A step by step tutorial on how to render lard and the benefits of using it! Learn about the myths surrounding lard and animal fats, the history behind the industry, and how to make lard, store it, and use it!
Chances are the vast majority of people reading the title and looking at this bottle of lard will have a negative reaction. What will follow is the pronouncement of a string of health conditions that through decades of medical myths have come to be associated with eating lard. In the meantime our ancestors are shaking their heads, “our average lifespan was as long as yours and we didn’t have nearly the number of health conditions as you do today.”
So what happened? What caused us to so vehemently reject one of our ancestors’ most basic food staples?
I won’t attempt to give you all the reasons but I’ll provide a really good starting point. Where: The USA. When: Early 1900’s. Who: Proctor & Gamble.
They had a booming business producing cotton. Which, by the way, is not considered a food crop by the FDA. (That’s important. Keep reading.) But there was this unwanted portion of the cotton plant – cottonseed – that they couldn’t do anything with. And they had lots and lots of it. So they put their heads together to come up with something they could do with cottonseed in order to profit from it. Drumroll…They discovered a method of intense processing that enabled them to extract oil from the cottonseed – and at virtually zero expense to them! But they found the oil was unstable at room temperature and turned easily rancid. Enter Hydrogenation. They figured out that hydrogenating the stuff made it stable and last a long time. And here comes the “What”: The end result was an oil that looked like lard. They called it Crisco.
An issue of Popular Science summed it up this way: “What was garbage in 1860 was fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, and table food and many things else in 1890.” And it changed the way we thought about food and the way we ate for generations. The legacy of the anti-lard and butter mindset it established still continues today.
Did you know that more marketing dollars were spent on making Crisco a success than any other marketing endeavor up to that point in history? What ensued from that point on can only be summed up as one of the greatest, most widespread and most misfortunate health scandals of all time with health consequences were are still reaping.
On the one hand, while Crisco was being marketed as cheaper and “healthier” than lard or butter, simultaneously marketing dollars were spent labelling butter and lard as intrinsically “bad.” They even gave away free cookbooks with every purchase of Crisco. And of course you can guess which ingredient replaced everything that normally would have called for butter or lard.
With so much marketing wealth and power behind the effort, it took only a few years to turn an entire nation away from the source of fat that had been used for centuries by their ancestors. And it was successfully labeled as hazardous to our health. Oh, the sad irony.
Decades later, when illnesses began mounting to the point where the statistics could no longer be ignored, the statement was finally released that hydrogenated oils are bad for you. But the fat phobia continued as did the manufacturing of substitute oils.
One such oil: Canola. Guess where canola oil comes from? (Hint: No, it’s not the canola plant. There’s no such thing per se. The “canola” plant was developed in the 1970’s and is nothing more than a modified, cross-bred version of the rapeseed plant.) The name is the shortened version of “Canada oil low acid” and comes from rapeseed. Another non-food crop. Here’s a little history on rapeseed oil: During WWII, rapeseed oil was used on naval ships as a lubricant. When the war ended, there was so much farmland in Canada already dedicated to growing rapeseed that they wanted to find other uses for it so they could continue pulling a profit. The problem with rapeseed oil: It’s such a terribly foul-tasting and rancid-smelling oil that it isn’t fit for human consumption. And so they spent the next few decades until the 1970’s working out a way to make it edible. That process requires heavy refining, bleaching and deodorizing using harsh chemicals (as far from “natural” as it gets) to finally yield the neutral-tasting, odorless oil that now sits on grocery store shelves bearing the American Heart Association’s seal of approval.
Fast forward to today: Almost all processed and pre-packaged foods – everything from chips and breakfast cereal to canned soups and salad dressings – are made with either canola, cottonseed, soybean/vegetable or corn oil. Why? Because they’re cheap to produce. And because we’re still in this mindset that they’re somehow better for you than lard or butter. (For more info on why soybean/vegetable and corn oil (and several others) are so bad for you, see this article for an explanation).
Well, we’ve come full circle. Medical research over the past several years has continued to confirm that fat is not the devil it’s been made out to be and that it is not the root cause of cardiovascular disease. Medical literature is finally starting to reflect this as are many health professionals in their medical advice. However, the notion that fat is bad has been so deeply engrained in our culture and medical philosophy for so long that it’s going to take some time before we’ve all caught up to the facts. Even many health professionals are still stuck in that archaic mindset, though we’re slowly starting to see the rhetoric change.
Our ancestors had it right after all.
My philosophy and approach to diet is a simple one and echoes centuries of wisdom: 1) Eat real, whole foods as close to their natural state as possible and 2) eat things in moderation.
So that brings us back to lard. It’s a fully natural, whole food. It can be made in your own kitchen without any special equipment and the process couldn’t be simpler: Melt it. Strain it. Use it.
Benefits of Lard
Lard has several advantages over other oils/fats, one of them being that it, along with beef tallow, has one of the highest smoke points. That means it doesn’t oxidize when you heat it (oxidization = cancer). So lard is ideal for high heat cooking (i.e., anything above a light sauté).
Lard also has a high melting point making it the best choice for extra flaky pie crusts and pastries (beef tallow even more so – we’ll be addressing tallow next time.) Get ready to really experience the old-fashioned taste of yesteryear and what made grandma’s baking so famous.
Lastly, it tastes awesome! Get ready to make the best fried chicken, crispy hash browns and just about anything you want to taste just that much better.
Finally, it has health benefits. That’s right, lard is a good thing. To read about its health benefits along with several other reasons to use lard, check out this article: Top 10 Reasons To Bring Lard Back.
Types of Fat from a Pig
Belly: This is what’s used in the U.S. to make bacon (in the UK it’s known as streaky bacon). As its name suggests, it comes from the belly of the pig and has layers of fat and meat. Pork belly has become popular in recent years in a variety of cuisine. You typically wouldn’t render the belly into lard because there is too much meat attached.
Fatback: This comes from the back of the pig, includes the shoulder and rump areas, and is the thick layer of fat directly underneath the skin. Once rendered it produces a lard that’s slightly yellow in color and it has a stronger pork odor and flavor than leaf fat (see below). It’s great for frying or sauteing. Fatback is also what’s used in sausage-making.
Leaf Fat: This is the fat from around the pig’s kidney’s and, like beef leaf fat, is the “cleanest” fat on the pig. It’s also the healthiest. Once rendered it produces a lard that’s white in color with a milder odor and flavor, making it ideal for use in pie crusts and pastries.
***IMPORTANT NOTE: The health benefits of lard apply only to pasture-raised pork. Fat is where a lot of the bad stuff is stored and concentrated (ie, chemicals, additives, by-products of junk ingredients, etc) and for that reason we strongly recommend only using fat from pasture-raised pigs. Avoid fat from commercially raised pigs.
How to Store Lard
Lard was used and stored for centuries before refrigeration was invented. It will keep at room temperature for a long time (traditionally many kept it for up to a year). Nevertheless, today most recommend storing it in the fridge. It’s your call. In the fridge it will keep for at least 6 months and up to a year also and many say it’s less likely to get rancid in the fridge. I’ve heard of many people keeping it for even longer than a year in the fridge. Lard can be kept almost indefinitely and what determines if it’s still good is its smell: If it starts smelling rancid, throw it out and make another batch.
For longer storage lard can also be frozen. Freeze it in bars, in cubes, in tablespoon amounts, in tubs (slicing off what you need, no need to thaw), whatever you prefer. Lard can also be frozen in glass jars once the fat has solidified at room temperature.
It is best to only freeze it once though, not thaw and re-freeze.
Homemade rendered lard is very shelf stable. The process of rendering it removes excess water and other impurities, thus preserving the fat and keeping it from spoiling.
IS LARD PASTEURIZED?
Because lard is a pure fat and does not contain enough water to support bacterial growth (i.e., causing spoilage) lard doesn’t need to be pasteurized.
A WORD OF CAUTION
If you choose to buy lard rather than render it yourself, be very careful about the lard you find in stores. Many of them are hydrogenated and many also contain large amounts of highly toxic benzene derivatives known as BHA and BHT. Avoid these. Plus, making it yourself is MUCH cheaper than buying it. Most “clean” commercial lard on the market charge more than $20 per pound. I’m able to make more than six times that amount for the same price!
If you have a local butcher you trust that makes lard from pasture-raised pigs, perfect. Otherwise I strongly recommend making it yourself, choosing fat pastured pigs that were raised responsibly. As noted earlier, fat is where a lot of the bad stuff is stored and concentrated (ie, chemicals, additives, by-products of junk ingredients, etc) and so it’s important to choose “clean” fat from pigs that were pasture-raised and avoid fat from commercially-raised pigs.
THREE WAYS OF RENDERING LARD
You can render lard in a heavy pot (Dutch oven is perfect) in the oven between 225-250 degrees F, on the stove top over low heat (start at “2” and once it begins melting turn it down to “1”) or in a crock pot on LOW. Whichever method you choose, just remember that if you’re wanting a neutral flavor for using in pastries and pie crusts, cook it over very low heat, otherwise your lard will have a much stronger, “piggy” flavor (which is still fine for things like frying and sauteing where you want to add a little flavor boost).
Help, my lard has grown mold! Pure fat doesn’t grow mold, it goes rancid. So if there’s mold on it it’s because it wasn’t rendered long enough and/or it wasn’t strained properly. If there are any bits of meat or sediment left in the lard after rendering it, those will grow mold.
I’ve also heard some people recommend that if you’re going to store the lard in the fridge instead of at room temperature or freezing it, to cover it with cheesecloth or a tea towel and rubber band since a screwed on lid can trap moisture inside the jar.
How to Render Lard
Let’s get started!
I’m using leaf fat for this. Referring to the section above about different kinds of fat.
I highly recommend freezing the fat first because it makes the job of chopping the fat MUCH easier and cleaner!
Dice the fat as small as you can. The smaller you chop the pieces the quicker it will render and the more lard you will get out of it. (Note: I recommend chopping it smaller than the batch pictured below. That was my third batch that week and I was getting impatient.) **Also, if you have a friendly butcher who is willing to grind the lard for you, ask them. Alternatively you can freeze it and finely chop it in your food processor.
Place the fat in a slow cooker and set it to LOW.
If you’re melting it over the stovetop, place it in a heavy pot and set it to “2”. Once it begins melting set it to “1”. (Again, the key is cooking it over low heat to produce a beautifully clean and white lard with a neutral flavor.)
You can also render lard in the oven: Place it in a heavy pot (Dutch oven is perfect) and set the oven between 225-250 degrees F.
I leave the lid off to prevent water/moisture from building up, which can lead to spoiling. By leaving the lid off, any developing water/moisture will evaporate.
It will take several hours. The cracklings will soon sink down and then rise up again. Once they’ve risen again the lard is done. Another indicator that’s it’s done is that it will audibly crackle, gasp and sigh.
If you over-cook it or allow it to burn on the edges, the lard will begin to brown and you’ll end up with a lard that has a stronger porky flavor. It’s still completely usable for things like frying and sauteing, it’s just not ideal for making sweet pastries and pie crusts.
What to do with those sad, limp bits of pork fat? Turn them into crispy cracklings! Transfer them to a frying pan and fry until they’re puffy and crispy. If you want, add some seasonings. Eat them as a snack or sprinkle them over your salads.
Strain it through a colander to remove the cracklings. Then strain it again through 3 layers of cheesecloth to remove the remaining small bits and sediment.
It’s critical that you remove any bits of fat and gristle along with any tiny bits of sediment, otherwise your lard will get moldy. Pure fat doesn’t grow mold, it goes rancid. So if there’s mold on it it’s because it wasn’t rendered long enough to remove all the water and/or it wasn’t strained properly. So be sure to properly strain it.
In its liquid state, the color of the lard will be like lemonade. Once it cools and hardens it will become white.
Place the melted lard in whatever container you want to keep it in long-term (preferably glass or, if that’s not available a non-reactive metal). Let it sit undisturbed at room temperature until it has to cooled down and is firm (it firms up pretty quickly).
For information on how to store lard, see the “How to Store Lard” section above.
How To Render Lard (and why you should use it)
- Leaf lard or fatback (depending on what you're using it for - see blog post for description), diced as finely as you can (dice it while frozen)
- NOTE: Use only fat from pasture-raised pigs only (see Word of Caution section in blog post)
- NOTE: Use this same method for beef tallow and other animal fats
- See step-by-step pictures in blog post for a detailed description on how to render the lard (3 methods: Stovetop, Oven and Slow Cooker) along with troubleshooting and storage tips.
Michael Parsons says
Kimberly and Craig,
1st off, I’m not an authority on “canning”. That was my mom and grandmom back in their days. I don’t Hot Water Bathe my filled jars of lard so as to avoid unwanted exposure to moisture intrusion while the process is happening. But what has worked (so far) is after filling my jars of hot melted lard to 1/4-1/2″ the sterilized jar rims, I let it cool and solidify, then I use my Food Saver canning jar lid accessory to apply a tight vacuum (where not allowing the lard to first solidify allows vacuum to extract the soft fat into the vinegar wiped rim and preventing the seal). Among other things in canning, such as lengthy cooking inside the jars with a PSI canner, or Hot Water method, the created vacuum is necessary, be it vacuum of hot contents cooling, or physically created with my machine. Works the same when I can soft cheeses, or hard boiled peeled eggs, I don’t want them to overcook. That might be short sighted to the experts, but it hasn’t failed me yet. If it holds a tight suction seal, has no unintended odor, no mold or specks, no aekward product discoloring, bubbles or texture issues, then I’m game. I did learn some pointers though by dicing the fat smaller for more efficient and uniform yield and time management. Cracklings usually get chopped and mixed into when I make suet cakes for the birds. I never dug cracklings.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and insights, Michael!
Ginger Inga says
I’ve been raising my own hogs as hogs should be for about 27 years. I ran out of butter, (I do prefer a pie crust made with lard and butter) soooo I was poking around looking for an all lard recipe, which of course led me to see what you had to say about rendering LOL I had heard years ago that leaf lard was more nutritious but never got a source to back this up. I see that you also state this, do you possibly have any reference to cite on this?
I’ll add 2 things to your lovely article. Leaf lard has a higher melting point than regular, which is likely the reason it makes for the best pie crusts. Though our neighbor swore that catfish needed to be fried in it. Perhaps it has a higher smoke point also? Also, lard will keep for many many years if stored properly and I don’t mean in the fridge. I put it in canning jars topping it off as high in the jar as I can. Put on a new lid and ring and store it in a dark place. As long as the lid remains sealed the lard will be good for 5 years. Maybe more, I had a dated jar that I kept for that long and finally had to use it. It was as fresh as the day I rendered it!
For what it is worth I’ve never had yellow fat off a hog, my belly or other fat has never turned yellow once rendered. Yellow fat is a sign of rancidity. Well aged hams are a perfect example of this, with their yellow fat on the outside of the ham.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Hi Ginger, thank you for sharing that about your experience. I’ve seen multiple sources, including Dr. Weil, state that leaf fat is healthier but I haven’t seen an actual study on it. I would assume they’re referring to the fact that it’s “cleaner” than fat from other areas of the pig because of how/where toxins are deposited. Dr. Weil does point out that “nutritionally speaking, lard has nearly one-fourth the saturated fat and more than twice the monounsaturated fat as butter. It is also low in omega-6 fatty acids, known to promote inflammation.” Comparing the melting and smoke points of leaf vs back fat, I’ve seen that leaf fat has a melting point of 110-118F while back fat has melting point of 86-104F. Regarding “yellow” lard, it’s more “creamy/off white” than it is yellow. Leaf fat renders into a brighter and whiter fat than back fat does. Regarding length of storage time, I have never seen lard last anywhere near that long, even under optimal storage conditions. I’m very vigilant though, even the slightest hint of rancidity and I toss it.
michael kristiansen says
Great recipe; but what do I do with the remains if the fatty lard that did not disolve into liquid.
Kimberly Killebrew says
Hi Michael, it needs to be strained through a fine sieve until there are no more chunks/bits remaining.
Your spot on making this lard, and what a difference if you make you own. Been doing this the same way for years, yours is perfect. I also save the rendered lard when I smoke shoulders, it has a smoky taste and is great for making BBQ sauces and different things.
Country Roads says
Wonderful article! I so agree with you! It’s a shame so many have been conditioned to avoid natural fats!
Thanks so much for spreading the word on fat facts! I never thought of a slow cooker method; looking forward to making my own lard now! xo
You are so wrong when it comes to rapeseed oil. It is a true competitor to olive oil. You can dip bread in it the same you would olive oil and have similar, if not better taste. I visited a Suffolk farm that was pressing the oil themselves and had a ‘tasting room’. It was amazing! This oil is as healthy and tasty.
I’m from England originally and was brought up on butter, lard and ‘drippings’, suet puddings, the lot! Natural fats much better for you than margarine – yuk!
No Name says
You need to educate yourself rapeseed is NOT natural.
Any and all seed oils are horrible for you. Especially once its been hydrolyzed. Way too high in omega 6 (which is not good), should be as close to a 1 to 1 ratio with omega 3’s as possible (like olive oil). Not to mention the myriad of different toxic chemicals used in its production. Watch the Oiling of America on youtube.
Zoltan Katona says
Rapeseed is dangerous to health, it contains high amount of Omega6 that causes inflammatory and eruca acid that can damage the heart arterias. Rapeseed is a big red flag…
Mária Wáczek says
My Hungarian parents had a Hungarian friend who owned a restaurant. Duck was one of his menu. He’d come to visit once a month and He would give my mother some of the duck fat and my mother would cook just about everything with it. It was delicious. Eventually, years down the road, duck fat ran out. We could really tell the difference in my mother’s cooking. I’m very seriously thinking about your lard now. I just might have to talk to my butcher. Thank you
The price of ducks from the farmers has recently shot way up. My butcher at Whole Foods tells me they, Kroger, Giant and other large grocery chains are dropping duck. He says if they sold it, legs would be $10/pound and breasts much more. I used to buy duck legs in pairs or fours and braise them with five spice, and save the fat for frying potatoes and many other uses. Today I’m making lard cuz there’s no more duck fat, and an apple pie has got to be made.
Annie Ok says
Go to TastyDuck.com which is a huge duck farm in Pennsylvania, probably Mennonite or Amish. You can buy duck and duck fat at an affordable price.
Thank you so much for getting this good info out there for ppl. It’s a good read!
Minimally processed lard from responsibly-raised pigs is healthy and delicious. Similarly, minimally processed rapeseed oil from responsibly-grown plants is also healthy and delicious. As you point out, the quality of the raw materials that makes the difference.
Thank you for the rendering tutorial! I love cooking with lard and would like to find a more economical way of obtaining it. Finding the high-quality fat to render will be the challenge in my area.
Minimally processed lard is delicious and healthy.
Minimally processed rapeseed oil is delicious and healthy, too.
The problem isn’t the raw materials, it’s the heavy processing and the use of animals/plants which are not responsibly raised.
I love using lard and suet and very much appreciate the clear instructions on rendering!
Elizabeth Zalusky says
I sure do not know where the recipie went. I looked all over for it! How disappointing!!!
Marielle Rigaux says
Lard was a staple in the very old days when men and women physically worked all day and they calorie intake was not made up of fast food and commercially prepared foods. Plant based oils are produced by extraction and crushing the seed.
That piggy smell is the smell of concentrates that are fed to pigs . They SHOULD Be off of the concentrates and antibiotics (if it was necessary) for 10 days prior to slaughter.
Freeze the lard, if I use 5 lbs in a yr. I’ve made a lot of pies.
allan smith says
the best way to render pork fat is with water simmer the chopped fat in a small amount of water, this keeps the tempurature down and dosen’t allow it to burn. once it gets going, hit it with an imersion blender when th water is cooked out strain it through cheese cloth and you have perfect white lard, this is an ancient and very efficient method. the fat back lard contains huge amounts of vitamen D making it the best
Michele Anderson says
They had immersion blenders back then? Who knew? :)
Hi, thanks for your article. With the world as it is I have become an avid canner(although still learning), both water bath and pressure. I noted in your article that shelf life 8s only around 1 year. Is it possible to can lard for longer storage periods?
Kimberly Killebrew says
Hi Craig, I completely understand where you’re coming from on that and wish you success in your canning preparations. Unfortunately lard cannot be canned. Canning anything with large amounts of oil poses a problem (any authoritative sources advise against it) and so canning pure oil/fat even more so.