What’s the Difference Between Pork Rinds, Cracklins, And Fatback?

These crispy, crunchy pork products are staples of Southern snacking.

Homemade Fatty Pork Rinds
Photo: Getty

Pork is a big part of Southern culture. It’s our go-to for a backyard barbecue and the main event at football tailgates. Ribs , pulled pork , smoked sausage—when it comes to pork, we don’t discriminate. A Saturday morning wouldn’t be complete without the smell of sizzling bacon, and there’s nothing more satisfying than a gravy-smothered pork chop after a hard day's work.

For those who were raised under the “waste not, want not” philosophy, whole hog (also known as snout-to-tail) cooking is no mystery. If you’ve ever seen a jar of pickled pigs’ feet at the gas station, you know exactly what we mean. One of the best parts about whole hog cooking is the crispy, crunchy magic that happens when you deep fry certain parts of the pig. Behold: the glory of cracklins, pork rinds, and fat back. Ever wondered what the difference was between the three? Keep reading for our guide to the Southern delicacies.

What are Pork Rinds?

Probably the most common of the three, pork rinds are associated with snacking thanks to the fact that you can find them at most grocery stores and gas stations in the South. Many would consider them the ultimate road trip snack , and we don’t disagree. Made from 100% pork skin, pork rinds have a light, aerated texture similar to that of a cheese puff. They’re extremely crunchy, but once they hit the tongue, they practically melt in your mouth.

The process of getting pork rinds to their final form starts by simmering pork skin in boiling water, then chilling them for several hours to separate any leftover fat from the skin. After, the skin is put in the oven on a low heat for several hours to remove any additional moisture. Finally, it's added to hot oil so it can puff up into that perfectly snackable bite. Like potato chips, pork rinds come in a variety of flavors from barbecue and salt and vinegar to dill pickle, chili, and Cajun.

What are Cracklins?

A close cousin to pork rinds, cracklins are essentially what happens when you leave a little bit of fat on the pork skin and fry it up. The result is a heavier, chewier product with a meatier crunch. Though they don’t puff up like pork rinds, they’re addictively satisfying in their own right. The bit of fat gives an added pork flavor that pork rinds miss out on.

Cracklins have their roots in Cajun cooking. They were discovered through the process of rendering pork fat. Cracklins are essentially the excess scraps that rise to the top of the freshly rendered lard. They’re scooped out, salted and seasoned, then eaten as delicious precursor to the meal. They’re not as easy to find in grocery stores, but look out for them on restaurant menus when you’re in Cajun country or other Deep South locales.

What is Fatback?

If pork rinds and cracklins are close cousins, think of fatback as that second cousin, twice removed, that you only see at holidays and funerals. Fatback, also called lardons, are thick cubes of skin and pork fat that are fried then served hot and fresh. Unlike pork rinds and cracklins, which are all about crispy, crunchy skin, fatback is pure pork fat cut from the area around a pig’s spine.

You won’t find fatback in the snack section of your local grocer, but you can make the delicacy yourself or find it at classic barbecue joints and Southern restaurants. It’s similar to pork belly in flavor and mouthfeel, just without those tiny strips of meat.

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