Chicharrón, pork rinds, gratons, cracklins—call them what you like, but fried hog fat with the skin on is a wonderful thing. I recently attended a Louisiana boucherie (what is essentially a communal gathering where a whole hog is butchered and broken down; read more about it here), and I was able to witness how these chunks of fatback become crunchy, salty, spicy nuggets of happiness. It’s not as simple as dumping pig fat into hot oil.

At the boucherie, different cuts were used for various dishes, and the layer of fat and skin was harvested for the cracklins.

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Harvesting the skin. Photo by Denny Culbert

I parked myself in front of a black pot filled with hot oil. A team of cooks cut the back and belly fat into strips about an inch wide, and then into cubes from there.

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Cutting the fat and skin into cubes
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Ready for the fryer

A propane torch heated the fat to 300 degrees as chefs Chanel Gaudé and Bart Bell slowly stirred in the chunks of fat. Adding the fat cooled the oil down to about 250. For this 275-pound hog, four separate batches were required in this pot.

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Drop them in slowly

At first the chunks of fat were barely submerged in the oil, but as the fat rendered out, the solid turned to liquid.

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Just after submersion
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Chanel Gaudé stirring the pot
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Thirty minutes in

Nearly constant stirring was required, especially scraping along the bottom of the pot to keep anything from sticking. This step took about an hour for each batch.

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First step is complete. Time to cool

They were then scooped out into a cardboard box to cool. A few people came up to grab one, but this was only the first step. Much like a good, crispy French fry, a good cracklin needs to be fried twice. These chunks of par-fried fat tasted fine, but were tough to chew.

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Back into the oil. Photo by Denny Culbert
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Bart Bell stirring a nearly completed batch. Photo by Denny Culbert
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Cracklins getting puffy. Photo by Denny Culbert

Once the first batch was cooled, it was time to crank the heat up in the frying pot to 400 degrees. Once it was hot enough, the cooled cracklins went back into the hot oil for their second bath. This is where they puff up (click here for a time-lapse video of the process) almost immediately after hitting the hot oil. They then cook for about five more minutes until crisp and ready for seasoning.

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Shake it on. Photo by Denny Culbert
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And flip. Photo by Denny Culbert
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Now pour it on. Photo by Denny Culbert
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Just right. Photo by Denny Culbert

When the seasoning went on, we all underestimated how much would be required. They just kept shaking on what seemed like too much until the heat and salt finally registered properly.

Ready for consumption. Photo by Denny Culbert

The finished batch was the best version of cracklins I’ve had. They key is eating them when they’re still hot from the fryer, and my ringside seat paid off.