Our great-grandmothers knew how to make lard! For many years, fat has had a bad rap, saturated animal fat worse than any other. No more. The tide has changed as evidence mounts that fat doesn’t make you fat. (There are many other sources—Google it.)
Note: this blog post is from 2013! While we still render and use lard, some of my uses and opinions have morphed slightly.
This doesn’t mean you need tons of it, but it stands to reason you want the fat you ingest to be the highest possible quality. Stay away from transfats (margarines and processed foods). Stay away from GMO oils (canola, soybean, and corn come to mind.) Stay away from shortening (a “solid” vegetable fat).
That leaves olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, or peanut oil, organic if possible. Most of these are expensive, though, and they’re not local to us in Canada. In my quest to revamp our fats, I began to look through the variety of fats in a traditional diet and came up with butter, lard, and bacon fat. The quality of all these will depend on how the animal is raised and what it is fed.
How To Make Lard
Today I want to focus on how to make lard (and use it). We are in our second year of growing a few pigs for the freezer, and we also have an organic pig farm nearby. Because a lot of people who buy pork don’t want the fat (they don’t know what to do with it), we were able to pick up several extra packages of pork fat for free. Yes, this makes our lard very economical for a high quality fat!
The pork fat had been frozen into packages of 3-5 pounds. A few hours before I want to make lard, I take a package out of the freezer and let it partially thaw. Then I turn hubby loose with a large knife and he whacks it into rough cubes of 1-2″. These go into our large porcelain-covered cast iron Dutch oven, which is set on medium-low heat.
When you walk by, a few times an hour, give it a stir. After an hour or two, you’ll find that the cubes of pork fat are shrinking and browning, and the liquid fat level in the pot is rising. The fat is melting, leaving bits of meat and impurities (the not-fat) behind. It’s called rendering lard.
You can start removing the liquid fat when some has accumulated. You can do it often, or you can wait a few hours. We generally wait until all the pork fat is surrounded by liquid before beginning.
I set a strainer over a heat-proof container (metal, glass, or ceramic are best) and line it with cheesecloth. Then we carefully pour off most of the fat and replace the Dutch oven on the stove to continue to render.
The first batch of rendered fat is the purest, so you may want to mark it. It will have the least porky odor and the whitest color. Each subsequent draining will be a little darker and odorous. By odorous I don’t mean offensive. I just mean that you can smell it. Not a biggy, but if you’re making pie crust, for instance, you’ll want to use the first rendering for that. For cooking, it doesn’t matter a bit.
I pour the cooling fat into glass jars and/or small containers. As the fat cools, it solidifies into a white solid, a little harder than butter at the same temperature, but not so hard that you can’t dip some out. Lard will keep a long time at room temperature, but I’d advise keeping it in the freezer until you need a new container. At the least, it should be kept in a cool area.
The brown bits that are left when all the fat has been removed are called cracklings. Realistically, cracklings still have fat, but whatever! I think we’ll need another post to talk about what to do with cracklings. But not today.
How To Use Lard
Okay. You have lard. What do you do with it?
I often use lard to replace spray oil. Spray oil is just so easy! Now, instead of a spritz of Pam in a baking pan, I often use lard with a brush.
I use lard to fry many food instead of butter or oil. Fried potatoes are fine in lard or bacon fat, as are any meat dishes and some veggie stir-fries.
I use lard for pie crust. Not as often as Jim would like, of course!
I use half lard/half butter in cookies. This is definitely a spot where you want the purer first rendering. Somehow cookies smelling like pork aren’t that appetizing. (In 2020, I haven’t used lard in cookies in eons. Butter it is.)
Butter is now reserved for bread and pancakes. Olive oil (or peanut or sesame oil) is reserved for mayonnaise and salad dressings and occasional sauteing. (In 2020, we use more butter than lard again, but still use lard often for frying meat and veggies.
We’ve saved a lot of money on fats this past year and know the quality of the fats we ingest is much higher than ever before. Sure, you can have too much fat, but I no longer worry about it. I’ve lost weight in the last two years while eating more fat and bacon. (In 2018-20, I’ve lost MORE weight on Trim Healthy Mama!)
Now that you know how to make lard and see how easy it is, I hope you’ll source good quality pork fat where you live. Look for organic or grass-fed pork and realize that with a few hours of being in or near your kitchen, you’ll have quality fat for your family’s needs. Enjoy!