We’re excited to welcome David Maren of Tendergrass Farms to RobbWolf.com with this guest post. He’s written this great how-to for rendering your own delicious lard.
Pork Lard is one of the most traditionally American fats that you can cook with. Until the 1960’s virtually every kitchen in this country had lard in the larder. Today, only a tiny fraction of Americans eat lard regularly and most of that lard is commercially produced and therefore hydrogenated and polluted with preservatives such as BHT. Despite the stigma that lard may have today, naturally rendered lard is mostly monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic fatty acid which is very healthy and great to use in almost any recipe that calls for fats. It’s especially renowned for its use in high temperature cooking such as deep frying. There are already plenty of great articles around the blogosphere that break down the reasons why lard is healthy so I’ll stick to the basics of making the stuff in this post.
Here I will outline the simple, fun, and easy steps in the age-old process of rendering your own natural pork lard from unprocessed pork fat.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Some unrendered pork fat (at least one pound)
- A knife and cutting board
- A crock pot
- A nice cooking spoon
- A ladle (or large teacup)
- A sieve (or some cheesecloth)
- Some mason jars with lids (the wide mouth kind works best)
This process will take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours depending on the level of heat that your crockpot puts out and the amount of lard you choose to render. Every pound of unrendered pork fat should yield somewhere in the ballpark of one pint of rendered lard.
At Tendergrass Farms, we offer both pastured pork leaf lard and pastured pork back fat. If you purchase unrendered pork fat from a local farmer make sure to ask which kind of fat you’re buying. Leaf lard is from the interior of the animal near the kidneys and back fat is from, well – the back of the pig, between the loin and the skin. If you purchase back fat it will almost always have a little bit of red meat layered with the white fat while leaf lard tends to be more purely white in color through and through. Both types of fat are delicious and versatile but back fat does often have a richer flavor that may arguably make it somewhat less suitable for a few particular purposes such as certain desserts or baked goods.
The process for rendering back fat (pictured above) and leaf lard is virtually the same. Either way, the first step is to chop it up before throwing it in the crock pot. The purpose of grinding or chopping the unrendered fat is to enable it to be heated evenly during the rendering process. Half-inch squares work quite well but you can experiment with the best chopping method that works for you. Lard is easiest to work with when it is frozen or at least well chilled.
Once you’ve gotten your fat chopped up, you can go ahead and toss it in the crock pot. Mine fits about 7 or 8 pounds, but that’s pushing it. Yours may only fit 5 pounds or so. When deciding how big your batch of lard should just take into account that the size of your batch will determine how long it will take to render – the bigger the batch, the more time it will take.
The next step is to add about a ¼ cup of water. This amount is not exact, and it doesn’t matter too much because it will evaporate out during the rendering process. The purpose of adding water is to help transfer the heat from the crockpot into the cold fat without scorching it.
Once you’ve added the water you can turn your crockpot on. Crockpots vary tremendously in terms of the actual heat generated at their various settings. Your goal at this point is to get the fat as hot as possible as fast as possible without causing it to burn. My crockpot is fairly low-end which may explain why I am able to leave it on high without any fear of the fat burning. I like to leave the lid on for at least the first hour or so in order to help the crock get up to temperature as quickly as possible. Be sure to stir the fat at least of every twenty minutes or so to make sure that it isn’t burning and to help distribute the heat throughout the crockpot’s contents.
After an hour or two, once the fat has started to partially liquefy, remove the lid of the crockpot to allow any remaining water to evaporate. You may find it necessary to change the setting on your crockpot to low in order to keep the now partially rendered mixture just simmering lightly. You will notice that the volume of the contents of your crockpot will decrease somewhat as the fat renders into lard.
As soon as you notice that the mixture is about half liquid and half solid, it’s time to start removing some of the rendered lard in order to help the remaining fat chunks cook down further. The best method for separating the solids from the liquid is to use a ladle, a sieve (or some cheesecloth), and a separate bowl to collect the liquid lard. As you do this, return the solids to the crockpot to continue the rendering process, wait a few minutes, and repeat. Little by little you will continue this procedure until there is only small amount of relatively dry solids in your crock.
The solids that are left behind are called “cracklings.” They consist of minute pieces of tissue that had previously held the pig’s fat together. This is also where the little streaks of red meat mixed with the back fat end up. At this point the cracklings should be soft and not yet crunchy in texture. When you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten virtually all of the liquid lard out of the cracklings, you’re done with the lard making process. It is best to let your bowl of liquid lard sit for a few minutes to cool in order to be able to ladle it into jars without the risk of them breaking from the heat of the lard.
Meanwhile, throw your cracklings on a cookie sheet and bake them at about 375F for about 20 to 30 minutes. Once they’re crispy, they’re ready to be eaten!
Cracklings are incredibly delicious and protein rich. Add them to a salad or a pot of green beans or just snack of them throughout your day. They’re the perfect lightweight, high fat, high protein trail fuel.
By now your lard is probably cool enough to ladle into jars.
When hot, lard is clear with a slightly yellow glow but as it cools in your refrigerator it will turn snow white (see the first picture at the top of this post). Naturally rendered lard has a fairly long shelf life in well-sealed jars even at room temperature but it’s best to keep it in the fridge just in case it takes a few months to use it all up. It will last almost indefinitely in your freezer.
Lard rendering is by no means an exact science. The only ways that you can easily go wrong would be to either put your crockpot on too low of a setting (like “warm”) or if you were to burn your fat before it has had a chance to liquefy. If your fat seems to be taking too long to liquefy, just turn your crockpot up a notch and put the lid back on. If it seems like it’s trying to burn, stir it around a bit and turn it down a notch. Other than that, it’s pretty straightforward. Remember, some of you may render one pound in a very hot crockpot and it will take only two hours while others may render six or eight pounds in a cooler crockpot and it may take more like 8 hours. Either way it’ll work out as long as you’re patient!
David Maren is a husband, father, farmer, and co-founder of Tendergrass Farms. Tendergrass Farms is a cooperative online grass fed meats shop that exists as a bridge between the often geographically isolated family farmer and committed grass fed meats enthusiasts like yourself. The Tendergrass Farms vision is to sustain family farms through making it easy for you to purchase their meats by taking advantage of appropriate technology and ultra-efficient transportation models that enable their meats to be shipped to fans all around the USA.