How to Make Tallow and Lard

What is Tallow, and How Do You Render It?

How to Make Tallow and Lard

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Learning how to make tallow was once a regular yearly task during slaughter. The white, firm fat produced could be used in cooking, candle making, and salves, as well as soap making. In my research for this article, I tried tallow in soap, in a solid lotion bar recipe, and as a cooking oil. All three produced excellent results. The tallow soap was hard with a creamy, moderate lather. The solid lotion bar, with tallow substituted for half of the beeswax, was creamy and smooth on the skin without a greasy after-feel. As a cooking oil, tallow produced crisp potato wedges with fluffy centers and crispy coated chicken tenders that were light and non-greasy. Tallow, as it turns out, is a multi-purpose star around the household. 

What is tallow? It is the fat from beef, goats, and most other animals, purified into a hard, white fat. Is tallow the same as lard? Some types of animal fat have different names. Pork fat becomes lard, schmaltz comes from birds, and tallow comes from most other animals. Even though there are different names for the rendered product, the process of rendering is the same. In the simplest terms, rendering fat means to melt it at a low temperature just until the meat, blood and other debris solidifies, and the water evaporates. You simply filter the solids from the liquid fat, and, once cool, you will have clean, white fat. 

How to Render Tallow 

When rendering fats, it is easier to begin the process with fat that is at least partially frozen. This makes it firmer and easier to cut out the meat, gristle, and blood-tainted areas from the plain, white fat. Try to cut out every trace of debris from the fat, as this reduces odors, flavors, and colors in your finished tallow.  

Next, cut up the fat into small pieces, while frozen, with a sharp knife. You can also use a food processor to cut up the fat, or a mincer or grinder. Your fat will definitely need to be frozen for the food processor or mincer. Then you will need to place the cleaned and cut-up fat into a large vessel for slow cooking at around 200-215 degrees F. This is hot enough to melt the fat and boil off the water, but cool enough to prevent burning the proteins in any remaining meat bits, which might give the tallow a burnt odor. Slow cookers are excellent for this purpose, if you have one. While heating, give the fat an occasional stir. Keep on cooking until you have small bits of browned “cracklings” in clear fat. Most likely, this will take several hours. It’s a project best left for a time when you will be home all day. Once finished cooking, remove the fat from the heat and let it cool a bit before filtering. Use a few layers of cheesecloth or a clean dish towel to filter into jars. Reserve the cracklings for other uses, or feed them to animals. Don’t be surprised to see that the fat, while liquid, is golden in color. It will turn white when cooled and hardened. Well-rendered fat, free of moisture, can be kept at room temperature. It also freezes indefinitely, which is my personal preference for storage.  

Strain the rendered fat into jars. As it cools, the fat will turn creamy white and become firmer. This fat will stay fresh a long time in the cupboard, although I recommend freezing for indefinite storage. Photo by Pixabay.

There are numerous tallow uses. Try using it as a cooking fat, or as an ingredient in your next soap recipe. The cracklings are delicious in cornbread, and the fat is excellent for seasoning cast iron cooking wares. The fat makes an excellent base for herbal salves, lip balms, and face creams. It is light and conditioning to the skin, with no odor when solid.  You might also try making tallow candles. Tallow can be used at up to 100% concentration in mold or dip candle recipes or can be mixed with beeswax in whatever proportions you prefer.  

Tallow vs. Lard 

Tallow and lard both have their uses in soap making and cooking. Both lend themselves to a hard, long-lasting bar of soap, stable lather, and low cleansing — which means it will not strip the skin. For other uses, it is worth taking into account that lard tends to be much softer at room temperature than tallow. For this reason, lard should be treated as the “butters” part of a lotion recipe, whereas tallow can be treated as the “hard oils or waxes” in the recipe.   

Tip: when making a lotion bar, steep your botanicals in the warm oils to infuse with gentle color. Photo by Pixabay.

In this article, we considered the practical differences in usage between tallow and lard, as well as more in-depth on the topic of using tallow in various applications. Step by step, we have traced the processing of animal fat into tallow, a simple skill which leaves little wasted. Even the cracklings make good food, mixed into a batch of buttermilk cornbread. Rendering tallow at home is a time-honored and practical skill that is easy to learn and very useful. Whether making candles, soap, or even seasoning cast iron, home-rendered tallow can be a useful part of your homestead larder.  

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