Rendering Fats at Home Primer, Lesson One

Tower of Fats

Despite the bad rap from conventional medicine and most nutritionists, fats from animals raised on pasture are of great benefit to human health.

Saturated fats play many important biologic roles. They are an integral component of cell membranes, which are 50 percent saturated fat. Lung surfactant is composed entirely, when available, of one particular saturated fat, 16-carbon palmitic acid. Properly made with this fat, it prevents asthma and other breathing disorders. For nourishment, heart muscle cells prefer saturated long-chain palmitic and 18-carbon stearic acid over carbohydrates. Saturated fats are required for bone to assimilate calcium effectively. They help the liver clear out fat and provide protection from the adverse effects of alcohol and medications like acetaminophen. Medium-chain saturated fats in butter and coconut oil, 12-carbon lauric acid and 14-carbon myristic acid, play an important role in the immune system. They stabilize proteins that enable white blood cells to more effectively recognize and destroy invading viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and also fight tumors. Saturated fatty acids function as signaling messengers for hormone production, including insulin. And saturated fats signal satiety. Not surprisingly, given all these biological functions, saturated fats make up 54 percent of the fat in mother’s breast milk (monounsaturated fats are 39 percent; and polyunsaturated fats, a tiny 3 percent). (Health Benefits of a Low-Carbohydrate, High-Saturated Fat Diet, by Donald W. Miller, Jr., MD).

And he didn’t even mention all the fat soluble vitamins!

While you may already know about the benefits of animal fats in the diet, rendering is not a skill most of us learned from our mothers, is it? The basics of rendering lard (pork fat), tallow (beef fat), schmaltz (chicken fat), ghee (butter fat), sheep fat, duck fat and goose fat are all the same, but you can use a variety of techniques to achieve the same result. In the coming weeks, I’ll post of series of rendering how-tos and show you different methods that you can use in your kitchen. In this series, I’ll cover rendering fats from fowl, cleaning drippings and broth skimmings, and making ghee. In today’s post, I’ll demonstrate how I render lard, but the method is the same for fats from beef, bison, and lamb as well.

Lard, Tallow, Bison, and Lamb Fat

Fat from the carcass of an animal contains more than just fat. There may be blood, connective tissue, skin, or meat with the fat as well as some of water. These other substances can cause fat to go rancid, lower a fat’s smoke point, or cause it to sputter when heated. The goal of rendering fat is to purify it, removing the non-fat so that it will keep for a long time and be useful for higher temperature cooking.

In a nutshell, rendering requires three different phase changes: the fat liquifies, the proteins solidify, and the water evaporates. Once the water turns to vapor, the proteins and other solids are removed using a filter and all that remains is pure fat.

About five pounds of leaf lard

The cleanest fat for rendering comes from around the organs of an animal, this is known as leaf lard or suet when it comes from a pig or a cow, respectively. As you can see from the picture above, the unrendered leaf lard has no meat or skin. You can render fats from trimmings or the fat back, but remove as much of the meat as you can before you start (leave the skin on if you want fried rinds). Cut the fat into cubes.

Cubed lard

Add a bit of water, about 2-4 tablespoons per pound of fat, to prevent the fat from burning to the bottom of the cooking vessel. Cook in a slow cooker, oven set to 250F, or on the stove over a medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Stir occasionally, scraping any bits that are stuck to the bottom or sides of your pan. Slow and low is the key, which is why I prefer using my slow cooker. Its gentle heat is perfect for rendering these fats. Try to keep the fat at around 220F to 250F (use a candy thermometer), hot enough to boil off any water, but not so hot that the proteins will burn.

Cracklins!

Cook until the fat is melted, all sputtering has stopped (which means all the water has evaporated), and all that remains are solid pieces of well fried skin or cracklings. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit before filtering. You can eat the cracklings yourself, feed them to your chickens, or mix them with peanut butter and birdseed as a treat for birds and other backyard wildlife.

Filter set up: canning funnel with a sieve, which can be lined with a bit of cloth

I store my fats in wide-mouth pint and half-pint canning jars, which are suitable for freezing. I save a step by filtering directly into jars by setting a cloth-lined sieve in a canning funnel. The sieve stays in place on its own, freeing both my hands.

Filtering lard

Don’t pour fat directly from heat into a jar! Fat can get quite hot and thermal shock can break jars, so always allow the fat to cool for a few minutes before jarring it up. Top the jar with a canning lid and ring while the fat is still hot and it should create a vacuum seal.

Expect to get almost one pint of rendered fat from every pound of clean, unrendered organ fat. Yields may be lower with trimmings and fat back.

Liquid Gold

While still hot and liquid, fats will appear golden, but as they cool they’ll turn creamy white, as shown in the photo at the top of this post. Properly rendered lard will keep in the fridge for months, in the freezer for years. I know that rendered fats will keep for some time on the counter, but usually keep unopened jars in my freezer, opened jars in the fridge, and just what I’ll use up that week on the stove.

The rendered fats of pork, beef, bison and lamb are solid at room temperature due to their percentage of saturated fats. Beef tallow and bison fat can be brittle at fridge temperature, while lard tends to remain soft, like shortening (which was marketed as a replacement for lard in the early 20th century). Lamb fat is softer than beef fat, but harder than lard at room temp. Lard is preferred for pastry dough, while tallow is wonderful for high-temperature frying–potatoes are especially good fried in tallow. Thanks to its naturally moisturizing lanolin, sheep tallow is particularly good for making soap, but you can use any fat.

There you have it! Start your rendering!

About Chris

I am a personal chef and cooking instructor with a deep and personal interest in healing with whole foods. I started Lost Arts Kitchen so I could share what I have learned about preparing real food on a real budget while living a real life.
This entry was posted in DIY food, local food. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Rendering Fats at Home Primer, Lesson One

  1. Durga Fuller says:

    Lol! Love the tower of fats!

  2. Honey says:

    Oh MY GOSH!!!! I’m a recent Vegan that’s turned to traditional foods. I went to a WAP meeting and they mentioned there would be a fats meeting come this summer. As a Vegan I was TOTALLY LOST. And, today I open my reader and voila! There you are! I’m so excited to read all this.

    At the meeting they were saying you’d need to freeze and refrigerate the lard. I don’t have room to store the fat in our fridge/freezer combo. We’re getting ready to start the GAPS diet as my son is on the spectrum. I asked about canning the fat after rendering and no one had an answer. I was worried to try as organic, pastured fats are EXPENSIVE? Could you can and store the fat in the pantry after pouring the fat in and the lids forming a vaccume seal?

    Also, there was talk about burning the fat and you mentioned it too. Couldn’t you simply use a double boiler to melt the fat? The water would prevent burning but would allow the fat to melt…What’s your opinion?

    Honey

    • Honey says:

      Oh…any way you could add a feed option? I’ve unsub’d from all my email and moved it to reader for simplification of life and the great search options. PLEASE!…add a follow feed option besides the email….

      Honey

    • Chris says:

      I haven’t tried storing it at room temperature myself, except for what I’m using and expect to use up quickly. I have read that it won’t keep at room temperature, that the fat becomes rancid after a few months. I just don’t know how you would know for sure that the fat hadn’t gone rancid. Some people are very sensitive to the smell of rancid fats, but not everyone is.

      If you can swing it, a deep freeze makes buying meat in bulk possible and if you buy a whole animal or go in with a group on one, you get to keep all the fat and bones. With all the meat, etc., that you will need for GAPS, a freezer can be a great economy.

      • Honey says:

        Thanks for the reader but its not working…it just shows the blog again….like refreshing would do.

        My google reader is waiting to pop you in the traditional foods file!

        Honey

  3. Patty Hicks says:

    Chris, I’ve never seen anyone make even fats look pretty in jars but you have. Loved the post. I’m inspired!

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