No doubt the legacy of American slavery has had a huge impact on black folks culinary history and traditions. This is acutely obvious when you consider some of the meat cuts that have been very popular in soul food cooking when it comes to meat cuts.
Historically enslaved people in colonial times got the leftover undeserved cuts of the pig. Think pigs feet, pig tails, neck bones, intestines, and tripe. Similarly, you see similar behavior when it comes to beef where oxtail and beef neck bones are prominent and popular.
For a long time all these cuts were viewed as undesirable and thus have been cheap cuts that the masses avoided. But like in so many situations black cooks and chefs worked their magic and made something from nothing.
The downside is some of the former cheap cuts are no longer best-kept secrets. Specifically, beef oxtail, a common soul food dish, is no longer affordable. As big name chefs and mainstream patrons have become familiar with the cooking ways of black folks oxtails have gone Hollywood and prices reflect it. I recently bout wagyu beef oxtail at my local butcher for example.
Where can you buy soul food meats?
Many of these cuts are only readily available in ethnic markets or mainstream grocery stores that are located in neighborhoods that serve ethnic groups. Oxtail has become a little more accessible beyond ethnic neighborhoods and markets.
What are the different cuts used in soul food dishes?
I have personally never eaten pig tails, but it was common in my house growing up. I was definitely an outlier. My cousins, aunts, and uncles would all tell you you're missing out on a delicious and unusual treat.
Pig tail can be cooked in a variety of ways, including braising, stewing, and frying. Additionally, pig tail is packed with lots of flavor. The meat is rich and fatty, making it perfect for heartier dishes. I've heard that pig tail is an excellent source of collagen. This protein helps to promote healthy skin and joints, so pig tail has some dietary benefits.
Pig feet have been a traditional food in many cultures for centuries. They can be cooked in many different ways including boiled, baked, fried, or pressure-cooked. They are also often pickled or canned. Pig feet are usually sold whole or in halves. If you find a spot that has pig feet on the menu, there is likely some serious cooking going on in that spot.
Hog maws are a traditional soul food dish that is sometimes referred to as "pig's stomach." The hog maw is cleaned and then stuffed with ingredients such as sausage, onions, and spices. It is then boiled or baked until it is tender then served with rice.
Hog maws can be served as a side dish or main course, and they are often eaten with hot sauce or vinegar. While hog maws may not be the most popular dish, they are definitely worth trying if you're looking for something new and different. Who knows, you might just end up liking them!
Tripe is a type of edible offal made from the stomachs of ruminant animals, such as cattle, pigs, and sheep. It has a chewy texture and a mild, slightly gamey flavor that is popular in many cuisines around the world.
While tripe is not typically considered to be a prime cuts of meat, it can be quite delicious when prepared correctly. One of the most popular ways to eat tripe is in pho, a Vietnamese soup made with beef or chicken broth, rice noodles, and herbs.
Tripe is also a common ingredient in stews and casseroles especially soul food or Caribbean dishes, and it can be fried, grilled, or even roasted.
Chitterlings aka chitlins
For those who don't know, chitlins are the intestines of a pig that have been cleaned and cooked. They are a Southern delicacy that has been around for generations.
Some people love them, while others can't stomach the thought of eating them. I eat them once a year if I'm home at my mom's for the holidays. My mom makes them every New Year's along with the traditional collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. I don't personally cook them anymore as it's a lotta work and they will smell up your house for at least a week.
When it comes to beef, there are many different cuts that you can choose from. One option that you may not have tried before is beef oxtail. Black folk go nuts when they are on a restaurant menu. It's definitely an ethnic thing as oxtail is a popular soul food in Filipino, Caribbean, American South, and Chinese cultures.
Oxtail is a cut of beef that comes from the tail of the cow. It is a versatile cut of meat that can be used in a variety of dishes. When cooked properly, beef oxtail is tender and full of flavor. It can be braised, stewed, or used in soups and stews.
I actually have several recipes for oxtail. My favorite is my Oxtail and Black-eyed Peas Soup but the one I make most frequently due to convenience is Cuban-inspired Instant Pot Oxtail. However, the Caribbean Oxtail recipe is the most popular on my site.
Other oxtail recipes include:
Braised Mexican-inspired Oxtail
Neck bones are a popular dish in many cultures. They are often slow-cooked to produce a tender, flavorful result. When cooked correctly, neck bones can be an extremely delicious and satisfying meal. They are close to beef shanks and short ribs in terms of the end product after a long braise netting a tender highly flavorful cut of meat.
Soul food cooking makes use of different types of neck bones in cooking. Pork, beef, and turkey necks are the most common neck bones recipes made. All three are primarily braised or stewed.
I like to make stew Pork Neck Bones in a briny base with peppers, onions, and pickled vegetables. I get fancy with beef neck bones braising them in red wine like you would for short ribs. Recipes for braised turkey necks have become increasingly popular.
Smoked neck bones, whether beef, pork, or turkey are also bought smoked frequently and used to flavor classic soul food dishes like black-eyed peas and collard greens.
Ham hocks are a type of pork product typically made from the smoked hind leg of a pig. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, but are commonly used to add flavor to soups and stews. Ham hocks are relatively inexpensive and are often sold pre-smoked.
However, they can also be challenging to find in some stores. When cooking ham hocks, it is important to simmer them gently in order to avoid tough or chewy meat. When done properly, ham hocks can add a delicious smoky flavor to any dish.
Ham hocks are used primarily to flavor dishes like these Instant Pot Ham and Beans, Southern Pinto Beans, Smothered Collard Greens, and Brazilian-style Collard Greens.
If you are looking for side dish options to pair with any of these great recipes try these 21 Side Dish Ideas.