How To Render Fat (or Pig Fat/ Lard)

When working with fat, it’s important that you always use safety as your first priority and never leave it unwatched on the stove.  If you aren’t comfortable around fat, deep frying or working with hit fats, don’t proceed without doing additional homework; no DIY kitchen project is worth personal or property injury.

Our quest to cook traditionally has recently taken a turn; I’ve been examining my relationship with fat.

Although it’s obviously not recommended to consume a fat-based diet, there is certainly a role (and a need) for it in our diet and choosing the ‘right’ fats can be difficult.  Many ‘newer’ fats (such as margarine, vegetable oils) are genetically modified, contain crazy ingredients that sound like a science experiment and are manufactured (the term is intentional) in ways that I can’t resolve.

On the other hand, commercial lard (or other fats) often contain trans fats, are produced with questionable (or abhorrent) regard to the quality of life an animal was raised with and can also contain science-experiment-like-ingredients.

I’m certainly not an expert on fat (Jennifer McLagan, who wrote FAT, appears to be) so this post will not be a breakdown of the health benefits of fat vs fat substitute but rather the instructions on how to render fat to create lard (that’s from pork) or suet/ tallow (that’s from beef).

Rendered fat is great for baking, frying, deep-frying or for cooking.  It has a high smokepoint (it can withstand high heat) and adds a lovely taste to your dishes.  Buying pieces of fat to render is extremely economic (it’s cheaper than commercially made butter) and gives you the opportunity to know the provenance of how the animal was raised (and killed).

You don’t have to render fat to get lard or suet – a traditional butcher may have some on-hand.  I’ve learned that it’s rarely in the display case and often excites a butcher when they are asked.  Note that I specify a ‘traditional’ butcher as many ‘meat shops’ no longer process whole animals and receive boxes of meat that are either pre-cut or allow minimal work to process.  A butcher who purchases a whole animal will try to make the most out of every pound of flesh and will find a use for every piece that they possibly can.

If your butcher doesn’t have fat that’s already rendered, they may have whole fat for sale.  Again, don’t expect to break the bank.  I was able to buy 6 pounds of cubed fat from an organic wild boar for $12 over the holidays.  Depending on how much you render the fat, you will get approximately 1 liter (quart) for every 2 pounds of fat.

My chunks of fat were roughly 1.5 x 3 inches thick.  I’ve read advice that it’s best to chop the fat into tiny pieces but I haven’t found that necessary at all.  I left them whole.

The concept of rendering fat is simple: you gently cook the chunks of fat to separate the fat from the solids the contain it.  The key is to keep the heat high enough to release the fat without being so hot that you deep fry it.  The process is simple:

  1. Pour 0.5-1 cups of water into a deep pan (when working with fat you should always have a pot with a lid in the event that you have a fire and need to cover it).  Use as little as you can but ensure there’s a solid layer of water on the bottom of your pan.  This will help the rendering start and prevent pan frying your fat.
  2. Add the fat into the pot.
  3. Heat the fat over medium heat.  It’s hot enough if the fat begins to melt, too hot if it begins to crackle or fry.
  4. Continue to melt the fat over several hours.  A light simmer is as high as you want and it should never sound like it’s frying.
  5. As the fat melts, a small solid piece will be left; this is the crackling (it will brown in time but remain soggy).  The process will continue to remove fat from the cracklings until they are completely drained.  You’ll be able to tell by looking but if you are uncertain, carefully remove a piece, place it in a bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes before carefully pressing with a potato masher or other instrument to extract any further fat.  Use care as hot fat burns skin really easily.
  6. When complete, you will be left with 2 products: rendered fat (called lard if you used pork or tallow/suet if you used beef) and crackling.  Most of the crackling can be retrieved with a fork/ slotted spoon but for ivory-white rendered fat you must strain it (allow the fat to cool to the point that there’s no danger of being burned and ladle through cheesecloth.
  7. Store crackling and rendered fat in a cool place (I use the fridge or freezer).  The lard will turn very white; use it as called for in recipes and pan fry the crackling crisp to add to other dishes.

That’s all there is to it!

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  1. Hey Joel
    I am still trying to get my head around eating pig or cattle, it has been 34 years and counting – but I do eat chicken, and we live only a couple of miles from one of the few slaughterhouses on Vancouver Island. About 5 months ago I arranged to get 5 pounds of necks and backs and 5 pounds of necks, I wanted to make and pressure can a quantity of chicken broth.
    What I ended up with was not only broth, but also a quantity of meat from the pickings, and a LARGE quantity of fat that came to the top of the broth.

    I took my time and used a ladle and then creative turkey baster to move the broth and the fat into two separate containers. I let the fat cool in the fridge then scooped the top bits off and heated them until the liquid was gone, and then took the fat off the cracklings (there were still cracklings, even with Chicken broth/fat). I let it cool until safe and ladled it into sterilized canning jars.

    I have found that this lovely fat has so many uses, and your post has reminded me to bring up another jar from the downstairs fridge.

    OH< and the broth has been so appreciated, I have learned that pint jars are the right size for 3/4 of my food projects, we use tattler lids as I know I won't be sharing the jars, and I also use the 3 cup spaghetti jars to can in. a quart is too big for almost all of our chicken broth requirements. Making a quantity of broth and pressure canning it, then having both fat and meat as well – a gift. From all I see, keeping the chicken fat in the fridge is a long term proposition – do you know how long it will safely last?

    Also, have you tried making pastry with Chicken fat? I imagine it might be a darn tasty chicken pot pie with either baking powder biscuits (chicken fat style) or with real rolled pasty, but a part of me is scared to try!

    • Ecoteri!

      Happy New Year!

      That was an awesome post to read – I spent 6 or 7 years eating similar to you (with occasional fish) so I can relate (though 34 years is obviously a much longer commitment – well done!)

      I’ll see what I can find about storing the fat. I haven’t baked with it (though we shared a recipe for biscuits lately that used a combination of better and beef fat that could use chicken fat). I plan to cook with more whole fats like these this year so will hopefully have something for you!

      I really loved hearing the breakdown of your process to canning and using stock – always learn something by seeing how others work! 🙂


  2. I am having a very difficult time sourcing beef suet (fat or tallow) from Canada. I want to buy in continuous bulk to fry potatos in my restaurant. Any recommendation or referrals?

    • Hi Ambrose, you may want to check with Pete at Sanagan’s (Kensignton Market, Toronto). I suspect you’ll continue to struggle though; that much suet is tough to come by (after talking to several who have tried the same thing)… 🙁

      • Thanks Joel. I’ve contacted Sanagan and hope there will be some quantities of supplies available.

        What do you think of my chances for continuous supplies if I go straight to farmer/butcher (slaughterhouse)?