Appalachian Food

Cooking with Fat Back

fat back onions and cornbread

Laurel Branch

Salt pork plays a fat part in mountain cookery. Many of the old-time recipes call for it. Some folks are so fond of it fried that they turn up their nose at bacon.

For some reason, mountain folks put great store by fat pork. It has figured prominently in their diet since time out of mind. To mountain folks, it is known by many names.

The fat pork that is fried or used for seasoning boiled vegetables is called salt pork, fat back, side meat, middlin’ meat, or sowbelly. Mountain folks refer to it mostly as fat back.

They season most vegetables with it, especially string beans, black-eyed peas, cabbage, and greens.

“Green beans ain’t fit to eat unless they’ve been cooked with a chunk of fat back,” said Mrs. Fannie Hensley, an old-time cook who lives in the hills above Dillsboro. “They ain’t got no taste. I’ve cooked with fat back all my life. My mother cooked with it and so did her mother. I’ve never been without it. I’ve got some out there in the smokehouse now. I always boil my beans, potatoes, cabbage, and turnip greens with a chunk of fat back. and when I fix wilted lettuce, I fry the grease out of the fat back and pour it over it. That’s the only way I ever fixed lettuce that was fit to eat. We fry fat back and eat it too. We’d just as soon have it as ham.”

“Now Bert,” she said referring to her husband, “he won’t hardly eat ham meat, but he surely goes for fried streaked meat.”

—John Parris – “Cooking With Fat Back”

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We are fans of salt pork at the Blind Pig house. I’ve most often heard it called streaked meat, side meat, and fat back.

Tipper

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    February 29, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    We called it side meat and it appeared at at least one meal every day. No draining on paper towels either, the platter of side meat was swimming in grease. The grease was used for cooking and seasoning, side meat was always added to beans and green beans. A big breakfast was eaten after morning chores and milking. Nothing beats side meat, eggs, potatoes, and biscuits. In summer we added big slabs of sliced tomatoes. We grew up on homegrown maters, so good. All our food was organic too, who knew!

    On butchering day the women were in the house, boys and men did the work. My job was to cut lard. We always had pork tenderloin for dinner. It was great!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 24, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    Tipper,
    I had an appointment today with my eye doctor, Dr. Eichenbaum. After he checked my eyes, he said that my eyes hadn”t changed any as far as he could tell, since the last time I was there. Since he’s my Commissioner also, we talked Politics.

    James Hooper’s dad, had a hog buchered and sent me the ham hocks to go in my Pinto Beans. James said his parents were both in their nintys and couldn’t cook Pintos without burning them, so they sent them to me. I went to both of their Funerals.

    But James’ dad, (can’t remember his name), came over here one time and he took little bitty steps. I said “I thought I was going to have to get my transit out, to see whether you was coming or going.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Gigi
    February 24, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Matter of fact, I just fixed some of that streated meat with biscuits and gravy and eggs Saturday morning. O it was so good. Salty but good. Not good for my blood pressure but I ate it anyway. Aint nothing like adding a piece of it to a big pot of soup beans. I love it. Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 24, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve always thought that fat back came off the hog’s back, side meat came from the side and sowbelly aka middlin, streaked meat, bacon, came from the belly. We used to salt cure all these cuts along with the jowls (some people call it hogjaw) and either fry them or cut them up for seasoning other dishes. The fat from the shoulder and hams got ground into sausage. That is pretty much the whole hog except the liver, sweetbreads and the brains. At our house the liver got made into livermush, the sweetbreads and brains got given away if anyone would take them, otherwise the dogs got a treat.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 24, 2020 at 11:10 am

    My family loves fat back. I would give most anything for a plate of crisply fried fatback and biscuits & gravy. Mama’s was so good! She always said to pick out your bacon with the most fat–good advice as the fat will get crisp & not tough like the lean part can sometimes.

    I guess the leaner pigs popular now make it hard to find and when I do it’s pieces have so little they’re not really worth the effort. Wish I could find some from a fat pig!!

  • Reply
    LC BARN
    February 24, 2020 at 10:15 am

    only way to cook, with a taste ! Fatback biscuits for breakfast is truly the way to make your day. I either have a fatback biscuit or a Hog jowel biscuit each morning. Hog jowel’s are hard to find any more.

  • Reply
    Dee
    February 24, 2020 at 9:57 am

    My grandparents and parents cooked with fat back. Heard it called salt pork and streaked meat. It definitely makes what ever you cook it with – green beans, black eyed peas, collards, etc., delicious!!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 24, 2020 at 9:57 am

    I was raised on cured pork, the first steak I ever ate was at an Athletic Banquet when I was in the ninth grade. I still love fatback fried crisp and the grease used for Kilt Lettuce of over Bean and Chestnut Bread, neither are fitten to eat without it also seasons Green Beans well.

  • Reply
    Nathan
    February 24, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Is this like salt bacon. I had an uncle that had it on his table every meal. Lived to be 89 and had no problems with blood pressure or heart problems. Stuff was so salty it burned the inside of the mouth until one got the first bite down. After that it was good.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 24, 2020 at 9:05 am

    Fat back sure was a favorite at our house when I was a child. Middlins is what I remember Mom calling the meat. I don’t fry any meat or use pork fat like I used to when I cooked for my ex-husband who pouted or threw something if he didn’t have at least one meal a day swimming in grease. I agree that green beans and killed lettuce ain’t fit to eat if it ain’t fixed with some fat back.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 24, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Tipper–We knew (and know) it as streaked meat, and apparently the name usage varies regionally or even on a quite local level. Whatever the case, Momma and Grandma would no more have thought of cooking a whole bunch of different things, from vegetables fresh out of the garden to dried beans, without using it.
    I might add that I am mighty partial to a piece or two fried crisp and inserted in a slice of cornbread. Come to think of it, a crispy slice or two with a mater fresh from the garden makes mighty fine fixin’s as well.
    Then there’s gravy made from the grease when it’s fried–cholesterol-laden paradise.

    The long and short of it is you and John Parris have, as the late Jerry Clower would have put it, “done flung a cravin’ on me.” You’ve got my salivary glads running in involuntary overdrive.

    Jim Casada

    • Reply
      Sanford McKinney Jr
      February 24, 2020 at 4:12 pm

      Jim,
      Let’s have some young onions with the meat, maters and cornbread. As someone once said, “That would make your tongue slap your face!”

    • Reply
      b. Ruth
      March 21, 2020 at 3:17 pm

      Jim…Yes…we call it streaked meat here, if it has even just a tiny line of lean running thru it…Fatback if it is a solid chunk of white fat..LOL Are you adding the fried streaked meat to a big old hunk of cracklin’ bread..LOL

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 24, 2020 at 8:31 am

    It was mostly lard by my growing up years, though fat back was used some, especially with pinto beans. The big reason was the need for a cooking oil. There really aren’t a lot of ‘homegrown’ choices, hence the practice of raising hogs. Nowadays we have lots of choices; olive oil, canola, sunflower, etc. In pioneer days, it was bear. I expect necessity with routine use and no alternative became preference.

    • Reply
      Mary Lou McKillip
      February 24, 2020 at 9:18 pm

      This talk brings back memories and stir my taste bud spinning. I love biscuits made with pure Lard. I was a eight year old at hog killing time I would cook dinner and fried tenderloin and liver and a pan of biscuits and scrambled eggs and a large bowl of milk gravy. My Truman doesn’t eat pork and has me eating like he does but what I’d give for some fresh hog meat
      Meat and biscuits and gravy

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    February 24, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Wouldn’t dream of making black-eyed peas, pintos, green beans, etc. without fat back! I also like to add a smoked hock if I can find one in the store. I’ve been able to initiate many a friend and coworker up here in Michigan into the ways to eat peas and beans where they actually TASTE good. Before, I’ve been told they wouldn’t touch ’em due to them not having any flavor.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney Jr
    February 24, 2020 at 8:07 am

    Tipper.
    We always butchered two hogs each year when I was growing up on Upper Shell Creek, Carter County, TN and am familiar with the descriptions, “fatback, side meat and streaked meat”. We never used the description “side meat” that I can remember, but do remember hearing others using that description. I believe the secret to making this meat delicious was to fry it good and brittle?
    We almost always had a pone of cornbread to consume with the meat. I think pone was the name given to unleavened cornbread , but ours surely wasn’t unleavened. It was sure to have some of the lard off the meat poured into the mixture.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 24, 2020 at 7:44 am

    All my life we used it! If it was just fat we called it fatback, if it had a streak of meat through we called it streaked meat. We used it in pots of beans always. We also fired it and ate it with a meal like meat. I have also cut it in small pieces, fried it crisp and stirred it to cornbread before baking. Kind of like cracklin’ cornbread.
    Your picture, Tip, captures it perfectly!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 24, 2020 at 6:54 am

    That is how I was taught to cook. Sadly I csn’t eat this way snymore

  • Reply
    Donald R. Byers
    February 24, 2020 at 6:13 am

    Isn’t there an old song called “Sidemeat and Cabbage”??? My folks used to call it middlin’ or sidemeat.

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