Cracklins, or cracklings, are pieces of pork fat and skin that have been deep fried so that they turn crispy and golden. There are numerous preparation techniques for this food, with slightly different end results, ranging from very heavy, greasy chunks to light, fluffy pork skins. Typically, communities that continue to raise and slaughter their own pigs will also produce cracklins, which are sometimes treated as regional delicacies. It is also sometimes possible to find them at a market or butcher's, depending on where a person lives.
Food historians believe that cracklins probably emerged around the 1800s, in the British West Midlands, although they may well be older. They likely originated in attempts to render fat, because one traditional method for preparing cracklins also produces a large amount of lard, as the fat renders off while they cook. Typically, the end result will keep well at room temperature for a surprising amount of time, and most people eat cracklins as snack foods, although they may also be baked into breads, especially cornbread in the American south.
To make cracklins, fatty cuts of pork are first sliced into very small pieces. They usually include part of the skin, a thick layer of fat, and a small amount of meat, although meat is excluded in some regions of the world. Before the cracklins are cut, the skin is usually seared to remove any leftover hair. Once the pork has been cut up, it is lowered into a large vat that has a small layer of fat in the bottom and then cooked at a high temperature.
As the cracklins cook, the fat renders out, slowly filling the pot with lard. The lard in turn deep fries the remaining skin and meat, turning it into crispy curls of golden pork. Once the cracklins turn a rich gold color, they are removed from the vat and allowed to drain. The remaining rendered lard can be allowed to cool and then packaged for future use.
As you might imagine, cracklins are not very good for you. They are quite high in fat, because although the fat renders out during the cooking process, they are deep fried, after all. Well made ones manage to be relatively dry, without an unpleasant greasy texture, but they are still high in fat and often high in sodium as well, as they are typically salted after frying. Cracklins may also be seasoned with things like hot pepper flakes or herbs, depending on regional taste; these additions do not generally impact the nutritional value.
Cracklins are also called pork rinds or pork skins. In some regions of the world, these terms refer to slightly different pork products, which can get confusing, especially for travelers.