I can think of no other food more polarizing than chitlins. Chitlins, also known as chitterlings, are fried or boiled pig intestines. In some circles, chitlins are a delicacy with a rich cultural history. In other circles, chitlins are a polarizing source of marital discord during the holidays. As a black gastroenterologist, my take on chitlins is both nuanced and complex. Ultimately, chitlins are offal (notice the shamelessly placed pun). In this post, I’ll break down the history, cultural aspects, and health concerns associated with chitlins.
My first exposure to chitlins
My earliest recollection of eating chitlins probably occurred during Thanksgiving or Christmas when I was 4 or 5 years old. I vividly remember my grandmother opening a chitlin-filled bucket. Once the pungent aroma wafting from the chitlins hit my nose, I thought someone clogged the toilet without the courtesy of closing the door and switching on the bathroom fan. The smell emanating from that bucket was beyond horrible. It was like the chitlin bucket was a gateway to the underworld.
Their taste was a combination of umami, funk, and salt
I remember my mother asking me if I wanted to try some. Against my better judgment, I tried a forkful with a smattering of Lousiana hot sauce. The chitlins had the texture of an egg scrambled hard. Their taste was a combination of umami, funk, and salt. I can’t accurately put their taste into words. Ultimately, I didn’t think they tasted bad until my mother explained what chitlins are. Once she said pig intestines, I knew that I was never going to be a chitlin advocate.
Chitlins: A brief history lesson on their culture significance
The chitlin circuit
Chitlins and health concerns
Chitlins and Yersinia Enterocolitica
Outbreaks of Yersinia in infants exposed to chitlins
Other tips for avoiding illnesses from chitlins
- Buy already cooked or pre-cooked chitlins, when possible, because they should be safer to handle.
- If you will prepare raw chitlins, freeze them unless you plan to clean and cook them within 2 days.
- Thaw frozen raw chitlins in the refrigerator in a completely covered bowl or bucket to prevent drips. Drips can contaminate your refrigerator and any food or containers in it. Cook raw chitlins within 2 days after thawing them.
- Boil raw chitlins in water for at least 5 minutes before cleaning. This will reduce germs that may get on your hands, counter, and utensils while you are cleaning the chitlins.
- Boil and simmer chitlins until well cooked and tender before frying or serving. Do not taste them until they are well cooked.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours (or within 1 hour if the temperature outside is higher than 90°F).
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.