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

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

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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.

I tasted them for the first time when I was 17 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!)

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.

The famous "red bucket" of chitterlings.

The famous "red bucket" of chitterlings.

What Kind of Chitlins to Buy

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.

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How to Clean 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).

What You'll Need to Cook Them

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.
  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.

How to cook chitterlings without the smell:

The vinegar and onions and the cooking process itself help to reduce the bad smell.

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Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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.

Like This Recipe? Sound Off Here!

Comments are Appreciated & Welcome!!

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on December 05, 2019:

Thanks so much! I hope your family had a great holiday!!

on December 05, 2019:

Hi I wanted to really thank you for this recipe. I don't eat chitterlings but I made them for my husband and he loved them. This is my go to recipe now

Ms Iris on December 31, 2018:

I loved this absolutely perfect! Great job and God bless

NenaP, that cream of chicken sounds like a good touch. on July 04, 2018:

NenaP, that cream of chicken sounds like a good touch

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on November 26, 2017:

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!!! :)

Ruby on November 26, 2017:

Can chitterlings be cooked in a pressure cooker

John Murphy on November 22, 2017:

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!

sweetthang on November 18, 2017:

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

Nhi vo on May 29, 2016:

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 from Florida on November 24, 2015:

Very informative, I enjoyed your hub!

poetryman6969 on March 14, 2015:

I never could get past the smell. Be blessed!

Pradeep PK from Bangalore, India on March 08, 2015:

Which place this serves?

krystal on March 04, 2015:

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 :(.

Donna on February 08, 2015:

This was very informative and I enjoyed reading it

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on November 29, 2014:

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

NenaP on November 24, 2014:

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!

Pharmf820 on July 07, 2014:

Very nice site!

Johnf933 on June 30, 2014:

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

mable on January 27, 2014:

needed to be refreshed, I give it a 9

mz.lips on January 09, 2014:

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 seasonings..how much?? Can some one answer these questions please

cece on December 22, 2013:

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

MomOfFive on December 22, 2013:

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.

sandrew834 on September 03, 2013:

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. juiceblendz.com.

ny on May 19, 2013:

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

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on January 02, 2013:

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"

Laura Taylor Cleveland Ohio on January 02, 2013:

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!!!!

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on January 01, 2013:

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!

Chefryl on January 01, 2013:

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!

Lee Raynor from Citra Florida on September 19, 2012:

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!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on September 10, 2012:

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!

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on September 09, 2012:

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

GH Price from North Florida on September 09, 2012:

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!

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on September 03, 2012:

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!

Michele BW on September 03, 2012:

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 :?

miss b on September 02, 2012:

Thanks the hot water was a great tip

Grace Marguerite Williams from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 28, 2012:

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!

mondo on June 22, 2012:

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.

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on April 25, 2012:

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!

Tee eye on April 18, 2012:

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.

RM on February 08, 2012:

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!

Bertha on December 20, 2011:

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

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on November 30, 2011:

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

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on November 29, 2011:

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 from Canada on October 09, 2011:

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!

Valerie Washington (author) from Tempe, Arizona on October 09, 2011:

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!

Arlene V. Poma on October 09, 2011:

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.