Are you a fan of crunchy snacks? Look no further than pork rinds, cracklin’, and chicharróns! These delectable treats have gained popularity due to low carb diets like Atkins, but they have always been a beloved staple in Southern cuisine.
The origins of pork rinds and cracklin’ can be traced back to the “hog killing time,” a traditional event that took place on Southern farms between Thanksgiving and Christmas. During this time, excess fat and scraps were rendered and cooked down in large black wash pots. The resulting fried bits of skin, floating atop the lard, were salted and transformed into a tasty snack. Fun fact: some spell it cracklin, cracklin’, or crackling – it all tastes the same!
While many national brands of pork rinds today lack the desired taste and consistency, the true experience can be found locally. In the Triangle area, for instance, a visit to a carnicería or tienda in your neighborhood will allow you to grab a loose bag of chicharróns or explore the dozen varieties offered by Carolina Country Snacks.
Carolina Country Snacks, based in Henderson, is known for its exceptional pork rinds. As a “popping plant,” they take rendered and boiled skins purchased from an eastern Carolina pork producer and create four basic kinds of rinds. According to Angie Jacobs, a representative from Carolina Country Snacks, “All pork rinds are cooked the same – fried in lard at 400 degrees. The difference lies in how they’re rendered and cut beforehand.”
The basic pork rind contains no fat on the skin. After just one minute in a deep fryer, they transform into the familiar puffy curls we all love. Cracklin’ boasts some fat on the skin, resulting in a richer, meatier crunch. The presence of fat also prevents the rind from expanding into a larger shape. If you’re looking for an extra challenge, try the variation of cracklin’ that is cut into thin strips and fried a second time until it reaches tooth-endangering hardness.
The third version is called fat back, and it lives up to its name. Similar to the French lardon, fat back has the most fat on the skin and emerges from the fryer as a dense, savory cube. So indulgent and satisfying, just a few bites will fulfill your cravings.
My personal recommendation, though, is the wash pot style exemplified by T.R. Brady’s “Original B&B Recipe.” Brady makes use of large irregular slabs of fresh pork skin with a hint of fat, which are cooked in canola oil. The result? Elephant ear-sized snacks that strike a perfect balance between cracklin’ and pork rinds in terms of crunch. Although Brady recently sold his recipe to Carolina Country Snacks, the packaging remains unchanged, with the label still hand-stapled onto the bag.
Of course, being in America, pork rinds now come in an assortment of flavors, ranging from barbecue and red pepper to chile and lime. However, I believe that all those additives simply get in the way. To truly appreciate the essence of pork rinds, it’s best to stick to the basics: pork skin, fat, and salt.
So, the next time you’re in the mood for a satisfying and crispy snack, give pork rinds, cracklin’, or chicharróns a try. Be sure to support local producers like Carolina Country Snacks or explore the offerings at your nearby carnicería or tienda. Enjoy the irresistible flavors and textures that have made these Southern delicacies a true culinary treasure.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Chewing the fat”
For more information on Carolina Country Snacks and their delicious pork rinds, please visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.