Cleaning chitterlings, or "chitlins," as they're commonly known, is the messy and time-consuming part of preparing a meal featuring this Southern holiday favorite. As a result, many people buy pre-cleaned chitterlings, which are available at supermarkets, gourmet food stores and online.
How to Clean Chitterlings
Chitterlings are the small intestines of a pig — if you buy them uncleaned, it's essential that you wash them properly before cooking.
Dirty chitterlings carry bacteria that may cause yersiniosis, an illness with unpleasant symptoms, including abdominal pain and fever.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before you begin. Boil the chitterlings for 5 minutes before you start cleaning them. This kills most of the bacteria, but it doesn't change the flavor.
Soaking chitterlings in water is not an effective method for cleaning them. You must run water through them until the water is clear. Turn them inside-out if possible — this allows you to visually inspect them as you clean them. If you can't, use something like a funnel to hold one end open while you run water through them.
If the skin of the chitterling tears while you're running water through it, cut it above the hole and work with smaller sections.
Once the chitterlings are clean, put them in a bowl of cold water (or the sink, but first wash the sink with hot, soapy water) for a couple of minutes. Remove the chitterlings and check the water – if it's not clear, pour the water out, add fresh water and soak them again. Repeat until the water is clear.
Chitterlings should be boiled until tender, a process that can take as long as 6 hours. After they're boiled, use them in your favorite chitterlings recipe. Add vinegar, bay leaves, onion and garlic to the cooking water for more flavor.
Serve the chitterlings as-is after they're boiled, or fry them in butter.
Add Zatarain's or Tony Chachere's herb and spice mixes during the boil for a Creole or Cajun flavor.
Cut the chitterlings into 1-inch pieces and dip them in beaten egg; dredge them in crushed cracker crumbs, breadcrumbs, flour or panko. Then deep fry them after they've been boiled.
Substitute cooked chitterlings for beef or pork in a stir-fry.
Chitterlings were traditionally cooked outdoors because of their intense, unpleasant odor. Scientists suggest adding cilantro to the boiling water to neutralize the smell. Adding potatoes, onions or lemons to the boil will also help tame the smell, but they should be discarded, not eaten, when the chitterlings are done.
Chitterlings are usually served with vinegar and hot sauce.
Chitterlings Safety Tips
Use fresh chitterlings within two days, or freeze them for up to four months. Frozen chitterlings should be thawed in the fridge.
Avoid cross-contamination by storing chitterlings in a leak-proof bag in the fridge. Wash your hands before and after handling chitterlings, and thoroughly wash countertops, cutting boards, utensils and dishes before using them with other food products. This prevents bacteria from spreading.
Keep the little kids out of the kitchen when you're working with chitterlings. Younger people are more susceptible to the illness caused by the Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria. Teach older kids the importance of hand-washing in the prevention of cross-contamination.
Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours.
If you buy pre-cleaned chitterlings from a source you're not familiar with, give them a quick rinse to make sure they've been cleaned properly.