Rendering lard can feel like a right of passage when you're a homesteader. It might be out of fashion (thanks a lot Proctor and Gamble), but we're not fooled. Lard is healthy, cheap and easy to make!
What is lard?
Lard is rendered fat that has been sourced from a pig. It has a smoke point of 374 degrees F, which makes it perfect for things like frying and sautéing. You probably guessed it, but despite the modern day fear of lard, cooking with it is actually a healthy move! I made fried chicken the other day fried in - you guessed it - lard, and it was absolutely delightful. I made a double batch and there were no leftovers.
What's so healthy about lard, you ask?
Well let me tell you!
Lard is incredibly rich in nutrients. In today's world, the two-word combination "fatty acids" has folks quaking in their boots but listen, natural fats aren't inherently bad for you. The body, specifically the heart and brain, need fatty acids to function properly and at a healthy level. Processed foods have tons of trans fats, which we know are damaging to the body. A high ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are also damaging, as they can create inflammation, but the trick is choosing something that has the right balance of the two. Enter...
Animal fats have been used in cooking ever since man learned how to make fire, around 250,000 BC. That's an incredibly long time. I could go on and on about how vegetable oils replaced animal fats in the American diet only within the last 100 years or so, but I don't have days to devote to that argument and you don't either because we're supposed to be rendering lard, right?
(If you want to look into why we no longer use animal fats in the standard American diet, do some research on the inventors of Crisco in the 1900's, Proctor & Gamble.)
Types of pork fat
Leaf fat, or fat from around the pigs organs, is considered the cleanest fat on a pig. It's also believed to be the healthiest. We raise our own pigs out on pasture and our butcher will separate the leaf fat from the other fat when packaging it for us.
Fatback is fat that comes from the back of the pig and renders to a slightly more yellow color and has a little bit more of a porky flavor than leaf fat. I typically combine these two fats because I make lots of lard and don't mind the slightly porky flavor in some cases.
Uses for lard
Lard can be used for many things!
Baking, like pie crusts and pastries
Lotions and balms
Cast iron seasoning
....and more, I'm sure!
Where to get pork fat
We raise and sell pasture-raised pork on our farm, which is where I get the fat that I use, but luckily you don't have to raise pigs to get fat for lard rendering. If you have a local farmer that pasture-raises pigs, I'd start there by giving them a call to see if they have any fat they would be willing to sell you. Fat from a pig that was raised in a healthy, stress-free way is very important. Liver may be the toxin-filtering organ but fat is where those excess toxins get stored. Choose fat from pigs that were raised out on pasture and avoid pigs that were raised confined/commercially.
Your other option is finding a local butcher or meat shop and inquiring there. They probably have fat that they can sell you.
Side note: While you can find lard in some grocery stores, I wouldn't buy the stuff. Many of them are hydrogenated and contain BHA and BHT. Avoid these like the plague.
How to render lard
Begin with slightly frozen or cold lard, which makes it easier to cut. Cut the fat into 1-inch pieces. If you have a meat grinder, I would suggest using that since it's easier and actually renders more lard at the end.
I use a crockpot these days, but I used to use a thick-bottom stock pot. You can use either and the process is pretty much the same.
Add enough water to barely cover the bottom of your crockpot/stock pot. This is to prevent the fat from burning at the beginning of the process before it starts to render. Don't worry, the water will evaporate out!
Next, add the fat pieces and turn your crockpot on. Depending on how hot your crockpot gets, you'll either turn it on low or high. If your crockpot gets pretty hot, turn it to 'low' and if it doesn't get very hot (like mine), turn it to 'high'. If you're using a stockpot, turn the burner on the lowest possible setting. You are essentially melting the fat, not cooking it. If the pot gets too hot, the fat will burn and that's when you get the off-white color and porky flavor. We're aiming for white and mild tasting.
Stir every 30 minutes or so, more in the beginning to prevent burning. Depending on how much fat you have in the pot, the rendering process will take anywhere from a few hours to half a day.
Once the fat begins to render, it will create a light golden colored liquid. This is your lard! You can begin ladling this out of the pot and filtering it through a cheesecloth and into your mason jars. This step is optional, as you can just allow the fat to keep rendering in the liquid and then remove it all at once at the end of the process, but I find the flavor and smell is more mild and is less likely to burn if the liquid is consistently removed as the fat renders. You will probably remove the liquid several more times at 30 minute - 1 hour intervals before the fat is completely done rendering.
The fat pieces that are left over after straining are called 'cracklings'. They make the most delicious snack so don't throw them out! I'll let you know how to eat them in a minute.
If you're removing the liquid as it renders out, the cracklings won't do much. However, if you choose to just leave the liquid in the pot until the process is done, the cracklings will sink at first and then rise to the top. When they rise to the top and are darker in color, that's how you know the lard is done rendering.
If you've chosen to remove the liquid as it renders, you'll know the process is finished once the cracklings have grown darker in color and have shriveled up to 1/4 the size they began at. Since you've been taking the liquid out, there probably won't be much left at the end. Strain what's left into your jars.
You can add the cracklings to a pan and fry them up with a little bit of salt to make a crispy snack! They go great as toppings on baked potatoes and my husband even adds them to his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
When hot, the lard is a light golden color. Let it sit at room temperature until it cools and firms up. Once it cools completely, your rendered lard should be a beautiful snow white.
Canning lard as a preservation method is not needed. Lard can be stored at room temperature or the refrigerator for 6-12 months. Many people store their lard at room temperature but I suggest the refrigerator, as it is less likely to go rancid. Lard can be stored in the freezer for years!
That's it! You've rendered your own lard. If you have any questions, send me a message from the little chat icon in the lower right corner of your screen and I'll help you out! I can't wait to make lard soap next month with you guys. See you again very soon!