Fair warning: this is a picture-rich post about how our family renders our own lard from raw pork fat.
When we order our year's meat supply, it comes with fat. We believe in using up as much of the animal as we can. That means learning new skills and being creative – like figuring out how to get liver into our diet. We've been dragging our feet on dealing with the fat. In the end stages of Baby-Bug's pregnancy our midwife mentioned that she had been reading up on beef tallow and lard. She was thrilled with the shelf stability and nutritional profile, as well as the ease of rendering.
Sitting around with newborn Baby-Bug, we received our yearly side-order, including a large amount of both beef and pork fat. We had to do something with it – the freezer was already packed full. In a moment of synchronicity, Papa-Bug put on an episode of NPR's Planet Money that was all about the history of lard. It was fascinating. It's really worth a listen (maybe while making lard?):
We were inspired.
Within a week we had processed both pork lard and beef tallow, refining the process as we learned. We've got it down now, and our tastes have adjusted to the flavor differences in our food that came with using different fats. In four months we used up our first batch of lard and had to make more. Here's how we did that.
This is 8-ish pounds of pork back fat and our meat grinder. We chopped the fat in our first batch, but the cracklins were too big to be super munchy, and didn't render as fully as we wanted them to. Now we grind. We love our hand grinder, but a meat grinding attachement on a stand mixer, or a food processor would also work well.
Make sure you wear clothes you can get fat stains on, or a good apron.
Cut the fat up, removing any meat scraps, so that it will fit in the grinder. You can also finely chop your fat, but that takes a long time and doesn't result in as good a product.
Grind and grind and grind. You want the pieces/grindings to end up fairly fine and uniform in size. If you are planning on eating cracklins later, you will probably also want them to be mostly uniform in shape. The smaller, the tastier for cracklins. That's another reason to grind!
You might need a helper…Baby-Bug likes to watch things like grinders go round and round. And we like getting our kids involved in food and where it comes from early.
The ground fat is…oogy looking. It has little smell and is greasy, of course. But most of the yuck factor for me was in the look of it. I'm over that now.
Load all that ground fat into your slow cooker. Add a quarter cup of water. The eight pound lump we started with fit very well into our large, round cooker. What makes this work so well for us is our cooker's “warm” setting. It's not hot enough to cook, it's just keeps it warm and melting overnight.
We put it on high for an hour or so, just to get it going, then switch it to warm over night. I check it when I get up and usually bump it up to low to finish it off. What you're watching for are foamy bubbles – that's the water cooking off, leaving the fat pure. In the picture below you can see the foam in the top right. If you see that in your own slow cooker, your fat isn't rendered yet!
When the bubbles are clear and shiny, your fat has magically turned into lard. It's ready to be strained and jarred.
I don't have a picture of the straining. Something about pouring hot fat made me want to focus and get it poured quickly – before a kid jostled my elbow. I poured it through a mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. I let the cracklins sit over the bowl draining for about a half hour, then set them to the side.
While my strainer finished draining, I gathered up clean jars and lids, a towel to work on (a rag towel that can get fat-stained), my canning funnel, and ladle. Carefully, carefully, I ladled the melted lard into jars and capped each one. I used 8 & 12 oz. jars, though pints would have worked too.
When I leave the lard straining, impurities settle to the bottom. Leaf lard (not what I made here) is pure white and almost flavorless. The lard I ladled from the top of the bowl was much lighter gold than the lard from the bottom. The darker lard is much more flavorful, which can be good or bad depending on your recipe.
I ended up with about a gallon of lard from the 8 pounds of fat. It sat and cooled on the table, turning from golden to white. I store an open jar in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. It's stable in the fridge for 3-4 months.
But we aren't done yet! Go get those reserved cracklins.
Spread them out on a cookie sheet and put them in a 350* oven.
Watch them brown. Mine took about 25 minutes. They go from a semi-gelatinous mass to a crunchy products – deserving of heir name.
When they are dark brown and smelling good, use a slotted spoon to put them back in the strainer. Pour the draining, and remaining, lard into a jar. This lard will be very dark in comparison. And very, very good for cooking eggs and potatoes.
Store the cracklins in a jar in the fridge. Use the to garnish things. We put them on soups, salads, in mixed nuts & trail mix, to top casseroles. This 8 pound batch made a quart jar of cracklins. They aren't going to last long.
So that's it. It's a process, but a very simple one. Your local butcher, or The Deck Family Farm, would probably be happy to hook you up with some fat for cheap, or even free. It's currently an unused by product for lots of butchers.
Before I close the post, I have a couple of things to say about tallow and cleaning.
Tallow is rendered from beef fat, but the process is exactly the same. Tallow is more yellow and has a longer shelf stability. We store it in the pantry instead of the fridge. It's also a very firm fat – like cold butter even when kept at room temperature. It's flavor is very different from lard, and as we continue to explore cooking with these animal fats, we are finding that each recipe really has it's “own” fat that works best.
And cleaning… Oh, those greasy pieces! Rub down the pieces with dish soap before any water touches the ft. The soap breaks down the fat and then water can rinse it off. If you get your pieces wet first, let them dry and then hit them with soap.