the pigs body. We gotz the bacon,the ribs,etc. Our concern is the skin with attached fat along the upper back portion. So we slice along the neck line,remove the head and proceed to denude the piggie.....still with me? Need a Barf Bag? Next a straight slice along
      the belly portion,deep,but not too deep,don't want to damage the internal organs. You can now slice 1 to 2 inches down including the fat and peel back the skin to the hooves which are excellent in Pinto Beans or green beans if your not Vegan. The skin then goes to the scissor cutter,which produces 1 inch slices including fat. These are separated and then sent to the fryer. Crispy Cookin'. So you see FYI–The Author of this article knows what she is talking about. No Googles or Internets included. Try and have a good day.

      July 12, 2012 at 12:01 am |
      • Jersey? Shore!

        Waaait a minnutt... I read the same thing in an article on how Snooki suddenly lost all of that weight. Nice try tho.

        July 12, 2012 at 2:21 am |
      • .

        Cracklings are what you get when a meth addict has another baby.

        July 12, 2012 at 2:27 am |
        • tom7542

          D@mn, that was funny – needed that!

          July 12, 2012 at 10:51 am |
        • mplaya

          HA! laughed out loud on that one!!

          July 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  18. Underoo Jamboree

    Ultimately, pork rinds or whatever you want to call them are consumed by people with a redneck predisposition, which is a sign of a mental deficiency.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • ComeOnMan9

      So glad you found a place to vent your ignorance. Now everybody can be happy even the stupid ones!

      July 12, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • ala-kat

      Pork rinds are a tasty, airy treat to be enjoyed in moderation with a good cold beer :) Redneck? Maybe, but certainly no odder than what people in other parts of this country eat. I'll leave their name calling to you.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • VladT

      What do CNN trolls snack on?

      July 12, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  19. CrackerBox

    37% total votes, must be CNN math.

    July 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  20. PPJr

    about 25% of fat, with half of that is saturated. that's more than twice as much as hamburger meat contains.

    July 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  21. Good Stuff

    These spice up salads.

    Favorite salad: Spinach, cilantro, celery, apple, green onion, dried cranberries, sesame sticks, pork rinds esp. spicy, Homemade apple cider vinagrette w/ rosemary, thyme, garlic, etc.

    Good stuff, watch it though you'll get addicted. : D

    July 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  22. WHAT?

    It's fried skin – why is this glorified as gourmet?

    July 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  23. Southern Redneck

    No they are NOT cracklings. Cracklings are the remains of pig fat, cut into small pieces, fried (preferrably in a cast iron pot) then compressed in a press that resembles a cider press. This squeezes out the lard and leaves only the cellular structure of the fat with a nice crisp texture.

    Wonderful things for adding to cornbread.

    July 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • ala-kat

      Enjoy pork rinds but could never wrap my head around cracklin'. Just never liked it.

      July 12, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  24. clevercandi

    I make it a point not to eat animal skins of any kind (including chicken).

    But, to each his own :)

    July 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  25. bristoltwit palin... America's favorite dancing cow

    Mmmmmmm... pork rinds for a porker.

    July 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  26. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    CAN'T GET ENOUGH!!! Especially the Hot N Spicy kind. They're actually good for you, just high in sodium (human added, I might add). MMMMmmmmmm!!!!

    July 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
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