Features
What in the World Is Pork Panko?
Think bread crumbs. But instead of bread, pork rinds.
04-15-2021
Clint Worthington

If you’re going gluten-free for whatever reason—you’re on a keto diet, you have an intolerance—there’s one thing you probably miss more than anything else.

Fried foods.

Whether it’s mozzarella sticks or chicken in both cutlet and nugget form, it’s practically impossible for gluten-free folks to enjoy anything breaded and fried on account of bread crumbs being a major no-no.

But in recent times, a potential alternative has become increasingly popular for providing all the joys of crispy bread crumbs without the carbs or gluten: pork panko.

Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Pork panko, simply put, is a breading made from ground pork rinds—it’s meant to emulate the crispy coating of panko bread crumbs.

The most high-profile manufacturer is Bacon’s Heir, which touts its pork panko as having no gluten, no sugar, no carbs, and 18 grams of protein per ounce. Calorically, though, it’s definitely higher than standard panko bread crumbs. Most bread-based panko products we found were about 100 calories for 1 ounce of bread crumbs; the pork panko I used was 160 calories. 

So how does pork panko work in a practical application? Does it sufficiently replace panko bread crumbs? Does it taste as good and impart a, well, porky taste? Eyebrow arched in skepticism, I ordered a jar and got to work.

When faced with what to make with pork panko, my irony-poisoned brain could conjure only one thing: pork tonkatsu sandwiches. How wild would crispy, tender pork-on-pork katsu be? The results were unique, to say the least, and strangely delicious.

I butterflied a thick pork chop, pounded it flat, seasoned it lightly, dipped it in a beaten egg, and then breaded it with the pork panko. I fried the cutlets in a cast-iron skillet as normal. To make it truly Japanese, I topped the katsu with Kewpie mayo, tonkatsu sauce, and quick pickled cucumbers and served it on fluffy brioche (Japanese milk bread would be ideal, alas).

Pork Panko

One of the things you notice first about pork panko is that, despite its name, it doesn’t really emulate the flaky, airy texture of panko. There’s some welcome cragginess, to be sure, especially since Bacon’s Heir blitzes its pork rinds just shy of fine. But the overall look is similar to that of a pork chop breaded with normal bread crumbs.

What’s different, though, is the flavor: You get the crisp crunch you associate with bread crumbs, but there’s a salty meatiness that comes from pork panko’s status as, well, a pork product. Sure, it doesn’t 100 percent hit that panko brief, but it handily accomplishes its purpose as a bread crumb replacement. It holds nicely to whatever vehicle you’re applying it to and crisps up like nobody’s business.

Now that I’ve tried it, I’m curious to see what other crispy, porky concoctions I can come up with. How will pork-crusted mozzarella sticks hit me? What if I use them to bind pork meatballs? Maybe ham and cheese croquettes? Porky fried chicken?

To those arching their eyebrows at the idea of pork rinds as a bread crumb replacement, I hear you, believe me. But for those who can’t consume breaded fried foods for whatever reason, pork panko turns out to be an indulgent but unexpected savior.

Photos: Clint Worthington

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