Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Back in the day, our grandparents didn’t go running to the store every time they needed some fat to make a pie crust or fry up some potatoes. They went to the kitchen cupboard and grabbed a jar of lard.
The act of rendering lard may seem like a task better suited for our ancestors than our modern kitchen, but there are several reasons why homesteaders like us should consider incorporating this traditional practice into their lifestyle.
Lard is a nutrient-dense fat that can add depth and flavor to various dishes, and rendering it at home is an economical and sustainable way to use all parts of the animal.
In this blog post, we’ll go through the steps on how to render lard, and why you should consider making your own.
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Why Should You Render Lard?
One of the things I love about lard is how it can be used in so many different ways. You can use it for frying, baking, and even as a substitute for butter in certain recipes.
It has a high smoke point, which means it can handle high heat without burning, making it perfect for frying everything from chicken to donuts. It also has a neutral flavor, so it won’t overpower the taste of whatever you’re cooking or baking.
Lard has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but believe it or not, lard is actually a healthy fat. It’s high in monounsaturated fat and low in polyunsaturated fat, which is the opposite of most vegetable oils.
It’s also high in vitamin D, which is important for bone health and immune function. Of course, like any fat, it should be consumed in moderation, but it’s nice to know that it’s better for you than some other fats.
Finally, rendering lard is a sustainable practice. By using every part of the animal, you’re reducing waste and making sure that nothing goes to waste.
If you raise your own animals for meat, you’ve already made an investment in time, money, and resources. It only makes sense to get the most out of them that you can. Rendering lard is a great way to do that. It doesn’t cost anything extra, and you’re able to get a valuable product out of something you would have otherwise thrown away.
Plus, since lard has a longer shelf life than other fats, you won’t have to replace it as often, which means more money saved in the long run.
Getting Your Hands on the Right Type of Fat
You need pork fat to make lard – everybody knows that – but what many people don’t realize is that a pig has a few different types of fat, and not all are equally well-suited to making lard.
Belly is the cut of meat that is used to make bacon. However, it’s not typically used to make lard because there is too much meat attached to it. This makes it difficult to render just the fat. If you’re looking to render lard, belly is not the best option.
If you’re making sausage, then fatback is the fat you want. This type of fat includes the back, shoulder, rump, and a thick layer of fat beneath the skin. It produces yellowish lard that has a strong odor and flavor.
While fatback can be used for cooking and baking, it’s not the cleanest type of fat available.
Leaf Fat: The Cream of the Crop
Leaf fat is considered the cleanest, healthiest type of fat for rendering lard. It comes from the internal fat surrounding the hog’s kidneys and is found between the loin and the inner cavity of the animal. It produces white lard that is mild in flavor, making it perfect for baking and cooking.
Leaf fat is more expensive than other types of fat, if you’re buying it directly from the butcher, but it’s worth the investment.
How to Render Lard: Step by Step
There are a few different ways you can render lard, including on the stovetop or in the oven. However, if you’re like me without a lot of time to spare, I recommend the most hands-off method of rendering lard – doing it in the slow cooker.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
First and foremost, you’ll need to gather the materials necessary for rendering lard. You’ll need pork fat (preferably from pastured pigs), a slow cooker, cheesecloth, and a large bowl or container for straining the finished lard. Be sure to also have a sharp knife on hand for cutting the pork fat into small pieces.
Step 2: Cut the Pork Fat into Small Pieces
Using your sharp knife, cut your pork fat into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be for the fat to render down into lard.
Your butcher (if you didn’t process the pig yourself) will likely have already chunked the lard up into pieces, but they’ll be quite large. The smaller the pieces, the easier the lard will render down. I recommend cutting the pork fat into pieces that are no larger than an inch.
Step 3: Add the Pork Fat to the Slow Cooker
Once your pork fat is cut into small pieces, add them to your slow cooker. You can add as much pork fat as you can fit into your slow cooker, but be sure not to overfill it or you’re going to have a major mess (and fire hazard) on your hands.
Step 4: Turn on the Slow Cooker
Set your slow cooker to low heat and let it start to do its thing. You can also add a small amount of water (about 1/4 cup) to the slow cooker at this point to prevent the pork fat from sticking to the bottom.
I’ll add here that you’ll want to do your rendering on a day you don’t plan on having any company over. The smell produced by rendering fat isn’t necessarily unpleasant, but it’s strong – you probably won’t want to hang out too much in your kitchen while the slow cooker is on.
Step 5: Let the Pork Fat Render
Now comes the waiting game. Let the pork fat render in the slow cooker for about 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally. You’ll notice that the pork fat will start to melt down and turn into liquid.
After 8-10 hours, the majority of the fat should be rendered, but it depends on how much lard you’ve put into the slow cooker.
Step 6: Strain the Lard
Once the pork fat has rendered down, it’s time to strain the lard.
Place a piece of cheesecloth over your large bowl or container and carefully pour the liquid lard through the cheesecloth to strain out any bits of meat or pork fat (these pieces of fat are called “cracklings” and some people love them – they taste a little like pork rinds, so feel free to save them).
Be careful doing this, as the fat will be extremely hot.
After straining, you can then discard the leftover meat bits and store your finished lard in a clean, airtight container. If you still notice impurities in the strained fat, you can go ahead and render it again in the slow cooker. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn.
How Long Does it Take to Render Lard?
The amount of water in the fat will determine how long the rendering process takes.
For leaf fat with low water content, the process may take only a few hours. With higher water content, or for larger volumes of fat, the rendering process can take up to 24 hours.
You’ll know the rendering process is complete when the remaining bits of fat have turned brown and crispy, and there’s a pool of clear, golden liquid left in the pot. This liquid is the rendered lard which can be strained through a cheesecloth or fine mesh before storing it in a jar in the fridge or freezer.
If you choose to render lard via one of the other methods I’ve talked about, such as stovetop, it will be done faster, in about three hours. However, I prefer not to use this method since you’ll have to babysit the pot constantly, whereas, with the slow cooker, you can set it and forget it.
Tips for Storing Lard
When it comes to storing lard, the best place to keep it is in the fridge. Lard lasts for up to six months in the fridge and is less likely to go rancid than if you were to store it at room temperature.
Make sure to keep your lard in an airtight container to prevent any air or moisture from getting in, which can lead to spoilage. Plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids work well for storing lard.
If you have rendered your lard properly, removing as much water as possible, it can actually be stored at room temperature without going bad. Make sure that your lard is completely free from any moisture and has been rendered properly before leaving it out. To do this, you can add a spoonful of baking soda to a small amount of lard, and if it bubbles, then there is water present.
Keep your lard away from any direct sunlight or heat sources, as these can cause it to go rancid more quickly. If you don’t have space in your fridge, you can also store your lard in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard.
If you have a surplus of lard that you won’t be able to use up within a few months, you can try freezing it. Lard can be frozen for up to a year without any loss in quality. Again, make sure to store it in an airtight container and label it with the date so you can keep track of how long it’s been in the freezer.
While the process of rendering lard may seem a bit intimidating at first, it’s actually a straightforward and rewarding experience. With just a few simple steps, you can obtain a nutrient-dense fat that adds flavor and depth to dishes of all kinds.
Plus, rendering lard at home is an environmentally friendly and sustainable way to use all parts of the animal.
By following the steps outlined in this blog post, you can start incorporating homemade lard into your cooking and baking today.
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