The Week of Rendering


Every winter, we try to get some pig fat, and render the lard for my year's-worth of cooking.  Last year, I didn't really pay attention, but I probably rendered 1-2 dozen jars of lard, and put them in the freezer.  I use that almost exclusively for cooking (there's a few things that just have to be sauteed in butter, but otherwise it's lard for us), so I go through quite a bit in a year.  About 2 weeks ago, I realized that we were about out of cold weather to be cooking down large pots of fat, so I told Caleb to see about getting some.  He did so, coming home a few days later with a trash bag of 42 pounds of it!  We know a game processor who also butchers hogs for people, so he will give us the fat for the asking.  I rendered it down, and out of curiosity actually tracked everything.  I used pint jars exclusively (larger ones tend to start smelling a little off by the bottom of the jar when kept on the counter) and weighed the first few to determine that a very full pint of lard weighs 13.5 ounces.  The 42 pounds of fat turned into 39 pints, or 33 pounds, with 5.5 pounds of cracklins left over for some very happy dogs (we do ration that out over a number of days!)  Then, this past week Caleb happened to talk to the meat processor again, and he said that they were shutting down until fall, and he had some more fat he was just going to throw away.  So Caleb went and got 3 more garbage bags full! I spent this past weekend rendering another 53 pounds of fat into 20 quarts of lard (these will be used all at once for soaping), plus 2 batches of lard soap, then a triple batch on Tuesday, and there's still a bowl of it on the counter waiting to turn into more soap.  

In case you're wondering how to render lard, it's really pretty simple.  If you look up "how to render lard" in books or on the internet, the directions are all pretty much the same, so I won't go into great detail, except for the part I do differently :)  Directions usually start with dicing or grinding the big chunks of fat so they cook out quickly and evenly.  When I am dealing with 2 canners-full, I don't have time for that.  I just throw it all in the pot, pack it in as snugly as I can, and put it either on the woodstove (ideal) or low heat on the stove.  

I let it cook as long as it takes, often overnight on the woodstove, and once the fat starts rising noticeably, I begin ladling it out into jars.  I've seen coffee filters referred to as good strainers - not in my experience.  They clog over quickly, and then slow to a bare drip.  I use a bandana or something even tighter woven, or paper towels.  Even my milking strainer cloths are too open a weave, it really needs to be pretty tight to get a beautiful amber-clear (cools to white) lard strained out.  

When I've ladled out the majority of the liquid fat, I take a potato masher to the remaining pieces of fat and crush everything.  Keeping it whole until this point really helps with the straining - until the mashing, there's almost nothing transferring to the strainer, it all stays in the pot.  Once it's crushed up, there's a lot more little bits that just want to get in the ladle and end up clogging the filter.  

Then, I just keep cooking it until there's nothing left but browned crunchy "cracklins", and I dump that all in the strainer to drain as much as possible.  Ta da!  That's it :) 

I should also address the health side of things.  I believe real lard is very healthy - and I'm not the only one!  To distinguish, though, the shelf-stable stuff in the store is hydrogenated and not at all good for you, but true lard is a different thing altogether.  It is the second highest source of vitamin D behind cod liver oil; it's actually classed as an unsaturated fat; and since we're learning more about the positive aspects of saturated fats, it's content of that isn't really a negative either.  It actually has much more of the good stuff than most other fats - monounsaturated fat, omega-3's, and such.  An internet search for "lard health benefits" will turn up a number of websites with lots of great information.

Anyway, I think this absurd amount of lard will certainly be more than enough for our needs! It actually works out well, I just this week started selling laundry soap powder at the farmer's market, and a simple lard-based soap is both inexpensive, and low suds for HE washers.  Also, there's just no need for exotic, moisturizing ingredients for doing laundry - just simple cleaning power. 

In addition to all this, I have also spent the last 2 or so weeks cooking my way through most of our beef ribs.  We picked up the most recent steer from the butcher last Monday, so we have a whole new set of ribs - and the first ones had only sold a single package.  I ran across recipes for pressure-cooking them, especially suited to grassfed ribs since they can take many hours to oven-bake to true tenderness.  They are incredibly tender and juicy in the pressure cooker, though, (I can't stop nibbling as I dismantle them afterwards) and I realized that what is a liability for others - the impressive amount of fat that cooks off of them - is a valued by-product for me - tallow!  So - in addition to the 95 pounds of pork fat, I also cooked up about 50-60 pounds of beef ribs, and reduced them to a number of tupperwares of shredded meat in the freezer, several delicious BBQ dinners (and lunches), and about 7 pounds of beautiful tallow.  I still have another 20 pounds of the last set of ribs, and probably 50+ of this most recent set left to deal with - some other time :) 

The process for rendering tallow, as I do it, is quite different than for lard.  In particular, I don't start with chunks of fat.  Actually, I would, except we keep forgetting to tell the butcher to save our beef fat for us!  Next time...  Anyway, this process was pretty simple, and really could be done anytime you cook fatty meat.  I stuffed in as many ribs as would fit in my canner - about 25 pounds - and here's the key that I figured out on the second round - first I put in the wire rack for the canning jars.  It fits snugly in the canner, has handles on the sides, and when I open the canner after cooking, I just lift all the meat up with it, prop the handles at the top of the canner, and let the ribs drain of fat and cool down the whole time I'm picking them apart and separating the meat.  When that's done, I put all the fatty parts I sorted out back in, simmer it a while longer, and strain it all through a mesh strainer.  *This is the point at which you could replicate this with any fatty-meat dish, preferably grassfed.*  The liquid goes in the fridge overnight, and the fat on top is very hard in the morning, so I can easily pry it off the bone broth underneath (saved for cooking of course), scrape the underside clean, and simmer it again in water for a few minutes, and re-chill.  This time, when I break it off the top of the pot I again scrape off any impurities on the bottom and put it in the freezer.  When I have a bunch saved up, I melt it all down and strain it so that I only get one strainer and cloth covered in tallow - that stuff is not easy to get off!  It is so much harder at room temperature than lard, and takes some really hot water and lots of soap!

This tallow will be used mainly for making grass-fed tallow whipped body butter and lotions.  I've just discovered how good tallow - grassfed that is - is for skin!  Rather than going on about it here, I've put a write-up about it in the description of the grassfed tallow body butter I just got listed in my farm stand store here, as well as my Etsy shop, so check it out either of those places, or just Google "tallow whipped body butter" to find a surprising number of blog-posts about the wonders of using tallow in skincare!  


Hello again.

I must say, one thing I really enjoy is reading your posts. Pretty cool hearing about your many challenges and learning about your many skills. Hello again, this is Dan, wwoofer from the past. I just got back to TN from Alaska. I was up there for 6 weeks house sitting at friends homestead while the family went to Hawaii (I did complain a bit about not getting an invite to Hawaii. Especially when the temp hit 58 below zero! But someone has to be at the homestead.)
I've had a few adventures since meeting y'all. Another of which was a season working at the Grand Canyon. That was awesome!
It's almost Spring in Tennessee. I love this time of year, the coming warmth and new life everywhere.
I just want to say hello and wish everyone well. And to let you know that If y'all would like some help I may be available to pitch my tent and offer you some labor, maybe learn a thing or two, on and off this summer.
Best regards, Dan Dewey.

Glad you're back!

It's so great to hear from you! Alaska must've been awesome, except for the cold :). I can't blame anyone for going to Hawaii, and you've had your time there already, right? :)
We'd love to see you, hear some more stories of your adventures, come on out whenever you can!



Hi Amy....I really enjoyed reading this and I learned a lot. I did this back during the first week of February and got nine quarts and several pints. It turned out nice and white. It is good to use in just about anything. My Mom used to do this every fall. One thing that I wish I had done is to cut off the skin before melting out the fat. I will next time. I have no idea how you do all that you do. I admire you. and Caleb.

Hi Aunt Betty! Thanks for

Hi Aunt Betty! Thanks for reading! I agree, lard is good for just about everything. I've even substituted it for half the oil in a carrot cake and it was wonderful. I read recently that it is second to none in baking because it has larger fat crystals than any other fat, so it makes pastry and biscuits flaky better than anything else. Great stuff!

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