Pork rinds are the tough skin layer of pigs that remains after the meat has been removed. They are processed in a similar manner to beef jerky, with the raw skins receiving a generous slathering of salt before being placed in a commercial dehydrator at low heat for several hours. The dehydrated pork skins are then cut into small, hard pellets suitable for reconstitution later.
Some are placed in pickling solutions and marketed as "pickled pork rinds" in grocery stores. Unlike the snack food version, these remain soft and chewy, with a distinctive bacon-like flavor. Pickled pork rinds are perhaps not as popular as the crispy snack version, but they are flavorful and are relatively inexpensive. The pickling process also gives them a longer shelf life.
Pork rinds destined for the snack food aisle or county fair concession stand begin as hard, dry pellets. Meat processing plants sell these pellets in bulk to snack food producers and individual vendors. The dehydrated pellets are placed in vats of hot cooking oil, maintained at a temperature around 400°F (approximately 204°C). A consistent cooking temperature is crucial, since colder oil may not cause the pellets to puff out during the deep frying stage. The individual pellets are held down in the oil with a metal screen to ensure consistency.
After 60 seconds or so have elapsed, the pork rinds are usually suitable for eating. During that time, they change from hard pellets to puffy, irregular pieces. A denser version called cracklings may also be produced by cooking the pellets at a slightly lower temperature. The finished pork rinds may be served warm, or the vendor may add various spice blends such as barbecue, salt and vinegar, or chili powder to give them a different flavor.
Pork rinds became popular snack choices with the advent of high-protein food plans such as the Atkins diet. Unlike potato or corn chips, fried pork rinds have no carbohydrates at all. They are exceptionally high in protein, however, which makes them an ideal snack for those who want to avoid foods high in carbohydrates. The main concern about this snack, however, is their high sodium content. The processed pellets have already been brined in a salt solution, so the addition of salt-based flavors can cause them to have three times as much sodium as regular potato chips.
When consumed in moderation, pork rinds do make satisfying snacks despite their insubstantial appearance. Their high levels of protein put them in a snack category with meat jerky products and flavored beef sticks. While fried pork rinds may be high in sodium, they are often less greasy than other processed snacks. They have also become popular as fundraisers, since the investment in equipment and supplies is minimal and a bag of uncooked pellets can generate many bags of the puffy snack suitable for immediate sale at concession stands.