What Are Pork or Chicken Cracklings?

A Guide to Understanding and Cooking With Pork or Chicken Cracklings

Dumplings With Fried Cracklings
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Cracklings are pieces of either pork or poultry fat trimmings that have been fried until brown and crispy, and most of the fat has been rendered out. After cooking, cracklings can be salted or seasoned with hot pepper or another spice.

Don't Throw Away the Fat

The byproduct of making cracklings is the rendered fat known as lard. Lard used to be the preferred fat for cooking and baking but, because of its saturated fat, it fell into disfavor, but was still a common ingredient in some pie crust and international recipes. Recently, though, the pundits are again extolling the virtues of saturated fats over trans fats (in moderation, of course).

What can you do with cracklings?

Other than eating these delicious morsels out of hand, they are often incorporated into biscuit or bread dough (cracklin' bread) before baking.

Some folks slip them into scrambled eggs and onions, use them to flavor cabbage dishes, gravies, sauces, and other foods.

Are all cracklings the same?

Some refer to the crispy skin of a pork roast after it has been cooked as cracklings, but elsewhere cracklings aren't the byproduct of a roast; they are intentionally fried pieces of meat-and-fat scraps and are not the same as pork rinds, the puffy prepackaged affairs found in the snack aisle of most supermarkets.

A Sign of a Frugal Cook

As is common in nose-to-tail eating of frugal cooks, nothing is wasted, and cracklings are a prime example. If the skin were edible, that, too, would have gone into the cooking pot. Instead, that went into the boiling pot and was tanned into hide.

You Say Gribenes, and I Say Skwarki

In Polish, pork cracklings are known as skwarki and are popular toppings for savory pierogi and sauerkraut and incorporated into smalec or lard spread. 

In Croatian and Serbian, pork cracklings are known as čvarci, and in Bulgarian, they are prŭzhki. In Yiddish, chicken cracklings are known as gribenes.

Recipes Using Cracklings

  • Serbian Biscuits with Cracklings and White Wine: These biscuits aren't made with baking powder for leavening. Instead, they rely on yeast and the puff pastry technique of sandwiching layers of fat between layers of dough.
  • Croatian Crackling Bread Recipe: Masnica is made using the puff pastry technique only a crackling-lard-pepper paste is sandwiched between layers of dough instead of butter. Once baked, the bread separates into leaves of flaky dough for a decadent treat.
  • Crackling Cornbread with Buttermilk Recipe: Diced pork cracklings are added to this delicious old-time cornbread.
  • British Roast Pork and Crackling Recipe: In this recipe, the cracklings are the crispy fat and skin of the cooked pork which is removed, cut into pieces, and served alongside the roast. 
  • Sunday Pork Roast Recipe: As in the British recipe, above, the cracklings in this recipe are created from the crispy skin that results from a long, slow roast.