Cornbread could be called the iconic Southern food. I'm not talking about the sweet, cakey version you sometimes find north of the Mason Dixon, but true cornbread, cooked in an iron skillet with coarse ground yellow meal.
Like most Southern tables, the meals of my youth didn’t seem complete without a pone of cornbread and a stick of butter. My grandmothers and mother made it nearly every day, usually baked in the oven in one of their many well-seasoned cast iron skillets.
But my favorite cornbread of all wasn’t cooked in the oven. It was baked over an open fire in the wood stove that partially heated our house. And it had cracklins in it. Not the crispy, puffy pork rinds you find in the chip aisle of the grocery store, but honest-to-goodness pork cracklins like you’d get at the end of a traditional hog killing.
What are cracklins? you might ask. They are the little chunks of pork left from the lard-making process. During a hog killing, the skin and bits of fat get diced up and added to a giant cast-iron kettle that's suspended over a wood fire. The heat from the fire slowly renders out the lard that would later be used for cooking.
Once all the fat had been extracted from the pork, the crispy cracklins float to the surface of the pot where they get scooped out and transferred to a paper-lined tray to drain away excess oil. The cracklins are tossed with salt and served warm to everyone helping out with the day’s pork production.
Luckily, we no longer have to go through a full scale boucherie to get our hands on a batch of pork cracklins. You can find them at most butcher shops, many groceries, or online. And we don’t have to limit this delicacy to the winter’s wood-burning stove, either. Our Traeger grill is the perfect cooking instrument for even baking of our cornbread with that awesome wood-fired flavor.
We use locally stone-ground, coarse yellow cornmeal for our cornbread. I like the ease of self-rising meal, but you can add a teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder to the mix if your cornmeal of choice isn't self-rising.
We use buttermilk in our cornbread for the extra creaminess and tang it imparts. If you aren’t a fan of buttermilk, just use whole milk instead. Serve your cracklin' cornbread with a pat of softened real butter.
2 cups coarse ground yellow self-rising cornmeal
4 tablespoons melted lard, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 cup pork cracklins
Preheat your Traeger to 375 degrees. Add two tablespoons of the melted lard to a well-seasoned 9-inch Lodge cast-iron skillet. Place the skillet on the grill as it preheats.
Mix your cornbread batter by adding the cornmeal to a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and stir to blend. Form a well in the center of the meal and add the beaten egg, buttermilk, and remaining 2 tablespoons of lard.
Stir well to blend, making sure there are no lumps of dry cornmeal remaining in the batter. Add the pork cracklins and stir thoroughly to incorporate.
Carefully remove the pre-heated skillet from the grill. Swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom and sides with the hot grease. Turn the cornbread batter into the skillet, using a spatula or spoon to smooth it in an even layer across the skillet. Return the skillet to the grill and bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.
To serve, cut the cornbread into wedges and serve with a pat of softened butter.
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