Pork cracklins, historically, were just a by-product of rendering lard after a hog killing; a snack, meant to be eaten with a roast sweet potato at the end of a long day spent stuffing sausage, salt rubbing hams, and stirring the lard pot. But over time, pork cracklins became their own thing. I grew up knowing them as "pork rinds," a junk food found on the trashy end of the potato chip aisle. They were 79 cents and deemed a snack so fattening and horrific, we never ate them in the Howard household. I also remember Piggly Wiggly always carried pressed, mousy, brown discs they labeled “cracklin pies.” These were shrink wrapped over Styrofoam and were an ancient-looking mystery I would never have dreamt of opening and actually eating.
So as a young person I definitely discriminated against the pork rind and the cracklin pie, but I fought my sisters plastic-fork-and-hush-puppy for the blistered brown skin at a proper pig pickin'. It didn’t matter who cooked the pig, my dad always hovered around the cooker before the line formed, ready to break off that perfect piece of blistered brown skin with a little fat attached...and I was right behind him. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of lining up to pick a pig splayed out in all of its vinegary goodness, let me explain what a pig pickin' plate of perfection might look like: two or three long ribs with charred flesh and fat dangling, a strip of fleet meat, two to three nice shards of skin, glistening and bubbly, plus a scoop of slaw, a small helping of potato salad and several hush puppies. (Writing that made me hungry.)
My family also loved pork skin chopped into their barbecue. A lot of folks do this, but the Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC does it to great effect. Lots of skin is chopped into the Q, so almost every scoop of your plastic fork offers up some of that toothsome, gelatinous goodness. Paired with their sweet, finely chopped slaw and a corner piece of cornbread, the skin, for me, makes their barbecue stand out in a crowd of strong competitors.
In the last 5 or so years, the pork cracklin or rind has really made a comeback. No longer something shrink-wrapped and shunned, every nose-to-tail, farm-to-table spot in the USA celebrates the pig skin. Not necessarily a by-product of another process, but definitely out of his or her desire to make the most out of the exceptional examples of swine we are seeing. It is too good to waste, after all.
Things I like to Pair with Pork Rinds/Cracklins