If you ever need an entertaining conversation starter with your non-homesteading friends, try mentioning that you rendered beef tallow last week.
You’ll more than likely receive a variety of reactions ranging from shock, to disgust, to confusion, to blank stares because they have no idea what the heck you are talking about.
Tallow is basically the same thing as lard, only it comes from a cow instead of a pig. It’s an “old-fashioned” fat that is a healthy alternative to vegetable shortenings and canola oil. The best part about tallow is that it’s stable at high temperatures, which means it’s superb for frying stuff!
Here’s a little more info on tallow’s health benefits:
Tallow is an excellent source of niacin, vitamins B6, B12, K2, selenium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and riboflavin. Grassfed beef tallow contains high ratio of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a cancer-resistant agent. Contrary to the popular conception, tallow is good for health as tallow fat is similar to the fat/muscles in the heart. Recent studies have shown that human beings need at least 50% of saturated fats like tallow and lard to keep the heart pumping hard and healthy. Tallow from pasture-raised cows also contains a small amount of Vitamin D, similar to lard.
The problem with tallow and lard is they are usually hard to find these days, unless you have access to a old-fashioned butcher shop. (Don’t even think about using the lard you’ll find in most conventional grocery stores… It’s usually hydrogenated and just as bad for you as shortenings…) So, your best bet will be learning how to render tallow yourself!
When we butchered our Jersey steer recently, I was thrilled to have some quality beef fat to play around with for the first time ever.
How to Render Tallow
You will need:
- Quality beef fat (also known as suet)- You can render any sort of beef fat into tallow, but the absolute best is considered to be the “leaf fat” which lies around the kidneys of the animal. It is the cleanest and mildest tasting. And of course, choose grassfed beef fat if at all possible.
- Large stock pot OR slow cooker
- Clean glass jars for storage (wide mouth work best)
- Cheesecloth or improvised cheesecloth alternative
If you are butchering the animal yourself, you’ll find the leaf fat in a big mass around the kidneys. It has a cellophane-ish coating on it and feels kind of waxy. It was fairly easy to pull the whole she-bang out of the carcass and I plopped it into a bucket to refrigerate until the next day.
Rendering tallow is NOT difficult, however, it can take a little bit of time. From the research I’ve done, there seems to be two methods: wet rendering (where you add some water to the pot), and dry rendering (no water.) I chose to go with the dry method, as it just seemed simpler and there is less concern about the fat going rancid.
First things first, you’ll need to trim the beef fat. I highly recommend starting off with cold fat, as it’s MUCH easier to handle. I refrigerated mine overnight and it was about the consistency of cold butter when I started working with it. Perfect.
Chop it into manageable chunks, then trim off bits of meat, blood, gristle, or whatever else you may find.
Since I used the leaf fat from around the kidneys, I had far less trimming to do than if I had chosen fat from elsewhere on the animal. I did have to cut the kidneys out of the middle of the fat mass, but the rest of the trimming was minimal.
The leaf fat has a weird sort of “cellophane” wrapping around it. I pulled off as much as I could, but there was no way I could get every little piece. Just do the best you can, and the rendering process will cook out the rest.
(Your fat most likely will not be this yellow. Dairy cows, like Jerseys and Guernseys, have bright yellow fat.)
Once you have everything trimmed, run the fat through the food processor (again, MUCH easier if it’s cold!) until it is the consistency of ground meat. If you don’t have a processor, you can simply chop the fat into small pieces, but shredding it makes the rendering process go much faster.
Dump the shredded fat into a large stockpot or your slow cooker. Begin melting it at very low heat. It will take a while, but you most definitely do NOT want to burn it.
Now, it’s just a waiting game. It will probably take several hours, depending on how much fat you are rendering. I had my 6-quart crockpot full, and it took 5-6 hours to render. Check the fat occasionally for burning and give it a stir when you think about it.
As the fat renders, it will slowly begin to melt and allow the “impurities” to rise to the top.
You’ll know it’s done with there is clear liquid at the bottom and crispy bits floating on top.
Strain the tallow through a piece of cheesecloth or fabric. You want to remove all of the “floaties”, so you will definitely need something more than a colander here (although you may want to place your cheesecloth inside a colander to make the straining easier).
Pour into your jars OR line baking pans with parchment paper or waxed paper and pour the liquid fat into the pans. Allow it to harden completely. If you are using fat from a beef-breed animal (Angus or Hereford for example), your tallow should turn a creamy white as it cools. If the fat is from a dairy breed, then it’s likely the hardened tallow will be bright yellow. Neither one is better or worse–just different.
Once the tallow has hardened, you can chop it into bars (if you use pans). A lot of folks store their tallow in their pantry at room temp, but I usually refrigerate mine. If you are interested in even longer storage, it can be frozen. It should last quite a long time in the refrigerator and freezer. (Mine has lasted well over a year)
As I mentioned in my home butchering post last week, it felt really good to be able to use so many parts of our animal and let little go to waste. And, I gotta admit, it feels kind of cool to say “Oh yeah, I rendered beef tallow last week…” 😉