Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rendering Lard & Restoring its Good Name

Lard gets a really bad rap. However, it's not nearly as maligned as once claimed. It has less saturated (bad) fat and twice the monounsaturated (good) fat of butter, with no trans fats. Rendered lard is also a great source of Vitamin D and is experiencing a huge resurgence among "food people" right now. 

However, storebought, shelf-stable lard has been hydrogenated to prevent the need for refrigeration. Unfortunately, this process adds trans fats to the lard, in addition to whatever preservatives may also be added.

Thankfully, rendering lard at home is an easy and inexpensive process. 

Lard has had a longstanding respect here in the South. It makes the flakiest pie crusts, the fluffiest biscuits, and nothing is better for frying chicken (which HAS to be done in a cast iron skillet, of course) due to its high smoke point. Now that I render my own lard at home, I use it in place of shortening.

To render lard, you'll need pork fat, the fresher the better. Not all grocery stores carry pork fat, even here in Birmingham. Your best bet will likely be to ask a local butcher, or check some local Hispanic or Asian markets. 

Leaf lard, from inside the loin and surround the kidneys, is the best lard for baking, as it harbors almost no pork flavor.  Fatback, taken from between the back muscle and the skin, is used for savory applications, but take care to find true fatback and not the salted and cured fatback more readily available in stores. The salted & cured fat will result in INCREDIBLY salty lard. Trust me and the four jars of unusable lard that are languishing in my refrigerator on this one.

There are several great tutorials for rendering lard online; I highly recommend the ones posted by Homesick Texan and Nourished Kitchen

Measurements aren't important when it comes to rendering lard. Just start with some fresh pork fat (I'm using fatback as opposed to leaf lard). The store that I buy from sells it for only $1.49 a lb. 

Slice up the fat, removing any large pieces of remaining meat. I left some meat on my fat this time, as I was going for a more savory lard. If you want a plain, flavorless lard (for instance, for baking), remove as much of the remaining meat as possible. Freezing the fat slightly helps immensely for removing excess meat. 

Cut the slices into cubes. 

If you have a meat grinder, you can also grind the fat and save your wrists from a ton of chopping.

Pour 1/2 to 1 cup of water in the bottom of a heavy stockpot. This will prevent the fat from sticking and burning; the water will evaporate as the fat renders.  Add the cubed fat to the stockpot. 

Heat the pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Low and slow is the way to go here. After an hour or so, the water will evaporate and the fat will begin to melt. As the fat renders out all of its air and moisture, it will begin to pop and sizzle. Stir frequently. 

SIDENOTE: There IS a smell associated with rendering fat; it's not terrible, but it is somewhat porky. Use the fan. Open a window if you want. Do like me and have a pot of water simmering on a burner with cinnamon sprinkled in it to help neutralize the smell. 

The cubes of fat will become "puffed" and float to the surface. At this point, they are now known as "cracklins". Not "cracklings". This is the South - the "g" would be silent anyway. 

The cubes of fat have just puffed to become cracklins.

When the cracklins sink to the bottom of the pot, the fat has been fully rendered and the lard is done.

Remove the pot from the heat and let the pot cool slightly. Strain the melted fat through a mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth, pressing the cracklins to extract as much of the melted fat as possible. Feel free to eat the cracklins or save them for seasoning beans and greens.

The strained fat will be liquid, ranging from a yellowish-gold color to an amber color depending on cook time and temperature, as well as how much meat was left attached to the fat. Pour the fat into jars and cover with lids.

If you use a lot of Mason jars, scope out local thrift shops. I get my pints for 10 cents and quarts for 25 cents apiece and just buy new lids and bands.

Once cooled to room temperature, place the jars in the refrigerator. The lard will solidify into a creamy, white lard. 

Soft and scoopable/spreadable, even completely chilled. 

Lard can also be rendered in a slow cooker; I have not tried this method yet, but am planning to pick up some more fat and try it out soon.

UPDATE: I tried rendering lard in a slow cooker, and it is now my preferred method.


  1. Great sharing. I have never thought to keep the lard in refrigerator before. Normally it will get some "smell" when leave it overnight in room temperature. Btw, the shot so gorgeous ^^

  2. Thank you! I was wary at first of keeping the lard refrigerated (was afraid it would firm up and become really hard), but it stays nice and soft and creamy.

  3. How long does it last in the fridge?

  4. Jami, you can keep the lard in the fridge for 3 months or freeze it for up to a year.

  5. Really interesting post! I had no idea lard was better than you for butter. It sounds like quite a project but I bet I could find pork fat in North Carolina. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great information and instructions. I never knew it was so easy. I have made butter, but never lard. Yes, that is a great photo.

  7. Fresh lard, tallow, duck/chicken/goose fat, butter/ghee and then maybe the occasional organic red palm, coconut and olive oil (raw/low-temp only).

    GREAT post, thanks so much!

  8. Thank you all for the nice comments!!

  9. Standing ovation, my dear. PLus I love your blog title!! Gosh, someone with a great sense of humor! Yeah again!!

    Happy Holidays to you and thanks for posting this.

  10. Happy Holidays to you and yours as well, Kathleen! And thank you for the lovely compliment!

  11. I will have to look far and wide in Colorado to find pork fat. I want to try it, though! Roll Tide!

  12. Jess, try any butcher shop or any Asian or Hispanic markets, and you might luck out. And Roll Tide back at you!!

  13. Ok this may sound awful to most American palettes but eastern Europeans have rendered lard for centuries so it's been a staple in my home while I was growing up. My mom would render the lard and leave the cracklins in there and after it had solidified she would smear some on some hearty bread and slice some onions thinly on top and maybe sprinkle some salt. With the lard taste and the crispy cracklins and the bite of the onion it was a great combo. Oh man it was sooooooooo good, not something you eat every day maybe not even every month but a sometimes treat that tastes too good to care about your arteries. As you can tell not many people are game for eating lard cold but it does have a great balance.

  14. Koosh, that doesn't sound awful at all to me!! Here in the Deep South, up until very recently, many families were farmers and rendered their own lard.

    GOOD lard has such a mild flavor and creamy texture, almost like butter. Hard to beat!

  15. Julia, I was just reading an article someone tweeted, and I recognized the picture!!

  16. Patty, I saw that too! I knew something was up, because my photo views on Flickr went WAY up today!!

  17. Now I want to try this! Where can I find pork fat?

  18. Yadi, try any butcher shop or anywhere that processes game for hunters. Some specialty grocers will also carry pork fat, and I usually can find it at most Asian or Hispanic markets.

  19. You imply tat butter has transfats.
    It does NOT!