Food & Drink

What Are Chitlins?

Last Updated on February 22, 2024 | 0 Comments

Have you ever wondered about how and why classic Southern specialties, such as chitlins and other specialties, came into being? Between boiled peanuts, pickled pig feet and gator meat, the South is a haven for unusual and occasionally challenging cuisine choices. Chitlins might just take the cake for the most distinctive on the list.

It all comes down to that time-honored Southern tradition of not letting anything go to waste, using every part of the animal whether it’s a deer head, a cow’s tongue, or, in this case, pig intestines. Check out our guide on everything there is to know about chitterlings and how to prepare them.


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What Are Chitlins?

Known as both chitlins and chitterlings, this soul food staple is, quite simply, cooked pig intestines. Cow intestines are sometimes used, but most of the time it’s pig intestines. Typically, they are boiled, fried and served with apple cider and hot sauce. They can also be stuffed with mincemeat.

The fragrance of chitterlings is strong, especially while cooking. Used around the world, chitterlings are popular in Caribbean and Latin American recipes like a traditional mondongo stew. In French cooking, chitlins are called les tricandille and are boiled in bouillon. They’re also grilled until crispy and used as a sausage casing. In American soul food recipes, they are usually prepared with onions to allow the fragrances to mix and prevent too much of that pungent chitterling aroma.

A meal containing chitlins
via Canva 

History of Chitlins

Chitterlings go back pretty far in U.S. history. In pre-Civil War times, slave owners tried to feed enslaved people as cheaply as possible. They would give them the leftovers of ears, feet and intestines after the more desirable cuts of pork were used.

Animal intestines have been used as food around the world for centuries. For example, Scottish haggis is boiled sheep’s intestines that’s served in the stomach of the animal. Japan’s motsu is fried pig intestines served on a skewer and Spain’s zarajo is a braided sheep’s intestine rolled onto a vine branch.

Japanese motsu
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What Do Chitlins Taste Like?

If you’re wondering what chitterlings are, you’re probably also wondering what they taste like. Chitterlings have a tender but not too chewy texture, though it can be thick and “rubbery.” The savory pork flavor is subtle and slightly salty. Since chitterlings are soft, they tend to soak up the flavors of whatever they’re cooked in.

Chitterlings are often served with other Southern specialties like collard greens, pinto beans and cornbread. Buffalo wings are a popular pairing with chitterlings as the spicy sauce enhances the subtle flavors of the chitterlings.

buffalo wings paired with chitterlings
via Canva 

Are Chitlins Safe To Eat?

While chitterlings are safe to consume, like anything else, they must be prepared correctly to avoid illness. It is very important that chitlin prep is done in a well-sanitized area. Make sure the kitchen has been properly cleaned and prepped before getting into the task of preparing chitterlings. Proper cleaning of chitterlings is the single most important step in the chitlin cooking process.

It's best to buy pre-cooked chitterlings from a butcher. This will help prevent germs and bacteria. If you have raw chitterlings, the following steps must be followed precisely to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Clean kitchen
via Canva 

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How To Clean Chitlins

  • Set out everything that’s needed to clean, cut and cook ahead of time.
  • Take the chitterlings out of the package and boil them in water for at least five minutes. This will kill germs.
  • Drain the water in a colander.
  • Look over each chitlin for dirt, straw, hair and other debris.
  • Rinse under cool water.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands.
Boil the chitlins to ensure they're sanitized
via Canva 

 Preparing Chitlins

  • After cleaning chitterlings, cut or tear them into one-inch pieces.
  • At this point, clean and sanitize the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination.
  • To cook, boil the meat with spices and seasonings like onions, white vinegar, pepper, garlic and salt.
  • Cook for about three hours.
  • Drain in a sanitized colander and season to taste.
  • If frying chitterlings, coat them in a batter after boiling.
  • Heat two or three inches of oil in a pot and fry until crispy and golden. Season to taste.
Cooking with chitlins
via Canva 

Cooking With Chitlins

Now that you know what chitterlings are, it’s time to learn how to cook them. Chitterlings are usually slow-cooked or fried. They work great in Creole recipes combined with potatoes, green bell peppers and red pepper flakes. They’re usually prepared as part of a larger meal, but they also work on their own with a spicy dipping sauce. Since chitterlings do require a good bit of labor to prepare, they’re often reserved for special occasions and holiday meals.

If you've never worked with chitlins before, it can be good to have someone who knows this ingredient show you how to clean, prep and cook chitlins. You can also try out a cooking class near you taught by a world-class chef experienced in Southern soulfood.

Learn how to cook with chitlins by taking a cooking class
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Where Can You Buy Chitlins?

Chitterlings can be purchased fresh or frozen from stores such as Kroger, Walmart and even Amazon. Brands include Smithfield, Aunt Bessie’s, Uncle Lous and Stevens. Cleaned and raw chitlins can be stored in the refrigerator for two days or in the freezer for three months.

via Canva

Are you ready to give chitterlings a try? Whether you’re new to the chitterlings concept or a tried-and-true connoisseur, we hope this has answered any questions you might have about what chitlins are, how to safely prep and cook them and what to serve with them for a savory family dinner, holiday feast or other special occasion.

For even more ways to explore your favorite foods, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.