Chitlins aka Chitterlings: My Family’s Holiday Cooking Tradition with Recipe

With chitlins about to make their annual appearance on my family’s holiday menu, so returns the controversy around the delicacy that’s either loved or hated. Chitlins are sometimes spelled and referred to as Chitterlings. It all boils down to whether “To eat or Not To Eat” Chitlins have been the topic in Black households for decades. Chitlins, the intestines of pigs or cows, have been a delicacy worldwide for centuries. While many people know of Chitlins from the Black Southern Palate, a form of Chitlins is prepared in most cultures, including Europe, Asia, and South America.

Some African Americans condemn Chitlins because of their tie to slavery and health or religious reasons or do not eat Chitlins because of the so-called pungent “Sh*tty Smell.”. They believe we should stop eating the food that our ancestors survive off because it reminds them of oppression. Instead, we should celebrate all that they endured and overcame. The rations they lived on are the foundation of our food history and culinary genius. So instead of frowning at the mere mention of Chitlins, neckbones, and other items we feel are beneath us now. Thankfully some of us continue to pass on our delicious food legacy while creating new time-honored food traditions.

“We can now eat what we want.” These are our thoughts. While eating Chitlin’s was very popular in the early 1900’s they have been reduced to a ritual that some adhere to for family traditions but have been slowly taken out of our regular meals.


When slavery was legal in America, enslavers fed their enslaved workers the discarded parts of vegetables and butchered animals, such as bitter turnip greens, sweet potatoes, ears, neck bones, feet, and intestines. While the best cuts of meat, particularly the upper portions of the leg and back, hence the affluence-denoting phrase “high on the hog.” were for the master’s household. These meager food rations were low in quality and nutritional value. However, our enslaved ancestors’ skillful creativity enabled them to cook these scraps into tasty dishes that provided sustenance. The food was so delicious that enslavers suddenly wanted some for themselves.

It is believed that chitterlings were given to enslaved people as scraps, which holds some truth, but the history of Chitlins goes beyond slavery. According to The Bay State Banner, eating chitterlings is not a derivative of American slavery. Instead of holding close to their West African Diaspora ritualistic traditions, eating an animal’s innards is sacred. Also, since eating animal intestines was popular in Britain and France, enslavers would request these dishes way before American slavery. Although the history reflects the brutality of the slavery era, it is a dish enjoyed by both cultures before American history.

The earliest written down recipes for chitterlings (now called chitlins) shows up from a cookbook in Europe from Great Britain in the 1700s,”

Denver-based Adrian Miller, a James Beard Foundation Book Award winner, known as the Soul Food Scholar.

Chitlins remained popular well into the Jim Crow era when Black eateries served it with other dishes of kindred origin, now known as “soul food.” In addition to indicating where Black artists could perform during this period, the “Chitlin Circuit” established a touring route that fans could follow.

Chitlins went from being scraps given to the enslaved to a typical black family Sunday entree and are now an expensive delicacy many do not partake in due to this new generation of plant-based eating. I don’t know if the millennials know what Chitlins is because we have lost generations of traditional soul food cooks. Some African Americans prepare them in the home, but like my family, it’s only during the holiday season. Chitlins are on the menu at some Soul Food restaurants as a weekly special. Gourmet restaurants have added an overpriced version of Chitlins or pig intestine to their means, but you will not find the Black Soul Food version there.

The fact that many people of color are moving away from pork, the pungent smell, and the difficulty of cleaning the meat makes this an expensive delicacy that we will not see in the American Black Kitchen moving into the next 100 years unless a significant pivot in food occurs.

I do not eat much pork and typically cook chitterlings yearly unless someone requests them because they require so much preparation. It’s a long, tedious job to clean Chitterlings properly, and I’ve been eating and cleaning them since I was five. Some believe that Chitlins stink, period, but that’s not true. The smell comes from the feces inside of the intestines and the water in the bucket. Chitlin’s smell because they have not been cleaned properly. If you cook Chitlins without washing them thoroughly, the funky smell will fill the entire house, and the Chitlins will taste as funky as they smell and will be tough and gritty.

We all have food preferences, but it gets me when people say food is nasty; it makes me think of all the inedible food our ancestors had no choice but to eat. I get how smelling and looking a bucket of long funky intestines with poop and partially decomposed bits of whatever the pig ate and call it nasty, but somewhere along the line, our people had to make it tasty. And now, Chitterlings are hashtagged as soul food.

I have many memories of sitting at the table with a towel under my elbows to catch all the funky chitterling juice as we stipped the bad part from the so-called meat part of the intestines. We had a contest of who would clean and peel the bad part off in one long piece and who would clean their entire bucket first. Of course, there was no actual prize, but bragging rights went a long way in the family.

Grab a bucket and have some fun with the kids pulling the intestines apart, followed by boiling them up with some fresh herbs and spices to get a feel and taste of how our ancestors experienced it. I say don’t knock it till ya try it, and honestly, chitterlings do not smell bad as people claim. I have smelled much worse cooking in my years.

My sister has taken over making my family’s annual Christmas Chitterling cooking and twerked my Mama’s original recipe, but they are still good. There are several methods of cooking Chitlins, such as boiled or battered and fried. Some people add tomato paste to the Chitlins served over spaghetti. Others may need a roux or add a brown gravy mix and serve over white rice. I like my Chitlins cooked till tender with the Trinty seasoning blend, garlic, red pepper flakes, parsley bay leaf, and seasoning salt, served over rice with a side of potato salad and a little hot sauce.


  • 20lbs cleaned pork chitterlings, thawed
  • 1 large baking potato
  • 2 large onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 stalks of celery with leaves
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste


  1. Thoroughly wash chitterlings, remove excess fat and soak in apple cider vinegar for 30 minutes. 
  2. Next, cut the chitterlings into small pieces (1-2 inches), put them in a medium-sized pot, and add about 2 cups of water to cover them—Cook on high for about 1 hour.
  3. Pour the chitterlings into a colander to drain and discard the water. Rinse them thoroughly.
  4. Rinse the pot well and place it over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil, the onion, garlic, and bay leaf, and saute for about a minute. Then add bell peppers and celery, and saute for another minute.
  5. Next, add the chitterlings, bay leaves, Creole seasoning, and water. Give everything a nice stir, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Cover the pot and place it over medium-high heat. Cook for about 2-3 hours until chitterlings are tender. Check the pot to ensure the water hasn’t cooked out; add more as needed. Chitterlings are done when they tear apart easily when pulled.

Like many other great soul food dishes, chitlins taste even better after the flavor has soaked in for a few hours.

Here are a few ways to clean and remove the smell of Chitlins:

First wash: Soak the chitterlings in cool water (in the kitchen sink or a tub) with a spoonful of baking soda or vinegar for a couple of minutes.

Remove the fat and anything else that doesn’t belong.

Dunk them up and down for a few minutes in the water.

Drain excess water and put the chitterlings in a bowl. 

Discard dirty water, and rinse the sink or tub.

Second wash: Fill the sink with fresh cool water (no baking soda this time), and go through the same process. Drain the chitterlings and put them in a bowl. Your water should look cleaner on the second wash. Discard the dirty water and rinse the sink or tub.

Third wash: Repeat the second wash. Your water should be clearer than before when done. If you think your water could be cleaner, do it a fourth time.

Since the intestines can carry bacteria, it’s important to thoroughly clean them before cooking and serving them. You’ll need to spend some time cleaning the chitterlings and sanitizing your kitchen to prevent diseases from spreading. How long it takes depends on your chitlins’ condition when you buy them. 

Chitlin Cleaning Tips

  • I can’t emphasize enough that you must clean chitlins well and then clean them again.
  • Clean your Chitlin’s thoroughly with vinegar water, rinse thoroughly
  • Turn the overhead exhaust on the range,
  • Keep windows and back door open, but close kitchen door to rest of house.
  • Put a potato in the pot of Chitlins.
  • Boil a pot of vinegar or Cilantro while you are cooking the Chitlin.
  • Put a few pieces of bread on top of the closed pot of Chitlin’s while boiling.
  • When you pre-boil your chitlins, add chopped onions to the water to reduce the bad smell.

Storage Instructions

  • Cooked chitterlings have a grace period of up to four days in the fridge and three months in the freezer.
  • You can keep raw chitterlings in the fridge for two days and in the freezer for about three months.


Denver-based Adrian Miller, a James Beard Foundation Book Award winner, known as the Soul Food Scholar


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s