Friday, November 1, 2013

Living High On The Hog: Rendering And Using Lard

I can remember, as a kid, Dad telling me about his father slaughtering pigs for their meat, and of his mother taking the fat from those animals and rendering it, in her own kitchen, to make lard. He described the big jars of pure white fat which, when poured into the clean jars hot, sealed the lids naturally and which, if stored in a cool, dark place, kept very well without processing or refrigeration.

My Dad taught me many things (and still does) but one of the best lessons was when he showed me how to make a traditional lard pie crust. Flour, lard and bit of water. It was so good, total strangers were asking me how I made the crust. Even though it was store bought lard, and not home rendered, it was excellent.

Now, I wasn't very enthused by the idea of rendering lard at the time, but when I started my self-sufficiency journey in 2010, I decided that the rendering of lard would be the simplest, easiest task I could manage in my little kitchen at home, and it was as easy as buying the fat from the grocery store (and later on the butcher shop) and using a small pan on the stove top.

So, as the Aussies say: I had a go. The result was a soft, richly flavored product that added a little something extra to my cooking. Now you can have a go, too, because I did a lot of the fancy footwork for you, and gathered all the basic need-to-know points about lard and fat in general here into this blog, just for you.

Types of "Lard"

As is usual for me learning about something new, I hit the internet and Googled "rendering lard". It came up with a few methods that looked easy enough, but it also went into fats in general. I didn't know, for instance, that tallow differed slightly from lard, and that you could render fats from other animals too, such as bear, deer, duck, goose and even chicken (assuming you had them available, of course; there are plenty of other fats that might be available regionally too).

Pork Fat
Lard is a soft fat, rendered from the fatty tissues of the pig. The quality depends on what part of the hog it was taken from, and how it was rendered (which will be discussed later).

The best lard is the "leaf lard"; it is the visceral fat that grows around the kidneys and under the loin. It has little flavor if rendered properly, and is usually used in baked goods.

"Fatback" is the thick layer of subcutaneous fat that lies between the skin and muscle. It's a softer, "B" grade of lard, and has a stronger flavor. It is, however, a perfectly fine fat for frying, or savory pastries.

The lowest grade is the "caul fat", the membrane that surrounds the digestive organs, such as the small intestines. It's often used directly as a wrapping for roast meat, or in the making of pate.

Beef Suet
Tallow is the stable fat left over from rendering suet. To get the tallow from the suet, you must first remove the blood vessels, membranes and other non-suet bits, then grate it for rendering. Suet must be refrigerated, just like meat. Tallow is slightly different from lard in composition, resulting in a hard, white fat when chilled. It can be rendered from beef, mutton (sheep), bear, or deer, and is rendered the same way lard is. It's generally taken from the fat growing around the kidneys or under the loins and has many uses, from making suet puddings, to the creation of bio-diesel. It has a high smoke point and is ideal for deep frying and pastry.

Chicken Fat
Schmaltz is fat rendered from chicken, goose or duck. It has a strong flavor, and is rendered much like tallow and lard or, even more simply, through the making of chicken soup. Like lard, it is a very soft fat. Duck fat is famous for its use in confit, and goose fat has it's uses for roasting meats and vegetables, and even making ointments.


There are two methods you can use to render lard (or other fats): Wet or Dry. Each has a slightly different result.

The fat is boiled or steamed, and skimmed off the top or (industrially) spun off in a centrifuge. Seeing as the average person doesn't have a centrifuge hanging around in the cupboard, you can heat the fat in a pot with some water and cook it until you can skim no more fat off the top. If there are little bits in the fat, I'd suggest straining through a couple layers of fine meshed cheesecloth before allowing it to set up. Wet rendered lard has a more neutral flavor (which is good if you are making sweet pastries), a lighter color, and a high smoke point, which makes it better for frying and baking.

Another way to render the large is to dry render. Cut the fat into small pieces, and place in a medium sized pot. Heat on medium or medium high until you start to get liquid fat leaching from the pieces. Stir often to keep them from sticking and burning. Soon you will have the pieces frying in a pool of liquid fat. It will spit a bit, so do be careful not to get burned. When the chunks of fat have been reduced to crispy brown bits, remove from heat and strain through a layer or two of fine meshed cheesecloth to result in a smooth, golden oil, which will set into a soft white jar of fat. Dry rendered lard has more color and flavor, but a lower smoke point, so it's a little better for sauteing things, rather than frying or baking.

Those leftover browned bits are called "crackling", and make excellent snacks!

Dry rendered lard is also known as "dripping", or "schmalz", which is a general German term for any fat that have been rendered.


Industrially produced lard is usually hydrogenated to make it shelf stable. That's not a good thing, in my opinion, no matter how low in trans-fats they might claim it to be (ideally, you don't want trans-fats at all). There's also the matter that it's treated with bleaches, deodorizers, emulsifiers, and antioxidants, in order to produce a product that can sit on a shelf at room temperature almost indefinitely, and appeal to the public, while also neatly severing them from the origin of their food.

If you are looking for a good quality lard, you must leave the "manteca" on the shelf, and look in the refrigerated section. This might be difficult in America, but I do know that Australian stores have a few brands you can look for, such as Allowries Pure Lard,or Supa-Fry, which is animal dripping, probably a mixture of beef and pork. Or, as I've suggested, you can make your own.

My grandmother used to just pour the hot, rendered lard into clean jars and screwed the lids in place, no water bath or pressure canner required. She kept the jars stored in the pantry where it was cool and dark and used the lard whenever she needed it. I have rendered lard and kept it refrigerated in small plastic tubs or glass jars, or even just sitting a jar next to the stove, a simple "can" of dripping drained off from whatever I had been cooking at the time.You can portion it up and freeze it. The folks at Preparedness Pro suggest:
"To preserve, you’ll use the pressure canning method of 100-120 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. (Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for high altitude.)"
(Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for high altitude.)
(Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for high altitude.)
Whatever method you choose to store your rendered lard, always make sure that the fresh fat is store chilled or frozen until you can process it, and the rendered fat kept cool to avoid rancidity.


Lard and it's by-product (crackling), have many excellent culinary uses. The crackling alone can be frozen and used in home made dog food and cat food or added to hearty soups and stews, spaghetti sauce, chili, cornbread, or just eaten on their own as a fresh snack.

The rendered lard can be used for sauteing, frying, roasting meats and vegetables, pie crusts and other pastries. In Britain, it is a traditional ingredient in mince pies, Christmas puddings, for frying fish and chips, and in "lardy cakes". It is used in Scandinavian pates, and in Spain a popular breakfast menu is a variety of flavored lards spread on toasted bread. The Chinese mix lard with soy sauce and rice, the Japanese use fatback lard in their ramen dishes to create a rich flavor and in Poland, they mix it with chopped apple or other fruit and spread it on thick slices of bread as a starter.

Salt cured pork fat being sliced into lardons.
In the Depression era, lard was spread on bread to provide a source of much needed calories in those hard times, and the Native Americans used soft fats, dried fish or meat, and dried fruits to create pemmican. Salt cured pork fat is sliced into lardons for addition to certain French dishes.

Lard is also used in making soap, bio-diesel, and even in certain kinds of machining. Need lubricant for a task? Lard has been used as an effective greasing agent for centuries.


I would like to thank my friend Debbie for suggesting this topic. Your curiosity has led to me expanding my knowledge, and hopefully the knowledge of those who read this blog.

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