Sunday, February 26, 2012

Render Lard and Tallow - It's too easy!

Rendering lard or tallow at home may seem strange, old fashioned, or even unhealthy. It's isn't any of these, it's so easy. In today's world, it's a lost art. Once you try it you'll never go back to buying a container of shortening again.  Also, If you promise not to  tell,  I'll give away my secret.  Wait, is anybody listening, or looking over your shoulder. Ok, if it's all clear I'll give the best kept secret.

The only cost is the electricity or gas for your stove, crock pot, or oven. That's it. Fat is free. Just take a trip to Macey's and ask for fat, beef or pork. You won't be charged for it. That's the big secret. Don't tell, because this is my personal stash for FREE FAT

Myself, I don't use pork because it doesn't like me. Just like I don't eat Pork. As for your chicken fat or turkey fat, it's easy. Should I say it makes the best tasting pastry. I love it for my pumpkin pies and meat pies; either hand or casserole. Once you taste the pastry or even french fries fried in tallow you'll never want to go back to shortening or vegetable Oil. Just like people who use butter for their pastry, look askance at any pastry made with shortening.
I also find the schmaltz to be utterly delicious when using it to fry "Chicken Fried Steak" or as a start with "Chicken Piccata". Once you start using, schmaltz, tallow, or lard you'll think what was I ever thinking when I used shortening. My first experience with real fat, was when I was staying at my Grandmothers home as a teenager while my parents were on vacation. (I was working and couldn't get the time off.) She made me pancakes and cooked them in bacon drippings. From that day on I was hooked.  My mom had warned me about her using the drippings, and said I probably wouldn't like them. Oh, she was wrong, so very wrong!

I keep my rendered fat in the refrigerator when I have small amounts, but when I'm doing a large load I render it, strain it, and put it in clean canning jars. The lard or tallow can be stored in a cool location for a year or longer. Just make sure you have poured the fat almost to the top, and then seal it with your lids and rings. Nothing else to it. The reason you want the fat almost to the top, is because you want to keep the air out, thus keeping your fat from oxidizing. Who wants rancid fat? Not me. That's the stuff you buy at the grocery store. 

Rendering lard and beef tallow is the same process.

Lard and Tallow has a long history. Lard has been the mainstay fat in Asia, Mexico, and South American. Think of all the tasty foods these cultures have; the fried rice, tamales, won ton, refried beans, and so much more! All of our favorites are always made with lard or tallow. You just can't get the same wonderful taste or texture with shortening or vegetable oils. 

You may still be asking yourself, just what is lard or tallow. We've all heard of it. Lard is simply rendered fat from pigs. Tallow is the rendered fat from horses, cows, sheep, or buffalo. These fats are very stable, and will last for such a long time in the refrigerator, or freezer; but are also shelf stable when stored properly. You don't want to be storing them in the garage or attic in the middle of a blazing summer. It's just commonsense on storing them.  All of the natural animal based fats will last a long time in the refrigerator, cold room, etc. Another bonus is that they all have a high smoke point, making them great for any type of frying. Think french fries! Love those tallow fried potatoes!

I'm sure many of you are thinking that canola oil, or cottonseed, or corn, or soybean oils also have a high smoke point and you are right. I'm not going to go into my litany of why these are unhealthy for you.  Just do a Internet search on what canola oil is. Ever hear of an industrial penetrating oil? Even insects stay away from rapeseed - that's what canola is. There is no such thing as a Canola plant. Ever seen a bunch of canola flowers at the store? Nope, never. Why? Because Canola stands for Canada Oil. Canada Oil is just rapeseed, a toxin. These highly manufactured oils are horrible for your body. They don't have the fat soluble vitamins found in tallow, lard, or schmaltz. They easily go rancid, and one of the worst things about them... they are mostly made with GMO (Genetically Modified) crops.

I too also thought that Tallow, Schmaltz, or Lard was bad for you. I've seen the propaganda against them too. But, after doing research for myself, I learned that it is simply a ploy from manufactures to get you to purchase and use their waste products from manufacturing. What a better way to get rid of garbage than to sell it as a healthy fat. That is a great advertising campaign if I ever saw one.  

I found this to be interesting, according to Sally Fallon Morell, the first recorded heart attack in America was in 1921 (Source: Local Forage). This is just ten years after Crisco (hydrogenated cottonseed oil) and fifty years after margarine (clarified vegetable fat) were introduced to the American people. That is eye popping, or should I say a heart stopping coincidence? I found that you can read more about the history of cooking oil and disease in American by clicking on the following link.  The Oiling of America

I found many health benefits that are associated with using Saturated Fats such as lard, tallow, or schmaltz in your diet. The benefits are really long, but I'm making it a tad shorter in the interest of time.
  • Enhances the immune system
  • Builds and strengthens bones and teeth (preventing cavities and osteoporosis)
  • Provides energy and structural integrity to the cells
  • Protects the liver
  • Enhances the body’s use of essential fatty acids
  • Doesn't become rancid easily
  • Doesn't call upon the body’s reserves of antioxidants
  • Doesn't initiate cancer
  • Doesn't irritate the artery walls
Those all sound like major pluses to me!

I'm sure you have all seen the buckets of lard on the supermarket shelf or refrigerated section. I used to purchase those myself; and it is shelf stable for years. I've since found out that it's stability is because they add flour to the lard then hydrogenate the whole thing.  I don't purchase those because it is partially hydrogenated, which we know makes it full of trans fats, which we all know are known to cause heart disease and cancer. Exactly what we are trying to avoid.

Of course the best would be fat from animals that live on pasture, like "grass-fed". If they are animals that live their lives highly confined then they won't be getting the vitamin D in their fat that is really important to our health too.

Now on to How To Render Lard, Tallow, or Schmaltz

Remember this is super easy. I render in the oven, because I can forget about it as I go about my work for the day.
There are three ways to render, and each of them work perfectly.

The Crock Pot method is great for the summer so you don't heat up the house. Or if you are planning on roasting or baking on the day in question, you still have the use of your oven. It too is another set it and forget about it method. A pound of fat will take anywhere from 1-2 hours to render. If you are doing a larger batch of course it's much longer, which stands to reason. When you are straining the fat you'll see it is a beautiful golden color, but when it hardens and cools it turns to white if it's lard or a lovely cream color if it's tallow. Schmaltz is a beautiful golden yellow.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Cast iron or enamel pan or stockpot, or crock pot
Metal strainer
Coffee filter, paper towel or cheesecloth
Wide-mouth mason jars (make sure you use wide-mouth for tallow — it’s hard to get the tallow out of narrow jars)


Fat (uncooked) - If you want the quickest most effective rendering, then either chop the fat into small pieces or grind it.
Optional: Water (1/2 cup per pound)

Method 1: Rendering Lard or Tallow on the Stovetop

1. Place the pan on the stove.
2. Add the fat. Some people choose to grind it or chop it up.  Whole large pieces will take much longer.
3. Add the water (optional). I don't use water.
4. Set the heat on the lowest possible setting. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally.
5. Cook until you’re left with mostly clear or golden liquid with bits of hardened stuff on top.
6. Remove from heat and strain into a mason jar through a metal strainer lined with a coffee filter, paper towel or cheesecloth.

Method 2: Rendering Lard or Tallow in the Oven - this is the method I use.

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. I find that it takes forever at 200, so I usually raise it to 300 degrees.
2. Place the fat into the pan.
3. Add the water (optional).
4. Cook until you’re left with mostly clear or golden liquid with bits of hardened stuff on top.
5. Remove from heat and strain into a mason jar through a metal strainer lined with a coffee filter, paper towel or cheesecloth.

Method 3: Rendering Lard or Tallow in the Crock pot

1. Place the fat into the crock pot.
2. Add the water (optional).
3. Set the crock pot on low heat.
4. Cook until you’re left with mostly clear or golden liquid with bits of hardened stuff on top.
5. Remove from heat and strain into a mason jar through a metal strainer lined with a coffee filter, paper towel or cheesecloth.

The small bits that are left over after you render the fat - IF you have ground it or chopped it into small pieces - can be used as toppings on casseroles or salads. The pork bits can be used like bacon crumbles.

When I roast a turkey or chicken I drain the fat into a glass bowl or jar, refrigerate and when it is cool scoop the thick fat layer off. This is schmaltz. The gelatinous layer at the bottom is wonderful to use for gravies. I scoop it into pint jars and pressure can it. The bones of the turkey or chicken are then placed in water and cooked down for a few hours making the best broth. Broth without MSG!

This is all it takes to render fat. Rendering is so simple, yet its a lost art of just a generation or two previously.

The Pastured rendered lard is a fantastic source of vitamin D and monounsaturated fat. Which is the same fatty acid found in olive oil or avocados. We know how much that is trumpeted for its benefits to cardiovascular health.  It is strange that lard has been made to be a villain when its fatty acid profile and vitamin content has such merit.  Like so many wholesome, nourishing fats, lard, tallow, and schmaltz has has been pushed to the outer reaches and been labeled as uncouth, but it’s quickly making a well earned come back. Learning how to render fat is worth your effort both in terms of its redeeming nutritional value as well as enjoying the wealth of healthy benefits available to you.  Hogs, and their nutrient-dense fat, are widely available.

Enjoy your new found skill and use your freshly rendered lard, tallow, or schmaltz in pastries or as a fat for braising vegetables or seasoning meats. Once you do you will have found a taste, texture, and health benefit you adore. You won't go back to commercial fats in a tub or bottle.

Or if you have a few spare moments you could make a tallow centerpiece for your next get together or wedding reception. 

For a nice step by step look at Rendering Lard click on this Mother Earth News article.

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