Soul Food: How to Cook Chitlins (Chitterlings) & Some Chitlin’ History

Updated on November 19, 2016
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Valerie is pursuing a degree in Creative Writing and enjoys cooking, medical topics, flash fiction, fashion, culture and politics.

Soul Food Is Good for the Soul

Growing up, my mother never made chitlins. I'm not sure if it was because she didn't know how or if she was just tired of eating them. Coming from a family of nine children (my mother being the oldest) meant chitlins and other soul food were the easiest ways to feed a large family. Later, I found out that she had her gallbladder removed when she was a teenager and that was why she didn't eat them anymore.

I tasted them for the first time when I was seventeen years old and loved them! They were prepared by my uncle's wife and I just couldn't get enough. Some years later, I would start cooking them on my own.

If you want to know how to cook chitlins for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years, then read on! (Of course, chitterlings or chitlins are great any time of the year as well!)

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The famous "red bucket" of chitterlings.
The famous "red bucket" of chitterlings.

Whew! What Is That Smell?!

Yes, what you have heard is true. Uncooked chitlins stink. Bad. They will stink literally the whole house. But if you can make it past the smell, you've won the battle. The final dish is worth it. Think of it as a reward for putting up with the smell! Once you've prepared them a few times, you actually get used to the smell and it doesn't bother you as much anymore.

Before You Begin

Now the first thing you must do is decide how much chitlins you want to make. They absorb water and shrink as they cook so whether you buy from the butcher, get the big red bucket of them, or buy the ones in the plastic package, doesn't really matter because you'll end up with a little over half of the amount you started with.

Lots of people buy the infamous red bucket of chitterlings. They are the cheapest and smelliest. They have NOT been pre-cleaned so you will need to clean them. The pre-cleaned chitlins in the bag still have to be cleaned, too, but you don't have as much to do and they don't smell as bad. Also, the ones in the bag are more expensive, about twice the price of what you would pay for the bucket. But this can be well worth it if you are making lots of dishes for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner and are pressed for time.

Note: If you have sensitive hands, I do not recommend getting the ones in the bucket as they will irritate your hands, especially if you have eczema. I recommend wearing gloves no matter which you purchase, although the gloves do make it more difficult to get the job done.

Cleaning Chitterlings

Chitterlings are, in fact, pig intestines. As you can imagine, the intestines carry feces. So, obviously, you want to make sure to clean them thoroughly, but you also want to make sure you are not spreading any viruses or bacteria such as E coli or Salmonella. Like any other raw food, these things can be present in chitlins.

First, you should boil them for five minutes prior to cleaning them to kill any bacteria. This will not change the taste of your chitlins and actually makes it easier to clean them. If you don't have time to boil-cool-clean-cook, then you can clean them using hot water instead of cold. This is the method that I use and no one has ever gotten sick eating my chitlins!

Cleaning chitlins is one of those things you learn by doing. My first chitlin-cleaning lesson was given to me over the phone. Really! I bought the ones in the red bucket my first time. You will want to pick out the obvious-looking things... straw, hair, feces, anything that doesn't look like you would eat it. Don't be surprised by what you see: Pigs eat everything. Clean them inside and out, removing any fat as well.

For those of you that are more visual learners, I've included a pretty good video below, showing what you need to do. It's about ten minutes long. You only need the first three minutes or so to get the idea, but watching the entire video will give you some more background on southern cooking and southern family traditions (even if you're not in the South).

How to clean chitterlings

What You'll Need

After cleaning them and making sure they are rinsed very well, at least 3 or 4 times, you are ready to cook them. Now the great thing about soul food is that there are no set rules or recipes. Everyone makes their chitlins a little different but there are a few things that are pretty much the norm for everyone:

1. A big pot. Your pot can be stainless steel or cast iron. Cast iron pots or dutch ovens are great for cooking chitterlings and are what were used by slaves hundreds of years ago. Most southern families have a "big pot" or "grandma's pot" that has been passed down through the family. They last forever and even transfer nutritional iron into the food that is being cooked.

You can buy them "seasoned" or season them yourself. Seasoning a cast iron skillet or pot involves coating it inside and out with oil and then putting it in the oven for about an hour. This helps build the ultimate non-stick surface. You want to do this before your start using it. Some people do it prior to cooking each time. It's entirely up to you.

Once you have owned a cast iron skillet or pot, you won't be the same!

2. Onions, lots of onions. Onions not only flavor the chitlins nicely, but also help cut down on that pungent smell. You'll hear a lot of southern folk say "put half an onion in the pot." Personally, I use a whole medium to large-sized onion, chopped. You can add more or less to your taste, but I don't know anyone who doesn't put onion in their chitlins.

3. Vinegar: Regular or apple cider. Some soak them in vinegar during the cleaning process. You can do that if you'd like. I add vinegar during the cooking process.

In the Pot

Okay, you've suffered through the smell, the cleaning, the rinsing and now are ready to cook them. You've got your big pot, your onions and your vinegar. Now what? Putting it all in the pot!

After browning them, add your onions, vinegar, and other seasonings. Everyone seasons theirs a little bit differently. Some like them a little spicy, some like them lemony, while others want theirs with a more vinegary taste. Here's what I use, but you don't have to stick to this. You can try it this way and change it the next time. Seems to me each time I make chitlins, it's better than the last time, so enjoy experimenting!

Stayingalivemoma's Chitlin Recipe

Okay so here's my own recipe...remember real soul food is not about measuring spoons and such: You have to feel what's right and cook by sight. This is for about 10 pounds of chitlins.

  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped or sliced
  • 1 to 1.5 cups white vinegar, or more to taste
  • Lots of lemon pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice— fresh or concentrated
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic or garlic powder
  • Seasoning salt
  • A few dashes of soy sauce

Boil, covered, for about three hours. Add more water to the pot as necessary; the chitlins should always remain covered with liquid or they will dry out. My family uses hot sauce on them once cooked. I like to eat them plain. Try it both ways!

More Chitlin Seasoning Variations

Here are some variations in seasonings. You can add some or all of these according to your taste:

  • Red pepper flakes
  • Jalepeno peppers
  • Celery
  • Bell pepper
  • Bay leaf
  • Creole seasoning
  • One potato, whole or sliced (some people put this in to kill the smell and help remove the fat during cooking; they discard the whole potato after cooking)

Make your own chitlin recipe to pass down through your family. Chitlins taste better after they have been cooked and absorbed the seasonings overnight. Enjoy!!

Some History

Chitterlings (or chitlins, as most people call them) were a main source of food for slaves. This is because the slave owners would take the best parts for themselves and leave the undesired parts for the slaves to eat. This included the pig snout, ears, intestines (chitterlings), feet, neck bones, and skin. Black women would cook the meals over a fire in a kettle.

Chitlins are now eaten not only by Blacks, but whites and other races as well. They are considered a Southern specialty. Some Blacks refuse to eat this type of food because they feel it is an insult to their heritage because of the struggles that slaves went through. My father is one of these people. He always used to tell me that they were the scraps that the slave owners would give to the slaves and he didn't understand why Blacks would freely eat them now. It is interesting, when you think about it, how something that was considered not worthy of eating is now enjoyed by people the world over.

But chitlins, like other soul food, is a traditional food made with love and strength by Black slave women so many years ago. They really put their heart and soul into their meals for their family and so it is fitting to continue that tradition. Be sure to put your soul into your chitlins when you cook them for your own family. Afterwards, give your taste buds a nice change, like a generous portion of dump cake to swap out savory for sweet! Enjoy!

The slave quarters consisted of one room where the entire family slept and ate.
The slave quarters consisted of one room where the entire family slept and ate. | Source

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Further Reading: More on History of Slaves....

Questions & Answers

    Comments are Appreciated & Welcome!!

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      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 4 months ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Yes Ruby! You can absolutely cook them in a pressure cooker!!! Normally you would boil them about 3 hours, so I would do anywhere from 1 hour- 1.5 hours in a pressure cooker. It's best to do less time first, you can always add more time if you need to. Good luck and let me know how they turned out!!! :)

      • profile image

        Ruby 4 months ago

        Can chitterlings be cooked in a pressure cooker

      • profile image

        John Murphy 4 months ago

        I take great pride and effort into making chitterlings that will change peoples idea of what they think they're eating. And I'm a white guy. My Wife; who is Black, introduced me to them as a test during courting and I've run with it. We make 2 pots my way and her traditional way. We have fun with it and they're delicious!

      • profile image

        sweetthang 5 months ago

        Thank you! We need this...Be Blessed. Keep up the Great works.

      • profile image

        Nhi vo 23 months ago

        My dad made them Asian style with mustard greens in it also he passed away, so I'm trying to make some now thank you

      • gryphin423 profile image

        gryphin423 2 years ago from Florida

        Very informative, I enjoyed your hub!

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 3 years ago

        I never could get past the smell. Be blessed!

      • PKreturns profile image

        Pradeep PK 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

        Which place this serves?

      • profile image

        krystal 3 years ago

        Need help asap in the process of cleaning my chitterlings now. I boiled them for 5 min. But they do not look like the video .I bought the red bucket they cooling now. Need help on cleaning them.or is it to late :(.

      • profile image

        Donna 3 years ago

        This was very informative and I enjoyed reading it

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 3 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Thanks @NenaP!!!

        I tried chitlins for the first time when I was an adult, and I wish I had tried them sooner!! They are so delicious and melt in your mouth. Have a great holiday! - stayingalivemoma

      • profile image

        NenaP 3 years ago

        Chittlins are a part of my family's staple thanksgiving and Christmas dinner item! If there are as many haters of them as there are likers,then why are the prices of the buckets steadily rising? Dang, someones recipe went too well! Also,try a can of cream of chicken in your batch for a delicious broth!

      • profile image

        Pharmf820 3 years ago

        Very nice site!

      • profile image

        Johnf933 3 years ago

        Someone essentially help to make seriously posts I would state. This is the very first time I frequented your web page and thus far? I surprised with the research you made to make this particular publish incredible. Magnificent job! dekegkaddbdf

      • profile image

        mable 4 years ago

        needed to be refreshed, I give it a 9

      • profile image

        mz.lips 4 years ago

        Do u add the potatoes when u first start to boil the chitterlings...and how long do they cook...first time trying to cook them...and wat about much?? Can some one answer these questions please

      • profile image

        cece 4 years ago

        Im in ny family from the south and always had the awful smell of it cooking regardless if clean properly or not

      • profile image

        MomOfFive 4 years ago

        I grew up in a household were chitlins were cooked. I never cared for them (I always hated the smell). But now as an adult, I cook them every now & then for my husband and daughters. I'm cooking a pot for Christmas but I still hate that smell! So I'm going to try the vinegar & potato trick & pray that it helps! Thanks for this post.

      • profile image

        sandrew834 4 years ago

        I am very surprised to see a recipe for chitterlings. This recipe is good, however, I also add bell peppers, seasoned salt, preferable Lawry's, and chopped jalapenos and if you ever cook chitterlings you'll know they're not the most pleasant thing to smell. My remedy for that is to also add potatoes as it cuts down on the smell. Very good you must have it with hot sauce or you're just not eating it right. Thanks for submitting this recipe. It’s good to know that someone else appreciates a good southern cuisine.

      • profile image

        ny 4 years ago

        Thanks for the hisgory and tio im cooking some right now thr were already cleaning and cooked you just heat and eat but i add some favor lol learning

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Hi there Laura:

        I am so happy this article was of assistance to you! How did your chitlins turn out? We'd love to know!

        Valerie "Stayingalivemoma"

      • profile image

        Laura Taylor Cleveland Ohio 5 years ago

        Well this morning while cleaning my pre cleaned chitlins i looked up this & boy im i glad i did it helped out sooo much THANK YOU!!!!

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Hi there Chefryl! Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy to hear that your father-in-law loved your chitlins. They sound like they were scrumptious. I waited too late to purchase some for Christmas and ended up buying and cooking them the day after Christmas, but they were still just as good! Be sure to try the dump cake recipe too - you're family will be sure to love it! Happy New Year and stay blessed!

      • profile image

        Chefryl 5 years ago

        Very useful hub lady! all the elders who used to prepare this have gone on. we did not have them in my family growing up in Jersey, but once married and exposed to them, i really enjoy them between Christmas and the New Year. i cheated a bit but it worked. i used Parks cleaned and seasoned chittlins. the family threw a fit so i defrosted them slightly in the microwave. i took them and my large crock pot out to the screened porch. opeded and placed chittlins in the pot. Using your suggestions, returned to kitchen and sautéed onions, green pepper, vinegar, hot sauce and garlic. added this to the pot and let them cook on high for six hours. My family did not touch them but my friends loved them. Best of all my 88 year old

        Father in law said they rivaled his sister's chittlins. that made my year. thank you!

      • chefsref profile image

        Lee Raynor 5 years ago from Citra Florida

        As a Yankee transplant to Florida I have not forgotten the first time I was in a home where they were cooking chittlins. Whew! You're gonna eat that? Later they brought me some of the finished product and it was actually pretty good. Still it seems like something you might want to cook outdoors until the smell goes away.

        Up and interesting!

      • vespawoolf profile image

        vespawoolf 5 years ago from Peru, South America

        The southern tip of Peru has its own version of chitlins: picante el tacneno. As the story goes, during a conflict between Chile and Peru, the Chilean soldiers stole away all the Peruvian cattle. They butchered them, took the best parts and left only the hooves and intestines. The locals already had potatoes and hot peppers in their crops, so they used what the soldiers had left and came up with this delicious dish. Anyway, I also enjoy spicy chitlins. I have never prepared them, though, so I appreciate all your helpful advice! I agree about the benefits of cast iron cookware. Thank you for sharing. Voted up all the way!

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        I didn't start eating chitlins until I was an adult, but once I did, I was hooked! Thanks for commenting!

      • Georgie Lowery profile image

        GH Price 5 years ago from Texas

        I've never eaten chitlins. I've been uh, lucky enough to have been around when they've been cooking though. OMG they stink! I grew up in southern Virginia, and we had a lot of what people today call "soul" food. Collard greens and corn bread is just about my favorite meal. But I absolutely cannot do chitlins!

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Hi Michele BW - thanks for replying! To me, the hot water not only makes it easier to clean the chitterlings, but also kind of helps sanitize them. You have to think about what used to be in them---that being said, hot water cleans better than cold! Take care!

      • profile image

        Michele BW 5 years ago

        love your illustrations, i just was curious to others methods & mine is like urs as far as cleaning. but i wouldn't change anything in your article. well written! just read one on allrecipes where the lady told them to clean them in cold water, i was floored :?

      • profile image

        miss b 5 years ago

        Thanks the hot water was a great tip

      • gmwilliams profile image

        Grace Marguerite Williams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

        Excellent hub, my mother is from South Carolina. She loved chittlins, especially with black eyed peas. I, myself, cannot stand them. Well, to each, his/her own!

      • profile image

        mondo 5 years ago

        Southern boy here, anytime there's a pig roast, I'm the boy after the chitlins. Haha. Never thought of usin lemon and stuff, though momma. Thanks for the tip.

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Thanks for the reply Tee eye, even when at their cleanest, as they should be before cooking, chitterlings do have a distinctive smell; but it does go away while cooking them!

      • profile image

        Tee eye 6 years ago

        One thing I know, is if they are smelling while you cooking. 1) they are not clean, 2). You do not use a potato or viniger, clean them properly.

      • profile image

        RM 6 years ago

        Yes, I am a chitterling fan. I haven't had time to prepare any over the last couple of years but I plan on doing so before this summer. I cant wait!

      • profile image

        Bertha 6 years ago

        I really enjoyed reading this article. Having been born in the country in Central Texas, I would go to my Grandparent's farm where they would slaughter the hogs in the winter months & my Grandmother would cook the chitterling in a big black cast iron pot over a wood fire. Learned a lot in the country during my 62 years. Thanks

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 6 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Thanks Rachelle. We had chitlins for Thanksgiving - they were yummy!

      • Rachelle Williams profile image

        Rachelle Williams 6 years ago from Tempe, AZ

        I haven't had chitlins in more than 10 years, it would be good to have some now... Thanks for sharing this informative hub, it brought back so many memories for me.

        Excellent Hub!

      • RedElf profile image

        RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

        My daughter-in-laws people (Woodland Cree) use all parts of the animal on way or another. Their motto is "you killed it - you eat it" (or use it up). Fascinating history!

      • stayingalivemoma profile image

        Valerie Washington 6 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

        Hi Arlene, I have yet to try fried chitlins (I'm embarrassed to say) but really want to. Maybe you could provide a hub on it? (smile) Thanks for the nice comment!

      • profile image

        Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

        stayingalivemoma: Voted up, useful, interesting and AWESOME. My mom and dad are from the Philippines. They roll the chitlins in flour, then fry them. Thank you for your interesting piece. Wonderful history,research and writing.