What are Chitlins?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Chitlins are a type of food made from pig intestines. Sometimes referred to as "chitterlings," this dish is often found in the American South, and takes a long time to clean and prepare. Due to the labor-intensive preparation process, most people enjoy it on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Though it has historically been associated with African-Americans, people in many other cultures and places eat similar dishes.

Cooked chitlins.
Cooked chitlins.


While chitlins may not be available at everyday markets, specialty butchers often carry them. The best way to find a location that sells them is through an Internet search or word of mouth. It's important to realize that some butchers don't clean chitlins before they sell them, so it's essential to confirm whether they're cleaned or not, and if not, take the necessary steps to eat them safely.

Specialty butchers often have chitlins.
Specialty butchers often have chitlins.


Uncooked chitlins carry potentially dangerous forms of bacteria including E. Coli, yersinia, and salmonella. They need to be cleaned very carefully to prevent disease. If purchased uncooked, they should be turned inside out and boiled for at least 5 minutes. Any fecal matter or extra fat must then be removed by hand. Eating contaminated chitlins can cause extreme stomach pain; severe diarrhea, sometimes with bleeding; and a fever. Babies and the elderly are particularly at risk for complications from these symptoms, and may require hospitalization.

Pig intestines are known as chitlins.
Pig intestines are known as chitlins.


Many people say that chitlins are an acquired taste. Their smell can be foul and distasteful, especially during the cooking process. To avoid making a house smell, they're often cooked outside. The end product doesn't retain the strong smell though, and many people who dislike the odor while cooking still enjoy the dish when it's finished.

Chitlins may be dipped in mustard.
Chitlins may be dipped in mustard.

Chitlins can be added to stews or soups, but some people prefer them deep-fried. The deep-fried version is often dipped in mustard or other spicy condiments. Some compare the texture and flavor to calamari and various other seafoods.


This dish originated during the time of American slavery. When pigs were slaughtered in the Southern US, the meat was often taken by slave owners, while the intestines were left for the slaves. They were served in the winter, and over time came to be seen as a treat. After slavery ended, chitlins continued to be associated with African-Americans up through the 1900s, when there was a series of entertainment venues for African-American performers known as the Chitlin' Circuit. The dish remains popular in many areas of the American South, with some places even holding annual festivals to celebrate it.

Similar Dishes

The consumption of intestines goes far beyond the United States. Korean cuisine offers makchang, a form of grilled pork intestines; while French cuisine has tricandilles, which are grilled as well; and China has jiangsi chao dachang, in which the intestines are stir fried. Many countries around the world consume either sheep or cow intestines too.

Uncooked chitlins can contaminate other foods with e. coli, yersinia or salmonella if not properly handled.
Uncooked chitlins can contaminate other foods with e. coli, yersinia or salmonella if not properly handled.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Kishka refers to the grains in the blood sausage. Forgot to add that.


Kishka is actually blood sausage and it does not mean intestine. Europeans make most sausage with intestine. But there is, however, a dish made of beef intestine. It smells terrible while cooked and I personally never touch it. My parents, however, eat it as often as they can.


@feasting – My family loves eating chitlins and pork rinds. We are just crazy about pork!

Chitlins are sold at restaurants around here. We don't like cooking them ourselves, but we trust the restaurant workers to do it the right way and make them safe for eating.

I grew up eating chitlins, so I don't have any qualms about it. Some of my friends think it's gross, but it's no big deal to me.


There is no amount of cleansing that could be enough to make me eat pig intestines. Sure, you can remove the feces that you can see, but you can't remove the fact that intestines were used to move feces through the pig!

I look at it like this. You can clean and sanitize a toilet bowl, but no matter how clean it was, you wouldn't want to eat out of it. This is simply because of what it has held in the past and what bacteria might be left behind.


For some reason, I always thought that chitlins were deep fried pig skins. I guess I'm getting them confused with pork rinds, which are sold everywhere. I see them in grocery stores in bags right next to the potato chips.


The taste of chitlins is one that most people either love or hate. The taste of them depends much on how they are seasoned. Here is what I do when I cook chitlins:

Clean the chitlins to remove EVERYTHING from the intestines. This is very, very important. I cook mine with onions and potatoes to mask the smell. Use hot sauce, ketchup,mustard, or your favorite sauce to enhance the flavor of the chitlins. I always cook black-eyed peas, cornbread, collards, and potato salad to compliment the chitlins. I have been told to always throw away any leftover chitlins to prevent illness. They should be eaten the same day that you cook them. Enjoy!


The actual name is chitterlings. Through the years, we have adapted the word "chitlins". Chitlins are the intestines of a pig. They must go through a thorough cleaning before they are eaten. They are considered part of "soul food" in the South. Side dishes will often include collard greens, fried chicken, and other traditional Southern foods. They are traditionally cooked outdoors because the smell is often somewhat unappealing! They lose a lot of their weight when cooked down. For example, you could purchase 10 pounds of chitlins and end up with only 5 pounds once they are cooked.


Eastern European cuisiness use pig casings to make "Kishka". These are similar to sausages, but they include other hearty ingredients like buckwheat or barley. They are often cooked in a stew. Kishka means guts or intestines.

Jewish people use cow intestines to make Kishka in keeping with their dietary laws. It's actually quite good, but its certainly not "light eating!"

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