Updated: Nov 16, 2018
Rendering fat is one of the easiest, most affordable things you can do to add natural flavor and substance to your home cooking and baking. Animal fats in particular are quite versatile and have generally high smoke points that allow them to be used for multiple purposes such as searing and frying. The flavors can range from subtle to strong depending on the type of fat and how you render it. Pork fat is generally more flavor neutral than beef, but if you've never had beef fat fried potatoes, you're missing out! Rendered fat can also be used for a variety of other products ranging from candles to soap to skincare products. Before the invention of vegetable oils and what I like to call "food type substances", animal fat was a precious commodity.
Rendering fat means we are taking raw fat (beef and pork in this recipe) and making it shelf stable by evaporating the moisture (water) which would otherwise limit the shelf life. Water is one of the components that bacteria needs to survive and multiply, so by removing the water, we are making it safer to store. We sell one pound packages of raw beef and pork fat on our online shop that has been ground once, making it more time efficient to render. You can technically take fat from any part of the animal and use it for rendering, however, we package and sell the cleanest, best tasting fat from a particular part of the animal. For pork this is known as the leaf fat and for beef this is suet. Once it's rendered, it becomes pork lard and beef tallow and will easily last for several months.
Wait, aren't saturated animal fats bad for our health? Shouldn't I stick to "heart healthy" vegetable oils and crisco?? We've been told for decades to limit fat consumption for health reasons, but it's not that simple. Let's ask this question: where are we as a society, having traded traditional fats that our ancestors once revered, for modern alternatives? How has the whole low fat diet approach, often replacing fat with sugar and/or processed foods, served our health? Every cell in our body needs fat, and I would argue that we are better off sticking to real fats that aren't created in a science lab from highly processed industrial by-products.
Now... on to the instructions!
Step 1: Start with the raw pork (left) and beef (right) fat. Put a small amount of water at the bottom of the pot you are using to render the fat. Just enough to barely cover the bottom. This prevents the fat from browning as we begin to heat it up. Turn the pot on a medium low heat and let the fat gently warm up and begin to liquify.
Step 2: Gently simmer the fat. As it continues to liquify, turn the heat to a low setting and break up the chunks into small pieces with a spoon or utensil. They will eventually become tiny bits. The slower we render the fat, the more neutral it will be. If the temperature and heat gets above a certain point, the fat will begin to brown and caramelize. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we're going for a pure, neutral fat base. You should see some steam coming off the fat, which is exactly what we want. We want to evaporate the water to create a more shelf stable product. Stir it occasionally and keep it simmering on a low heat.
Step 3: Finish rendering. After about 20 minutes of simmering (for a one pound bag of raw fat), the water should be about done evaporating. The liquid fat will turn clear and no longer have a cloudy appearance. This is how we know it's done. Turn off the heat and let it cool on the stovetop before final handling. It's obviously going to be very hot. I recommend letting it rest for a minimum of 20 minutes.
Step 4: Strain and store. Once the hot fat has cooled down a bit (it will still be hot), take a fine mesh strainer and empty into your desired storage vessel. I'm using a glass jar because it's not going into the freezer at any point. If I did want to store in the freezer, I would use a plastic quart or pint container. That's it! You've got rendered fat which can now be stored at room temperature, or better yet, in the refrigerator where it will last virtually forever. Let it cool down completely at room temperature and do not cover it until completely cool. Covering it while hot may create steam which will result in the formation of water (which is what we want to eliminate).
General points about rendered fat:
The solid bits that are left after straining the fat can be kept and eaten. Think of them as bacon bits! Store in the fridge until needed, then heat, crisp, and season with salt. Great for topping salads, vegetables, etc.
Pork lard will be softer than beef tallow. Beef tallow tends to harden up quite a bit.
Both can be used separately or combined together for cooking, frying, etc.
Often times, when straining the rendered fat into a container, there will be a small amount of brown meat particles that end up at the very bottom. You can eliminate this by getting finer mesh strainers or even using cheesecloth, but personally I don't worry about it. Those tiny meat particles are essentially preserved in the fat. This is not to be confused with black mold which can grow in areas underneath, around the sides, or on top where water may have been trapped. If black mold appears, throw it out.
Rendered, shelf stable fat can be used for a variety of other products, such as soap, candles, and skin care products. Do some research and let your imagination go wild!
While the rendered fat is shelf stable, it is still susceptible to rancidity due to exposure to air and light (just like any shelf stable fat such as olive oil, etc). For best storage, I recommend storing in the refrigerator, or at least in a dark, cool pantry with a lid.