What are Chitlins in Southern Cuisine?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Cooked chitlins.
Cooked chitlins.

Gaining popularity between the 1930s and the 1960s because of The Chitlin' Circuit, chitlins have become a staple of American’s Southern cuisine. Chitlins are often served alongside other traditional southern foods like fried chicken and collard greens at family meals.

What Are Chitlins Made Of?

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.

Where Do Chitlins Come From?

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

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.

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

Chitlins gained popularity in the American South, and they are synonymous with southern cuisine. Chitlins are often served along with other southern favorites as part of a larger meal. For some, chitlins may be an acquired taste. For others, chitlins remind them of being surrounded by their family who have all come together to enjoy a nice, home-cooked meal.

Where to Find Chitlins

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

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. You might luck out and be able to find chitlins at a local grocery store, perhaps in the frozen section of the meat department. Keep in mind that chitlins shrink when they’re boiled and cooked, so you’ll need to buy more chitlins than you may think.

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.

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. Even if the butcher says that the chitlins have been pre-cleaned, it is a good idea to clean them again before you prepare your meal.

How to Clean Chitlins

If your chitlins are frozen, thaw them before you begin the cleaning process. Uncooked chitlins carry potentially dangerous forms of bacteria including E. Coli, yersinia, and salmonella. The cleaning stage of preparing chitlins is very important. It’s essential that chitlins are repeatedly picked clean to ensure that there are no foreign materials on the meat. They need to be cleaned very carefully to prevent disease. If purchased uncooked, they should be turned inside out and boiled on high heat for at least 5 minutes. Any fecal matter or extra fat must then be removed by hand. It’s necessary that you examine each chitlin and make sure you’ve cleaned it of all fecal matter or extra fat. Then, using a strainer, give the chitlins one final rinse in cold water to ensure that the chitlins are cleaned properly.

As you’re cleaning the chitlins, make sure you continually clean and sanitize your cooking tools and kitchen workspace. Chitlins carry a lot of harmful bacteria. It’s best to take measures to ensure that you’re keeping your kitchen clean and free of harmful bacteria that can make you sick. 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. Because of this risk, it’s best to have babies, small children, and the elderly stay out of the kitchen while you prepare the chitlins.

How to Cook Chitlins

After you ensure that your chitlins are clean, you can now prepare them to be cooked. After you rinse them in cool water, you can then cut the chitlins into about half inch or one inch pieces depending on your preference. Typically, chitlins are cooked by boiling them for about three hours in a mixture of water, vinegar, and a few seasonings. You can also include garlic, onion, and a few sprinkles of soy sauce. Bring all of your ingredients to a boil in a large pot. Boil the chitlins for about three hours. You can then season or fry the chitlins to your tastes.

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.

What Do Chitlins Taste Like?

Chitlins have a distinct taste that is hard to compare to other meats. It doesn’t taste like other parts of the pig, either. Pig intestines have a mild flavor and the taste can vary based on how you season them. Some compare the texture and flavor to calamari and various other seafoods. 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 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. You can also add red pepper flakes, garlic granules, salt, or lemon juice to your chitlins.

Are Chitlins Good for You?

Depending on how the chitlins are prepared, they could contain some surprising nutrients. A three-ounce serving of chitlins gives you 10 grams of protein. Considering most sedentary adults can generally consume anywhere from thirty to sixty grams of protein a day, a serving or two of chitlins can give you a good bit of your daily value. While your daily protein needs are based on your individual weight, chitlins can be considered a decent source of protein.

Chitlins are also a source of small amounts of zinc and vitamin B-12. Zinc has several benefits, including boosting your immune system and metabolism function. The recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for adult men. A three-ounce serving of chitlins has 1.6 mg of this mineral. A three-ounce serving of chitterlings contains 0.4 mcg of vitamin B-12, and the general recommendation for adults is 2.4 mcg.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent DelightedCooking 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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent DelightedCooking 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

anon990256

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

anon990255

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.

lighth0se33

@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.

healthy4life

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.

feasting

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.

calabama71

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!

cmsmith10

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.

nobreather

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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    • Cooked chitlins.
      By: happytotakephoto
      Cooked chitlins.
    • Specialty butchers often have chitlins.
      By: Christophe Fouquin
      Specialty butchers often have chitlins.
    • Pig intestines are known as chitlins.
      By: il-fede
      Pig intestines are known as chitlins.
    • Chitlins may be dipped in mustard.
      By: dragojagagitubic
      Chitlins may be dipped in mustard.
    • Uncooked chitlins can contaminate other foods with e. coli, yersinia or salmonella if not properly handled.
      By: malexeum
      Uncooked chitlins can contaminate other foods with e. coli, yersinia or salmonella if not properly handled.