Eventually everything comes back into style, doesn’t it? I’m happy to see lard back in a positive light, and even happier to see old-fashioned skills, like learning how to render lard making a resurgence!
While you can buy rendered lard that’s ready to cook with, making your own is often more affordable, plus it’s a great skill to have. Before we get into the details (I’m using a technique I haven’t seen anyone else use to render lard!) I think it’s important to talk about the merits of lard, because there are plenty.
Besides being good for you, lard makes fantastic food! I am quite surprised at how often I get asked what I do with lard. Cook really awesome food, that’s what! Karl uses it for frying eggs in the morning. It excels at roasting vegetables, deep frying, popping popcorn, and making incredible baked goods. It’s a great fat for high heat cooking- try it for searing steaks and chops in a cast iron pan!
If you’re gasping at the thought of all that saturated fat, let me stop you right there. Lard, when sourced from properly raised and pastured pigs, is extremely nutrient-dense. And saturated fat is not the heart killer it was once thought to be. If you haven’t yet recovered from the saturated fat scare of the 70s and 80s, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper.
And while this post is about how to render lard yourself, not on why you would want to eat lard (because that’s really a whole post, or a whole book all its own), I’ll point you towards some wonderful, credible resources on the merits of saturated fat and the myths surrounding cholesterol, heart disease, and health:
How to Render Lard the BEST Way – NOT in a Slow Cooker
I think there’s a better way to render lard. I know, because I’ve found it. Typically lard is slow cooked for a long period of time- hours, until all the fat is melted away from the meat, skin, and connective tissue. But the more time the fat spends heating up around the these other meat bits, the lower quality it becomes. In my opinion anyways.
Our lard goals are:
1. to make a beautiful white lard
2. to make lard that has a clean and neutral taste, not “porky”
3. to make lard that is shelf stable
Let me explain. The whitest, purest tasting lard will come from removing the liquid lard from the pan as soon as it melts. However, removing the lard quickly and not giving it a chance to heat for a while means there could be residual moisture from the meat bits… which doesn’t bode well for the shelf life. See the predicament?
The solution is this: remove the liquid lard from the pan as soon as it melts in order to get it away from the meat part. Put the liquid lard into a second pan and heat it for a while to remove the moisture. Since there is no meat, we can safely heat the lard to evaporate the water, without risking discoloration or a meaty flavor.
See how a slow cooker doesn’t fit in well here? Plus, most slow cookers only have a couple settings and cook way too hot for rendering lard. I may be a bit of a lard snob, but I think a slow cooker is the worst tool for the job in this case. It may be the easiest, that’s true. But if I wanted easy, I wouldn’t be a homesteader. :)
How to Render Lard
Ingredients & Equipment:
Any quantity of pastured pork fat, ground
2 pots, each large enough to hold your quantity of pork fat/lard
2 large metal mixing bowls
2 fine mesh sieves (you can get away with only one)
Paper towels, cheesecloth, or clean cotton tea towels
Storage containers, I use and love these plastic freezer containers
You will need ground pork fat- you can grind it yourself with something simple like a hand crank meat grinder, or kitchen-aid mixer grinder attachment. If you get your fat from a butcher, ask them to grind it for you.
This method might work with pork fat cut by hand into small pieces, but I haven’t tried it. Having the pork fat ground is really the first step in making great lard.
Remember to keep a watchful eye; rendering lard is easy to do, but it does require your attention.
1. heat ground pork fat over very low heat until most of the fat is melted
2. strain everything through a mesh sieve into a bowl
3. strain the melted fat that collects through a second sieve lined with a paper towel
4. heat the pure fat to evaporate any moisture
Place the ground pork fat into Pot #1, but don’t fill the pan more than about 4-inches full (you may have to work in batches). Heat on the lowest possible setting, and stir frequently to help facilitate the melting.
Set up the first filtering station, which is your largest sieve, Sieve #1, over a large mixing bowl.
Once most of the fat has melted off of the pieces of meat and skin, but hopefully before those bits start to turn from pinkish to brown- indicating they are cooked, ladle the melted fat and pork mixture into the sieve, straining out the meat and skin and allowing the fat to collect in the mixing bowl. You want to do this all at once… and while you don’t have to work that quickly, don’t dawdle because the lard will start to solidify as it cools.
While you let the fat continue to strain for a minute, prepare the second sieve, Sieve #2. Set the clean sieve over Pot #2, and line the sieve with a single layer of paper towel (you might have to slightly overlap a couple paper towels, depending on the size of your sieve and the size of your paper towels, which is just fine).
Set the meat and skin in the sieve aside, and pour the liquid fat in the bowl through Sieve #2, through the paper towel and let it collect in the pot below. It strains slowly, so I had to keep adding a little bit of fat at a time as there was more room in the sieve. The paper towels will collect fine sediment, and eventually clog up so that the fat stops dripping through- when this happens you’ll have to swap out for a new paper towel.
If you have more pork fat that needs melting, go ahead and start the second batch now.
When all the pure fat is strained into Pan #2, turn the heat on medium, and heat over medium to medium-low heat for 5 minutes for every pound of pork fat you started with. I had about 7 pounds of pork fat, so I heated my lard for about 35 minutes. This will evaporate any moisture and help the lard to be more shelf-stable.
Pour the lard into whatever containers you plan to store it in. I use these freezer containers because I store my lard in the freezer for long term keeping.
What to do with the leftover pork bits? You can make cracklins, though I’m not an expert in that. What do I do with them? I put them all back in Pan #1 and heat until just cooked through, then I give them to the chickens. They go nuts for them!
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