I’ve become a collector of old cookbooks. The older the better. The history contained within those pages is fascinating to me. Many of the recipes contained within those pages call for lard as one of the ingredients. Which, has been given a bad rap and is impossible to find. However, it’s pretty easy to render your own in today’s modern kitchen.
For generations lard, butter, and tallow were the prime fats used to cook with. Then, they all got a bad rap. They were all touted as unhealthy and synthetic alternatives replaced these natural fats used for generations.
Things like Crisco, canola oil, margarine replaced seemingly innocent, naturally rendered fats like lard. Things that were (and still are) unnatural and go through tons of processing to make them consumable were considered better. And that mindset still exists today, sadly.
Lard, in our family, however, is embraced. In fact, modern research is finally taking lard out of the bad pile and linking it to the health benefits it provides. Unlike Crisco, which largely replaced lard, which is created from cotton (an inedible textile crop, mind you).
Types of Pig Fat And It’s Uses
A couple years ago we had the opportunity to butcher our first pig. A mulefoot heritage breed. And it was the experience of a lifetime. We were able to cure our own bacon and hams, have delicious, pastured raised pork for months, and get all of the fat for rendering down and mixing with venison for venison summer sausage.
Pigs contain a lot of fat, however, unlike cattle, you use more than just the leaf fat to render into lard. There are a few sections of fat on a pig including the belly (used for bacon), the fatback (on the rear of the pig and great for frying) and the leaf fat (around the kidneys and the renders into the purest lard).
If you only utilize the leaf fat, you’re not going to render much lard, honestly. Most pigs do not possess a large amount unlike cattle. If you choose to render only the leaf fat, you’ll probably only get a few pounds of fat to render.
Most people utilize the leaf fat and the fat back when rendering lard from a butchered hog. You won’t use the belly (that makes delicious bacon and there’s a lot of meat on it). But, you will utilize the fat back.
Some people choose to make pure, white lard from the leaf fat separately. We did not and still wound up with pure, white lard without a porky undertone to it.
On an average sized pig you will get around 25 pounds of fat to render or mix into ground meat for sausage making. We put it all into food grade five gallon buckets and put it in the freezer to deal with later.
How Long Does it Take To Render Lard?
Lard is actually a lot easier and less time consuming than rendering tallow. Mostly because on a pig you can utilize all of the fat while on cows and deer you only use the leaf fat.
How long it takes will depend on the amount of heat, the method you use and how much fat you choose to render down at once.
In the crockpot it will take anywhere from just a few hours, to about 12. On the stovetop, it can be rendered more quickly. However, when rendering on the stove you need to keep the heat low and be mindful of how quickly you’re rendering it down. The quicker you render it, the less mild the flavor. You can also render it in the oven, though I don’t have experience in that arena, so I’ll leave it out.
Tips for Rendering Lard
- Make sure you use the leaf fat as well as the fatback on the pig to create the most lard.
- One pound of lard will render down to about one pint of lard.
- Remove as much meat as you can from the fat and cut it into small chunks so that it will render down more quickly.
- Make sure your fat is semi-frozen when you start cutting it. It becomes slippery as it warms up and makes it more difficult to cut up and messier.
- Use fat only from pastured pigs for the healthiest lard. The fat is where a lot of impurities are stored including chemicals, so making sure you have a healthy animal to render from is essential.
- Render your fat using the lowest heat possible. You want to render it low and slow and avoid smoking or burning. If you do wind up with some burning or smoking, not all is lost. You can still use it, though I wouldn’t use it in pie crust.
- Use cheesecloth to get as much sediment as possible filtered out of your lard when transferring it to glass jars.
Tools Needed to Render Lard
How to Render Lard In Cast Iron
If you want to do things more like our ancestors, rendering the fat down in a cast iron pan is for you. You can do this easily on a stovetop. And while it does take more hands on approach than rendering it in a crockpot, it can be done and doesn’t require any special equipment or electricity.
This method, however, is not any better than any other. It’s really a matter of preference and your availability to keep watch. I have three kids and not a ton of time to stand watch over a dutch oven on the stove all day, so this isn’t something I’ve done often, but it’s doable and depending on how much fat you’re rendering, isn’t terribly time consuming. If you’re doing a lot, it takes time.
Regardless of how you render it, you’ll utilize the same preparation tips and method. You’ll cube it up, remove the fat and put it into the pan.
You’ll simply add your fat to the pan, and begin cooking it over low heat. Keeping watch and stirring it around once in a while.
After a bit, the fat will begin to release a lot of oil, just like when you cook bacon (and yes, bacon grease is a form of lard). That, is lard. You’ll want to stir it a little more frequently and make sure you keep that heat low so it doesn’t render too quickly.
Once the fat chunks starts looking brown and crispy and your pan begins smoking, the lard has been rendered. Immediately remove it from heat so your cracklins do not start to flavor your lard, you don’t want that any more than you do rendering it down too quickly.
Carefully strain your lard using cheesecloth into a glass container that has been warmed. We put ours into sterilized mason jars that I have warmed on the stove as if I were going to can with them. Make sure you store it in warmed glass so it doesn’t break and do not use plastic, it will likely melt. And of course, use caution, it’s extremely hot.
How to Render Lard in a Slow Cooker
By far the easiest way to render lard is using a crockpot. You won’t have to watch it much and can just go about whatever you need to get done. In fact, we had to run to town and I was able to start the process before we left, makes it nice.
For the slow cooker, you’ll chunk up your fat as small as you can and remove any excess muscle as much as possible. Then, add about 1/4 cup of water to your slow cooker and add the fat.
While it doesn’t need watched as intently, you do need to occasionally stir the fat to make sure it doesn’t stick or burn, which will flavor your lard. You can leave it for a while without too much worry, though.
Once the bits of meat begin to float to the top, your lard is finished rendering. You can strain it through cheesecloth into your warm, glass jars.
How to Store Lard
Many people say that lard is shelf stable. No rendered fat should ever grow mold, however, it can go rancid.
Lard will keep at room temp for about 4 to 6 months as long as it is stored properly with a lid and in a dark place.
It will keep in the refrigerator for 9-12 months and in the freezer for 2 years or more as long as the lids are tightly closed, it’s stored in glass, and in the coldest part of the freezer.
Always store lard in glass, it’s easier to pour into warmed glass. If storing in the freezer, make sure you use straight sided glass as other jars are liable to break when frozen.
Many people stored lard in their larder which was cool and dark, but since many of us don’t have a larder, we personally keep ours in the refrigerator or freezer.
Contrary to popular belief, lard is an excellent and healthy fat to use for cooking and baking. Learn how to render lard from pastured pig fat.
- Fat (preferably from a pastured pig)
- 1/4 Cup Water
- Slow Cooker or large pot
- Glass Mason Jars With Lids
- Remove any leftover meat from the fat. You don't need to be nit picky about this, a little bit of pink is absolutely fine. Just don't put a half pork chop in there, it will not work out well.
- Cut up your fat into little pieces. And I mean little. If you have a meat grinder, this would be the perfect use for it. I cut them the first time and they weren't near small enough. It took forever to render down. So, just make sure your pieces are small. The smaller they are, the quicker the fat will render down.
- Place the pieces of fat and 1/4 cup of water in a slow cooker. If you're using a cast iron pan, you do not need to add water. Don't worry, the water will evaporate, it's just to keep the fat from burning.
- Turn the slow cooker on low or the heat of the stove on low and allow the fat to melt down. Don't be afraid of removing the lid and stir it frequently if you're using a crockpot. Do not cover it if you're using a pan. It needs stirred frequently.
- Allow it to cook down and melt. You'll know it's finished when you have beautiful, liquid fat on the bottom and little bits of meat (cracklins) on the top.
- Line a colander with a piece of cheesecloth and place it in a large bowl.
- Carefully pour the lard into the cheesecloth lined colander to separate the liquified fat from the meaty bits of cracklins.
- Place the liquified fat into mason jars, tighten on a lid.
What to do With the Cracklin’s
Cracklin’s are the delicious meat that rises to the top when your lard is finished rendering. You will have a whole cheesecloth full of them when you pour your lard into your jars.
These were prized treats back in the day, though very rich. They can simply be salted and enjoyed as a treat. Or you can put them on the top of a salad.
Some people give them to their dogs as a treat. We like them, so the dogs will have to wait.
How to Use Lard
The pure white stuff is amazing for making pastries and pie crusts. The less pure, yellow stuff is amazing for frying things like fried chicken.
I honestly use lard in our cooking on a routine basis and have never come up with a loss as to how to use it. It’s incredibly versatile and makes good food amazing.
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