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Rendering Animal Fats- 3 Methods
Break up with margarine and leave “butter flavored spreads” in the dust. Bring back all of the animal fats; and with them the health benefits and flavor therein.
Why Render Animal Fats (& Include them in your Diet)
Animal fats- from lard to tallow to butter- fell out of US dietary fashion several decades ago. The “Diet-Heart Hypothesis” posited that what you ate would impact your heart’s health- a reasonable idea. The only issue was that the researchers interpreted cherry picked data in the infamous “7 Countries Study” and concluded that saturated fat was the heart disease culprit. “Eating cholesterol raises your cholesterol, just like eating fat makes you fat,” was the logic of the day.
In the decades since, sugar consumption, trans fat consumption, carbohydrate consumption, etc. have all risen significantly, and yet our rates of heart disease and obesity have worsened.
As things are wont to do, the animal fat pendulum has swung the other way- carnivore diets and extreme keto diets abound. Will the pendulum settle in a reasonable, fact-based middle? I think it has begun to.
Nowadays the research on the health benefits of consuming animal fats, cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins, etc. is pretty clear. We need cholesterol to make hormones. We need fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K) for everything from maintaining bone density and health to immune function.
What does a decades-long crusade on saturated fats and animal products have to do with rendering fat? If you’re a child who grew up in, or had parents who grew up in, the “fat-free era” it may be hard to wrap your head around animal fats not only not being bad, but actually being a healthful part of your diet.
So before I jump into rendering animal fats specifically, I wanted to link to a few excellent books where you can learn more about the shoddy health crusade of decades-past, as well as what we understand about these nutrients today.
“Big Fat Surprise,” by Nina Tiecholtz is a phenomenal read. (Amazon link here)
“Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” by Dr. Price. (Linked here)
“Deep Nutrition,” by Dr. Catherine Shanahan. (Linked here)
“Real Food for Pregnancy,” by Lily Nichols- relevant for more than just pregnancy and postpartum, it’s a great book on nutrition generally, with emphasis on that stage of life. (Linked here)
What is Rendering Animal Fats
“What exactly is rendering?” you may ask. According to the dictionary, 2 (mostly) relevant definitions of rendering include, “the action of giving, yielding, or surrendering something,” and “cause to be or become; make.”
I think these definitions are relevant because the rendering process causes raw fat, filled with gristle and trim, to give up its impurities and become something pure.
We accomplish this transformation by the application of a low heat over a very long period of time. Whether you decide to utilize a crockpot, the oven, or the stove- rendering fat will yield a pure, shelf-stable substance that waits to be baked or cooked with.
Why Render Animal Fats?
I’ve hinted above, but why go through the trouble of rendering animal fats? The rendering process accomplishes 2 major things for your fats. First, this process removes any impurities- rendering it nearly tasteless and free of any meat or tissue that would spoil. Second, the fat melts and then solidifies again- in this purified form, free of air, and sealed in a jar, the fat is shelf-stable for long, long periods of time.
When you’ve decided to bake or cook with animal fat, the jar of rendered fat on the shelf can be scooped from and used immediately. Un-rendered animal fat will spoil at room temperature, and will need to be rendered in the cooking process before it could be used. Impractical in nearly every application.
How to Render Animal Fats (Lard, Tallow, etc.)
The goal with the rendering process is to expose the fat to a low cooking temperature over a long period of time.
The fats used in rendering can be trim from butchering a pig. Trim from butchering beef. The fat from a goose or duck. The fat from a batch of chickens. The trim and fat from a goat or a lamb. Any fat, trimmed in the process of butchering, or removed from a roast or the like later on, can be rendered and stored by following this basic process.
The 3 easiest ways to keep this fat at a warm, even temperature as it renders are by using the stove, the oven, or a crockpot. I prefer the stove and crockpot, since it leaves the oven free for cooking meals, but all 3 will yield a similar, high-quality fat in the end.
Rendering Animal Fats: Method 1:
The first method of rendering that I’ll describe today is the crock pot method. (If you have an instant pot, you can set it to the slow cooker setting and this would apply as well)
We’re going to start here because it’s the least labor-intensive and most fool-proof.
You’ll need a crockpot, a knife and cutting board, a ladle, a fine sieve, a measuring glass, and jars with lids and rings for storage.
To render animal fat in the crock pot, start by taking your chilled animal fat and dicing it into small pieces. I aim for 1/ 2” cubes or so.
Place the diced fat in your crock pot, add the lid, and set the crock pot to low. After about an hour, I turn the crockpot down to the “keep warm” setting.
Every 4-8 hours, give the fat a stir.
You’ll find over time that the fat has begun to melt, gradually transitioning to solid fat with some liquid to liquid with a few pieces of solid fat.
You’ll know that the fat is rendered and ready to strain when the pieces of solid fat have crisped, begun to float, and some slight bubbles have formed on the surface. I find this takes about 24 hours, depending on how finally the fat was diced and how full the crockpot was filled.
To strain, I like to ladle the hot fat out one scoop at a time- pouring it through a very fine kitchen sieve into a 4 cup sized measuring glass.
Pour the hot fat into a wide mouth quart or pint jar. Add a clean lid and ring immediately.
As the fat cools, it will solidify and turn white, sealing the jar in the process.
Once cooled, the jar of rendered fat is shelf stable and ready for cooking, baking, etc.
The crisped pieces that you filtered out of the liquified fat are known as “cracklings”. They are extremely rich, but quite delicious. You can eat them as they are, sprinkled with salt, etc. I’ve seen some people save them to use as casserole toppings or breading (like the onions on top of a green bean casserole).
I let the cracklings cool and feed them to our chickens. It’s a high calorie fat bomb that does them a lot of good in the winter.
Rendering Animal Fats: Method 2:
The second method of animal fat rendering is using the oven.
Using the oven to render animal fats is also quite easy. We’ll need an oven proof, deep container such as a dutch oven, a few pounds of animal fat, a knife and cutting board, a ladle, a fine sieve, and jars for storing the rendered fat (with lids and rings).
Take your chilled animal fat and dice it, as above, into 1/ 2” or so cubes.
Load the dutch oven (roasting pan, etc.) with the diced fat.
Place the fat and pan into the oven (preheated to 250*F) and wait.
Every so often, gently give the fat a stir to prevent it from sticking to your pan.
After about 8 hours, once the bits of fat have shrunk, crisped, and begun to float; you’ll know that it is time to strain and jar the fat.
Carefully ladle the fat from the dutch oven, pouring it through a sieve into a glass measuring cup. Gently pour the liquid fat into wide mouth jars, adding the lids and rings, and setting them aside to cool.
The cracklings can be eaten, saved, fed to chickens, etc.
Rendering Animal Fats: Method 3:
Finally, the third method of rendering animal fats is by using a pot on the stove. This is my favorite method of rendering fat; it doesn’t busy up the oven for the whole day and doesn’t require electricity like the crockpot.
To render fat with this method, you’ll need chilled animal fat, a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, a cutting board and knife, a fine sieve, a ladle, a glass measuring cup, and wide mouth jars with lids and rings.
Start by dicing the fat into small cubes. Place the fat into the pot, add the lid, and place on a stove turned to low. Stir the fat cubes every hour or so.
After about 12 hours (depending on the temperature of your stove, volume of fat, etc.) the fat will have shrunk, crisped, and begun to float. Small bubbles or a slight foam may set on the surface of the liquid.
Carefully ladle the fat and cracklings out of the pan, pouring it through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. Pour the strained, liquid fat into wide mouth jars. Add the lids and rings, tightening snugly.
Set the jars aside to cool. Once cooled and sealed, label the jars and store in a cool area out of direct sunlight.
Storing Rendered Animal Fats (Lard, Tallow, etc.)
Storing rendered fat is easy. Keep the sealed, labeled jars in a cool location out of the sun. Treat the jars of fat much as you do other home-canned goods.
If you plan to utilize some of your rendered lard (or tallow) for baking, I suggest keeping a jar of rendered fat in the fridge. It isn’t for the shelf life of the fat, rather it will be the right temperature for pie crusts, biscuits, etc. at a moment’s notice.
Rendered fat can also be stored in the freezer, but it is not necessary. If you’d like to freeze your fat, I’d suggest pouring the liquid fat into molds (such as these souper cubes) rather than using glass jars. Once the fat has solidified in the molds on the counter, you can move them into the freezer, stored in a container such as a gallon ziploc bag.
Once you’ve opened a jar of your rendered fat, it is still safe to keep on the counter. We have a jar or two on the counter by the stove at all times; ready for any day to day cooking needs.
Using Rendered Animal Fats
This is the bread and butter of rendering animal fat yourself- using it.
Since beginning to raise our own pigs several years ago, we’ve switched entirely to cooking with animal fats. Lard is our primary cooking & baking fat, but we also make use of tallow from locally purchased beef trimming. We’ve also rendered the fat from our homegrown/slaughtered/butchered sheep and goat kids and utilized it in all manner of cooking.
That is a very long-winded way of saying that using rendered animal fat is as simple as using other types of fats.
For frying, sauteing, browning, etc. take a scoop of tallow (or lard, etc.) from a jar and allow it to heat and melt in your preheated pan, before adding the ingredients you seek to cook.
For baking, substitute equal parts of lard or tallow for butter or margarine. I’ve found that the cooking time may need to be shortened for cookies made with lard instead of margarine.
Tallow is seeing a resurgence in the media spotlight lately as “the secret” to natural skin care. You can apply your home-rendered tallow directly to your face/etc as a lotion, adding essential oils to suit your taste. You can also whip the liquified, warm tallow in a kitchen aid mixer as it cools for a whipped tallow balm. Tutorials abound on other corners of the internet, I’ll surely be throwing my own tutorial into the ring as well.
On the whole, rendered animal fats can easily substitute for other fats, without needing to adjust the measurements. Tallow may have a stronger smell than lard, leaf lard (rendered fat from around the pigs’ kidneys) is extremely plain and pure white, which is why it’s the preferred animal fat for baking.
What is leaf lard? (And how is it different?)
Leaf lard is the pure white fat that surrounds an animal’s kidneys. It is very pure in color and taste- ideal for pastries and other baking recipes. When we slaughter our pigs I make sure to set the leaf fat aside on it’s own and render it seperately from the rest of the lard and trim. This yields a few jars of the highest quality lard possible.
Leaf fat is also found in cattle, sheep, goats, deer, etc.
Why is my rendered fat sort of yellow?
If your rendered animal fat is slightly yellow while in a liquid state, that’s totally normal. I’ve found that even very pure fat will be slightly yellow until it’s cooled completely.
If, after cooling, your rendered fat still has a yellowish hue, it may have burned slightly. This is more common in the crockpot and oven methods of rendering fat. A sieve that isn’t fine enough can also allow more impurities through and ultimately yield a less pure fat.
An off-color won’t affect the shelf life of the fat, but it may have a stronger taste and smell. When we have jars of fat that come out yellow, I use them primarily for greasing pans, frying, sauteing, or browning foods. We keep an open jar on the counter next to our stove at all times.
What can I use the cracklings for?
Cracklings, the crispy bits of fat that are strained out after the rendering process, aren’t waste! You can eat them as a snack, for one thing. Their taste and texture is like a greasier pork rind- adding a dash of salt takes them to another level. If you don’t feel like eating them plain, you can store them in the fridge or freezer for use as a casserole topping or breading in a future recipe.
Finally, they are packed with fat, fat-soluble vitamins, protein, and even bits of collagen… all important nutrients that your backyard chickens could use, especially in the winter.
Can you combine types of animal fats for rendering?
Yes. You can combine different animal fats before or after rendering. I prefer to render each type separately, and then combine when cooking, but you can render them together and have a mix to start with.
What’s the difference between tallow and lard?
Tallow is rendered fat from ruminants, lard is rendered fat from pigs.
(Ruminants are cud-chewing mammals with 4 chambered stomachs- think cows, sheep, goats, and deer)
Can you use this rendered tallow as a moisturizer?
Absolutely. According to some people in the holistic health space, the fat soluble vitamins and acids in tallow are a huge boost to skin health. Adding tallow to your skin care routine can address and repair dryness, acne, wrinkles, discoloration, and more.
Plain tallow can be applied to the skin like a lotion.
Adding essential oils and a vitamin e oil will take your tallow balm to the next level.
To make a whipped tallow balm, whip warmed, liquid tallow in a kitchen aid mixer as it cools, adding essential oils to suit your taste. Store the cooled, whipped tallow balm (or any other homemade balms) in small jelly-sized canning jars. Apply before bed.
How long is rendered fat shelf stable?
Based on my experience with home rendering animal fats, my jars of fat are shelf stable for approximately a year. We can render enough fat from our pigs in the fall to last us until the next pig slaughter, which is about a year. I haven’t stored any jars of fat longer than that, but if frozen, your rendered fat could last indefinitely.
Do you have to add water when rendering animal fat?
It depends. I prefer not to add water to the fat because it saves me a step later on down the line. Some people have great experiences by adding water (reducing burning and sticking, etc.) at the start of the rendering process, but I haven’t found it to be necessary.
Can you render deer fat?
Yes, you can render deer fat. Rendering deer fat is as easy as rendering tallow or lard; the crockpot, stovetop, and oven methods will all work well. Deer fat will be very white and solid at room temperature, similar to tallow. Worth noting that some hunters will NOT save or render the fat from their deer- attributing a gamey and inedible taste to it. I believe this depends on what the deer has been eating and its age, and would be willing to try rendering this fat if given the opportunity to, just to see how it will turn out.
Can you render chicken fat?
Yes, you can render chicken fat. Rendered chicken fat is called schmaltz. It is generally a golden yellow color and soft at room temperature. To get enough fat to make rendering your own schmaltz worthwhile, you’ll probably need the fat from several big broilers or older hens. You can store raw fat in the freezer each time you slaughter a chicken, and then render it once you have enough stored up for a whole batch.
Can you render lard in a crockpot? Can you render lard in an instant pot?
Yes, you can render lard in a crockpot or in an instant pot. Lard is simply fat that comes from pigs. Rendering lard in a crockpot, or instant pot, (as described above in method #1) is one of the easiest methods for rendering lard. You can simply place the diced fat in the crockpot, set to “keep warm” for approximately 18-24 hours, then filter it and store it in canning jars in the pantry. For the instant pot, the process will be the same, but you’ll be using the slow cooker setting.
Can you render beef fat?
Yes, you can render beef fat. Rendered beef fat is called tallow. It is rich in fat-soluble vitamins and stearic acid. Besides being a delicious fat for cooking or baking, it can also be a boost to your skin health when applied as a balm or lotion.
Can you render ham fat?
Yes, you can render ham fat. However, you probably don’t want to. The fat and drippings from a ham will be extremely salty and perhaps sweetened with sugar or other glaze ingredients. The resulting rendered fat will probably be too salty for cooking, and contain to many impurities to be shelf-stable. Rather than rendering your ham fat, you should try making graving from the drippings, or add the dripping to a batch of homemade broth. (Find my broth process here)
Can you render bacon grease?
Bacon grease, like ham fat, can be rendered. But it doesn’t need to be. A better way to save and utilize your bacon grease is to drain it directly into a canning jar or crock. You can keep it in the fridge or on the counter by the stove. In either case, the bacon grease will solidify when it cools and is a great fat for frying eggs or greasing pans before browning and sauteing.
Does rendering lard stink?
Rendering lard may smell a little bit porky at first, but it doesn’t stink. If you leave the lid on the crockpot when rendering lard, it may have a strong, steamy smell when you first open the lid. Leaving the lid ajar and rendering on the stove or in the oven will also reduce any smell.
The cleaner and more pure the lard that you render, the less chance that you have for there to be any smells when rendering.
Does rendered lard need to be refrigerated?
Rendered lard does not need to be refrigerated. Pouring the hot, liquid lard into canning jars will seal the lids. Plus, pure fat itself tends not to spoil. Potted meats and both confits rely on keeping meat submerged in fat in order to keep it preserved on the pantry shelf for long term storage.
Storing a jar in the fridge will give you a head start when a recipe calls for cold butter or lard, such as a pie crust, but it isn’t necessary to prevent spoilage.
Does rendered lard go bad?
Rendered lard (or rendered tallow) can go bad. If liquid works its way into the canning jars, or wasn’t cooked out of the fat during the rendering process, molding can sometimes occur. It’s very rare. Rendered lard is generally shelf stable and safe to eat even a year later.
Is rendered lard shelf stable?
Yes, rendered lard, tallow, and all sorts of animal fats are shelf stable. This is the biggest benefit of rendering- we can remove all of the impurities that would cause spoilage, and create an airtight environment where the fat can remain safely preserved. In my experience, rendered lard and tallow alike can be safely stored at room temperature for a year.
Is rendered chicken fat healthy?
The nutritional profile of chicken fat, like any animal fat, will rely heavily on the diet that that animal consumed and the life that it led. The fatty acid profile of an older, pasture-raised broiler chicken could be safely assumed to look very different from the fatty acid profile of a conventionally raised broiler (an older laying hen even moreso). The difference in diet between monogastric animals (such as birds and pigs) and ruminant animals (cattle, sheep, goats) explains some of the difference in the texture and flavor between these types of fats. The chicken’s grain-based diet (a necessity due to their digestive system) yields a fat that is softer at room temperature and contains more omega 6’s than other animal fats.
Is rendered chicken fat healthy then? I believe so. It is a fat derived directly from an animal, contains no mystery ingredients or mysterious industrial processes, and has presumably been eaten by humans for thousands of years. Personally, I don’t render or cook with chicken fat very often, but don’t hesitate to when we have some in the pantry.
Is rendered beef fat healthy?
I believe so. Tallow, rendered beef fat, contains a wide variety of vitamins, including vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Tallow also contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which has been found to help with inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and boost your immune system. Finally, the vitamins and other nutrients in tallow are believed to be the secret to hydrating and hydrating and improving your skin by supporting collagen production.
In short, yes, rendered beef fat is healthy.
Is lard good for you?
Lard is a great source of vitamin D, as well as the other fat soluble vitamins- A, E, & K. Lard is also a great source of monounsaturated fats- good for cardiovascular health. In short, grandma was right- lard is good for you.
Is lard rendered pig fat?
Yes, lard is what we call pig fat after it has been rendered. Leaf lard is pig fat that has come specifically from around the kidneys.
What is rendered tallow?
Rendered tallow, or just tallow, is the fat from a ruminant that has gone through the rendering process. Ruminants are animals that have a multi-chambered stomach such as cattle, sheep, goats, and deer. Rendering is the process by which raw fat is cooked at a very low temperature for a long period of time in order to purify the fat. When people say tallow, they are most often referring to the rendered fat from cattle.
How long will it take to render tallow?
How long it will take to render tallow (or lard, or any other animal fat) will depend on several factors: what method of rendering you’ll use, how small your pieces of fat were diced, how full your container is, and what temperature you’ll cook the fat at.
In a crockpot on the keep warm setting, it will take about 24 hours to render tallow or lard..
In the oven, expect 8 hours to render your lard or tallow.
On the stove, expect it to take around 12 hours to render tallow or lard.
Can tallow be used in place of shortening? Can lard be substituted for shortening?
Yes, tallow and lard can both be used in place of shortening. Tallow is firmer at room temperatures and may need to be softened for some recipes. Before shortening (“Crisco”) was invented, people cooked and baked with lard.
Can tallow be left out?
Yes, tallow can be left out on the counter. In fact, it can be safely stored at room temperatures for several months to a year without issue. This applies equally to lard as well.
Keeping a jar of tallow on the counter near the stove is a good way to make using these home rendered animal fats more convenient.
Can tallow be vegan?
Because tallow comes from fat trimmed during the process of slaughtering cattle, tallow cannot be vegan. It is purely an animal product.
Vegan alternatives to tallow could include vegetable shortening or coconut oil.
Can lard be frozen?
Yes, lard can be frozen. However, it does not need to be frozen and can be safely stored in a pantry or cabinet at room temperature. Freezing will extend the shelf life of lard significantly, but I recommend freezing it in blocks or cubes instead of in jars.
Can lard replace butter?
Lard can replace butter in most cases. It has a similar, slightly soft, texture at room temperature. In baking, lard is definitely an equivalent substitute. If you plan to spread lard, instead of butter, on toast or pancakes, I would suggest stirring in a dash of salt first to help lend flavor to it.
Can lard be used to season cast iron?
Yes, in my experience lard is a great option for seasoning a cast iron pan. I cook with lard, almost exclusively, in our cast iron pans. When they need to be seasoned, we simply add a little extra and bake it in the oven.
Is lard the same as shortening?
No, lard is not the same thing as shortening. Lard comes from rendering the fat of pigs. Shortening is a vegetable by-product made from soybeans and cottonseed. Lard is filled with healthy, fat-soluble vitamins, and shortening is not. Shortening was designed to “replace” lard and was seen as a “cleaner” fat, but in the decades since its invention, we’re starting to understand the health implications of this transition.
Is lard vegan?
Lard, like tallow, is not vegan. Lard is the result of rendering pig fat, making it an entirely animal-based product. Shortening, coconut oil, margarine, etc. would be vegan options to be used instead of lard.
Is lard pork?
Yes, lard, the rendered fat of pigs, is a pork product.
Is lard dairy?
No, lard is nothing more than the rendered fat of pigs. It does not contain dairy, gluten, or any other ingredients besides pork fat.
Is lard gluten free?
Yes, lard is gluten free. Homemade lard contains only the rendered fat from pigs, with no additional ingredients or additives.
Is tallow the same as lard?
No, tallow and lard are 2 different things. Tallow is the rendered fat from a ruminant animal (such as a cow, sheep, or goat). Lard is the rendered fat from a pig.
Both have a neutral flavor, contain an array of fat-soluble vitamins, and can be used in place of butter and other fats in cooking and baking recipes.
Will lard burn?
If rendered at too high of a temperature, lard can burn. The resulting fat will be yellow in color, with a distinctively burnt taste and smell. It is best to not try to rush the rendering process, and to instead keep the fat at a very low temperature.
How long will lard keep?
On the shelf, lard will keep several months to a year or more.
How long will lard last in the freezer?
Lard can last in the freezer for several years if protected from freezer burn.
Can you render ground beef fat?
Yes, but if you added salt or other seasonings while cooking the ground beef, the fat may be too salty or too strongly flavored for other recipes. If you have plain ground beef, you can strain the “grease” from the pan after cooking through a fine sieve to remove any impurities. The plain fat will solidify at room temperature and can be stored in a jar on the counter for frying or other needs.
Now that you have jars of rendered animal fats in the pantry, you’ll be ready to make good use of them with some of these recipes:
My whole wheat biscuit recipe (here) is a great way to start the day and can be made using lard or tallow. This soft sugar cookie recipe uses lard instead of butter. This old school recipe, “Foxfire Molasses Cookies” called for lard in the original recipe, and still does in my updated version.
I hope you’ve been inspired to take the leap and try rendering animal fats yourself. It’s a great way to save money and make use of every bit of the animals we raise. If you give rendering a try, I’d love to see how it turns out! Tag me on Instagram- @EmigrantFarms.
Thanks for reading, and happy homesteading!