By and large, I think our dogs are pretty content. They are with their people most of the day, they get to sniff around at all the rich odeurs on the farm (and, believe me, this alone makes those tails wag, wag, wag), AND they get homemade crispy pork dog treats. They are the ones responsible for giving the tails up or tails down to any dog treats that we sell through the farm stand.
We started selling Crunchy Pastured Pork Pieces as a way of using up hog skins and ears left over after processing. We’ve been trying to find ways to use every part of the animals we raise and these homemade dog treats have been very popular. [Bizarre side note: people will pay more for dog treats (per pound) than they will for most cuts of quality meat purchased for human consumption. I’m not exactly sure what that says about our society, our pets, and our relationship to good food, but it is fascinating to see what people will spend on Fido. I hasten to add I am no better in this regard. But yes, that was an interesting thing to ponder as the pork crispies flew off the shelves!]
If you want to make your own, it isn’t that difficult.
1. Obtain pork skin. Around here, this is usually a waste product after slaughter – if you don’t process your own hogs (ours are done at a local approved slaughterhouse) ask a local butcher if it would be possible to have skins saved for you. Some butchers carry this because pork skin is also used to make pork cracklings for humans. This seems to be a regional thing, though, as it’s a lot harder to find in some places than others. If this sounds like something you’d love to try (or miss sorely because you grew up with it but now live somewhere that nobody has ever heard of pork cracklings), here’s a link to a recipe by Michael Symon. There’s also a how-to video, though I can’t watch it because I’m outside the USA. THAT is so annoying! But I digress – back to the dog treats.
2. You can either bake the skins first and break them up into pieces later or cut the skins into strips first and then bake them. The dogs don’t seem to mind either way, but if you are the sort of person who likes to have everything uniform, then it’s a lot easier to get the treats to be the same size and shape if you cut them before baking. A sharp pair of kitchen scissors works well. Breaking the cooked skins up after the fact is quicker, but definitely results in a more randomly shaped collection of snacks.
3. Brush both sides of the pork lightly with cooking oil. If you like, you can sprinkle a little garlic powder over the oil-coated skin. **
4. Place skin on cookie racks on baking sheets (to catch the drips). Bake at 175 degrees F (yes, a warm oven will do the trick) for about 10 hours. This will vary a bit depending on how thick the skin is, how much fat was still on the pork when you start, and how crispy you want the snacks to be. We try to stay just this side of too crispy.
5. After baking, scrape off as much of the remaining fat as you can and then use paper towels to wipe off any excess cooking oil. Warning: This part of the process leaves you feeling somewhat greasy… However, skip this step at your peril. Too much fat and oil has an unpleasant effect on the digestive system of the dog… Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you cooked the skin in larger pieces, this is the time to break them up. Don’t make the treats too small to minimize the chance of your dog choking: they get a little excited when they get hold of these.
6. Present a divine gift to your dog. Most likely, your dog has been sitting at your feet drooling during the fat-scraping stage and shouldn’t be too hard to find.
** There is some debate over how safe garlic is for your pets. This article looks at the pros and cons. If you are at all concerned, please leave the garlic powder off.
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