The Mystery of the Missing Pig Fat (And How to Render Lard)

How to Render Lard

I know… This post title almost sounds like it could go with a Nancy Drew novel, huh? (Well, minus the ‘rendering lard’ part…)

I really hope that no one out there in cyberspace thinks I have this whole homesteading thing figured out, because I most definitely do not. In fact, my story today will prove that. ;)

As many of you may know from my Facebook page, we recently undertook our first hog-butchering adventure.

We purchased the piglets when they were about a month old, and butchered them right after Christmas.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that although we’ve cut up quite a few game animals (deer and antelope), we are still relative newbies to the world of butchering farm animals at home.

Our first home butchering experience was last year when we cut up our steer. (If you are curious about the emotional aspect of butchering one of your own animals, you’ll find this post interesting.)

We rely heavily on the home butchering video series from Ask The Meat Man (read my full review here). In fact, we were actually watching one of the pig videos when I was in the early stages of labor with Prairie Boy in October!

So after watching the videos several times each, (it’s much easier to absorb info when you aren’t breathing through contractions, by the way…), we felt as prepared as we could for our first pig experience.

Grinding Sausage

Grinding sausage

We decided to slaughter the hogs, let them hang over night in our shop, and then cut and wrap the following day.

I’ll admit that although I was definitely looking forward to the roasts and bacon, I was really excited to finally have some homegrown pig fat to render into lard.

I had ended up with a BUNCH of tallow from our steer, and envisioned an equally large amount from the hogs. After all, pigs are known as “fatty” animals, and we had three of them!

I had my food-grade buckets all clean and ready to hold the masses of leaf fat I expected to get. Leaf fat is what is found around the kidneys. It is the most mild-tasting fat from an animal, and leaf lard makes excellent pastries and pie crusts.

But as we proceeded with the process of gutting, we discovered that there wasn’t much fat to be found around the kidneys at all… Nothing compared to the gigantic amount that I harvested from our steer.

My friend Jana at the wrapping table.

My friend Jana at the wrapping table.

And as we started cutting and wrapping, I was shocked at the minimal amount of fat elsewhere… I mean, they had a good amount of cover fat, etc, but it wasn’t exactly hanging around in a big chunk waiting for me to scoop into my bucket. We scavenged a bit of fat from here and there and I split it with my homesteading neighbor, Jana, who had come to visit. After rendering it down, I would say the final yield was 2-4 quarts max…

I couldn’t help but scratch my head… The pigs were well-fed and far from undernourished. Although we had ended up giving them some commercial feeds, they had been fed loads of extra milk and whey, as well as tons of scraps from our garden.

I was rather embarrassed to think that perhaps we had missed the fat somewhere in the slaughtering process? After all, that day had been rather chaotic, especially since hubby ended up with a nasty dog bite before we had begun.

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I decided to call in the experts… I shot off an email to Craig, one of the producers of the Ask The Meat Man butchering videos. I explained my dilemma and also my slight embarrassment that we had somehow possibly missed a bunch of the fat. Here was his reply (they don’t sell lard anymore, but they used to):

But when we did render lard, we used EVERY bit of fat on the hog.  Back fat, kidney fat, any fat that easily trimmed off the hog.  We never just render the leaf, of kidney fat.
And on an “average” size hog, there might only be 2 to 4 lbs. of the leaf/kidney fat EVER.  The kidney on the hog is not near the amount that is on the beef.
But to get any decent amount of lard from a hog, you would have to render ALL the fat possible.
On average, if I remember correctly from 20 years ago, a 250 lb. on foot hog would get about 20 to 30 lbs. of lard.
Ah-ha! Looking back, I now know that I was far too picky in selecting fat to save. Next time, I’ll know to grab every scrap that I can.

After doing a bit of research, I was surprised to discover that there are 2 different classifications of pigs: lard breeds and bacon breeds.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has a fascinating article about pig breeds– I highly recommend checking it out. An excerpt:

“Pig breeds were traditionally classified as one of two types, lard or bacon. Lard breeds were used to produce lard, a cooking fat and mechanical lubricant. These pigs were compact and thick, with short legs and deep bodies. They fattened quickly on corn, and their meat had large amounts of fat in it. This was considered desirable for improved taste and keeping qualities of the pork. In contrast bacon pigs were long, lean, and muscular. They were traditionally fed on legumes, small grains, turnips, and dairy byproducts, feeds which are high in protein and low in energy. As a result, bacon pigs grew more slowly and put on more muscle than fat.”

Most of the common pig breeds today are definitely “bacon” breeds. (Ours were a Hampshire cross– a very common, modern bacon breed.) The popularity of many lard breeds ended after World War II, especially since lard was demonized as being unhealthy and shortening took it’s place. Thankfully, some of the rare heritage breeds are being brought back by small farmers. And who knows, maybe we’ll end up with an old-fashioned pig ourselves someday.

So there is your pig history for the day– are you ready to learn how to actually render this stuff?

If you’d like more detailed instructions, check out my How to Render Beef Tallow post, since the steps are virtually the same. But here is a quick run-down if you have a bucket of pig fat staring you in the face and you’re wondering what to do with it.

How to Render Lard

The waiting pig fat

The waiting pig fat

1. Start out with cold fat. Trust me on this one– it’s infinitely easier to work with. On butchering day, I just stuck the buckets of the pig fat in the fridge and dealt with it several days later when I had time.

2. Chop the fat into small pieces, or run it through your food processor or meat grinder. (I prefer the food processor method…) The smaller the bits, the faster it will melt down. (But take care not to over-process it, as it will heat up and form a big ol’ ball…)

Whoops! I over-processed a bit, so my little pieces starting forming balls...

Whoops! I over-processed a bit, so my little pieces started forming balls…

3. Place the ground fat in a slow cooker and set on low. (Alternatively, you could simmer in on the stove. But I like the “don’t have to babysit it” aspect of the slow cooker…)

4. Allow the fat to render for anywhere from several hours to all day, stirring occasionally. You are looking for the bits of meat/gristle (these are the “cracklins”) to rise to the top, leaving clear, liquid fat underneath.

The crispy bits rising to the top

The crispy bits rising to the top

5. After all the impurities have separated, strain the liquid fat through a piece of cheesecloth and store in glass jars. I usually keep mine in the fridge, although I know some folks say it will last for several months out at room temperature.

Use your lard for sauteing or frying. If you do end up with leaf lard, it will be great in pie crusts or other pastries. However, my lard is more strong tasting, so I plan on using it like I would extra bacon fat. (I guess for now I’ll have to stick to my stand-by pie crust recipe using butter or coconut oil!)

So there you have it– the mystery of the missing pig fat was solved, and we’ll be better prepared for next time. See, I told ya– I still learn something new every day. ;)

How to Render Lard

Ingredients

  • Bucket of pig fat

Instructions

  1. Start out with cold fat which is much easier to work with
  2. On butchering day, stick buckets of pig fat in fridge until you have time to render
  3. Chop fat into small pieces, or run it through food processor or meat grinder (I prefer food processor) The smaller the bits, the faster it will melt down (But don't over-process into a big ol' ball...)
  4. Place ground fat in slow cooker and set on low
  5. Allow fat to render several hours to all day, stirring occasionally
  6. Watch for bits of meat/gristle ("cracklins") to rise to the top, leaving clear, liquid fat underneath
  7. After all impurities have separated, strain liquid fat through cheesecloth and store in glass jars

Notes

I store mine in the fridge, but some folks say it will last for several months out at room temperature.

http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2013/01/the-mystery-of-the-missing-pig-fat-and-how-to-render-lard.html

Have you ever tried rendering lard or tallow at home?

This post was shared at: Frugally Sustainable

Comments

  1. Jackie Mann says:

    No but we have a big package from when we butchered, probably 15lbs or more, ready to render if I am brave enough!

  2. Thank you for this post! A friend from church gave us their pig fat to render and I have had it taking up freezer space for far too long! I never even thought about the crock pot!!

  3. I bought a bunch of leaf lard from a local farmer, along with a huge bag of tallow. One of the bags of leaf lard rendered out about three quarts. I started skimming as soon as it started melting and the longer it rendered the stronger the flavour, so the last bit is used for cooking rather than baking. Plan to do the tallow soon, but have to do this in the garage; DH hates the smell of anything like rendering or broth cooking.

    • Yes, it’s not my favorite smell either… Thankfully the finished product usually doesn’t smell like that!

  4. Raise a pot belly pig (American Heritage Hog) along-side your other pigs. You’ll get LOTS of lard from them. Alternatively you can raise an American Guinea Hog, if you’d rather have a bigger pig still with lard. We raise pot bellies. Both AHH and AGH have succulent meat, apparently. We have yet to butcher one of our pigs (we’re new to them), but we’re very much looking forward to it. Depending on your area, you may be able to get a pot belly free or very inexpensively (our piglets were $30 ea).

    • I’ve never thought of raising pot-bellied pigs– I guess I only thought they were raised as pets. Good idea though!

  5. Janet McCollom says:

    Just rendered about 5lbs in my crock pot overnight on low. I ended up with about 2 1/2 qts of lard. It is very mild tasting.

  6. I would suggest mixing your rendered lard and one of your other oils to make pie crusts, even though the flavor is there. The result is so much nicer! We even use rendered bacon fat (from store bought bacon) for doing pie crusts, as it’s nicer than Crisco or any of those other commercial products. I also use it in other cooking, such as to flavor my turkey breast before roasting, and in soups instead of olive oil if I’m looking for the added flavor. It’s GREAT for seasoning cast iron, too!

    • Good idea on the mixing it with other fats! And I forgot the cast iron idea– I’ve done that with bacon fat before, too. :)

      • We use natural fats a lot. We also use the rendered fats (even bacon fat) for making soap! In fact I have 3 jars of rendered goose fat sitting outside right now (in the big natural freezer Momma Nature provided me with) waiting for us to do our next soapmaking adventure. :)

    • Carmie Jones says:

      Spectrum makes a wonderful organic palm kernal oil shortening–non-hydrogenated because it is naturally saturated. It is VERY mild tasting and works great for pie crusts and any other way one would use shortening. I buy the large 33# box through our co-op to get it very inexpensilvely. It keeps practically for ever in my cool basement.

      • Ditto to the above, word for word! A really great product. In answer to your question, Jill, we only have chickens. But I do enjoy reading a good mystery! :-)

  7. I bought some beef fat from a farmer last year for a steal and rendered tallow for the first time. It went well. I still have some in the freezer b/c I am not good at remembering to actually use it — silly me!

    • Hehe, I’ve done that with things before, too! :)

    • What do you use the deef tallow for? Only use I know is candles and soap. We used to render in a HUGE cast iron pot on a wire base over a fire for lard and tallow. Used lard for eating, ALL baking and cooking. Stored in a cool basement and it lasted till the next year for butchering. Couldn’t ever put all that in a fridge. The tallow was for soap making, just plain lye soap. Used in wringer washers. Ate lard and butter most all my life and pretty darn healthy at 51.

      • beef, sorry.

      • I like using the beef tallow for frying, since it has a high smoking point. It makes out-of-this-world french fries!!

        • Ok, never heard of anyone eating tallow. The taste and smell doesn’t isn’t good. That’s why we have pig fat for eating and beef fat for soapmaking and candles. There’s a reason for that. All are very important to life, esp. 100 yrs. ago but we can’t get it all from one animal. Thanks for the reply. I know, for most all folks, I know it’s the way I mentioned.

          • Yep, lots of people eat tallow. In fact, McDonald’s french fries were fried in tallow for a long time before it became popular to demonize animal fats.

  8. So, if you’re not into butchering, would it be possible to save up scraps of all kinds of meats in the freezer (like pieces of fat from chicken and beef roasts, etc) and render it all at once? I realize it won’t be pure high-quality, but would it work for soap-making?

    • I think that would work for soap Jessica- you could probably still use it for cooking too, if you wanted to.

  9. Although we still butcher our own hogs, we haven’t rendered lard for years. Seven families would gather and we’d butcher around 10 hogs in a day. My uncles would render lard in a huge cast iron kettle over a log fire. It was the best place to be since we butchered in winter and it warm around the rendering kettle. Plus hot cracklins…yum! Then we’d pour the lard into coffe cans to store in the freezer. It was a lot of hard work to do in one day,but I do miss it.

    • Also, I use rendered bacon fat in your refried beans recipe. I found out though, that the salt needs to be omitted unless you love really salty beans!

  10. Deborah Jennings says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have always wondered how to render fat. I know how to make the lye from hard wood ashes. I am trying to learn all that I can about how to do things the old way. And I must say that I am loving it.

  11. Rebecca Mahon says:

    I saw that you were grinding up meat for sausage, and was wondering if you could share a good sausage recipe. We still have our hog in the freezer waiting to become sausage and can’t seem to get the recipe right. Before we butcher another one i want to know we can make great tasting sausage!!!

  12. We got leaf lard from our meat CSA farmers. We tried the stovetop method, and next time I will definitely try the crockpot method. I think we didn’t quite babysit it enough, and we ended up heating it too high, which caused it to get a stronger taste like you mention of other pig fat. But it still makes delicious biscuits!

  13. From the research I’ve done, the lower temp you render at, the less strong the pig fat comes out. It definitely takes a LONG time, though, doing it at a low low temp, that’s for sure. We get our grass-fed half pig here in a couple weeks, and I am excited to see how much fat we can render (asked for all the organs and fat with the order).

    • Good to know about the lower temps– I hadn’t heard that before, but will definitely keep it in mind for next time. :)

  14. That is the same method that we use. As long as we have power i will store mine in the refrigerator. I know it will store for quite a period without refrigeration. But why take a chance until you have to.

  15. We also use the crock pot to render pork fat. My husband calls it pig butter. :-)

  16. I just made my first batch of lard yesterday. I was kicking myself for forgetting to ask the butcher to keep the leaf fat and fatback separate (because I had no clue how to tell the difference) but quickly figured it out when I started cutting up the first hunk of fat and found a kidney. I did one crock with leaf fat and one with fatback and ended up with about 7 cups of each. Our pig was 3/4 Berkshire.

  17. Hi, I’m up in Canada on a farm. We raise pigs for our own use, sometimes they get pretty big- we just butchered one who weighed 570lbs dressed! I usually render my lard in an electric roaster, but I’ll do it in pots this time as my roaster is too small. I’ll probably get almost 100 lbs of lard. I like it frozen but because of freezer space, I also can some each time. I pour the hot(not boiling or you’ll break your jar) lard into clean cheese whiz and pickle jars(one piece lid) and put on lid. Then I put it in the fridge until the lid seals and the lard turns white. If you have a cool place with shelves to keep your jars, it will last a long time(if sealed). I have had lard over a year old and never had trouble. Just make sure it’s sealed and keep it relatively cool. A note about home rendered lard- you only need half as much as store lard in recipes as the store version has air whipped into it! I found this out the first time I make pie crust and ended up with a grease blob instead or pastry dough:) Two of my kids are on high calorie diets because of absorpsion issues, so I make LOTS of home-made doughnuts, deep-fried in Lard. I also feed cracklins to them with their eggs. A tip about cracklins,… I used to keep them in small containers in the freezer, but found they can spoil even if frozen, so I tried adding coarse salt to them before freezing and never have any go bad. However, They are salty! I put a TBSP in a frying pan, get it hot and add some farm eggs and fry them with the cracklins, just add pepper, not salt.
    Have a good day, Amy

    • Wow– that’s a big pig! Are they lard breeds?

      • Hi Jill

        No, I don’t think so. We got a few weaners about 3 years ago and just butchered one every 6 months or so, as we needed meat. The rest we just continued feeding. Each subsequent pig was larger. So this guy was 3 1/2 years old! I got about 500+ pounds of lean meat back from the meat cutter, it filled a large freezer. I rendered it yesterday and today and canned 30 quarts and still have to finish up the cracklins, however, they got a bit well done as I’m not used to using pots and some scorched a bit on the bottom. The electric roaster route is way better. I’ve used my slowcookers before but they aren’t as quick as the roaster. Ideally, we should have butchered them all at market weight because we fed him so much of our naturally raised feed that the price/pound of meat is probably ridiculous! But live and learn. For red meat we eat a lot of deer and moose up here and I am getting 50 meat chicks soon. Having pork gives variety. I’ve done some brine-curing of hams and dry-curing of side pork(bacon) as we haven’t got a smoker built yet. Along the preparedness line, I hope to can some more meat this year, deer and wild fish from our lakes, as our power system can be unpredictable. The hardest thing is to find people with the knowledge about this stuff. When I started, It was hard to find someone with experience rendering lard. Now that I’ve figured it out, I want my kids to have the knowledge. Thanks for posting about this stuff. I wish I’d found it 3 years ago:)

        God bless from Canada, Amy

  18. Colette says:

    I’m getting ready to try this, but my question has to do with bacon. How did yours turn out, and what method/process & brine did you use? We have butchered several pigs (love Ask the MeatMan videos!). Not sure where our instructions originally came from, they are a copy of a copy, and the original source has been left behind.
    Thanks!

    • Well, I am embarrassed to say that the pork belly is still in my freezer and I’m still trying to decide what to do with it! but when I figure it out, I will be posting about it. :)

  19. I know this is an older post, but I appreciated the information you gave and was able to render some pastured pork lard I got from our local farmers’ market. I put the rendered lard into jars, but when I went to use it, it was really hard to scoop out. My suggestion for those of us not rendering massive amounts of lard is this: measure your rendered lard by 1/2 and 1/3 cups and cool in plastic wrap-lined muffin trays. When they’re cool, pop them out, wrap them, and store in the fridge in a different container. My pie crust recipe calls for 1/3 cup lard per crust, and my tortilla recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups lard, so for me these sizes make sense. You could also use custard cups or some other container and cool in 1-cup increments. Just a suggestion.

    • Agree Heather! I have been meaning to edit that into this post– I’ve found the jar idea doesn’t work great for me, either. Another idea is to pour the liquid lard into a 9×13 pan, and then cut it into bars or cubes to freeze for later.

  20. I know this is an old post but hopefully I can get some help just the same. A while back ago, I tried to make my own lard. I got pig back fat from a local butcher (when looking online, it said back fat was good), I also did the low & slow crock pot method. Put it in the crock overnight in the garage just in case it stunk. So glad I did because it was the most rancid smell I have ever encountered. I was chocking as I dumped it into a bag & tossed it in the trash. Is back fat not the correct one to use?

  21. I will hopefully be harvesting a wild hog or two in the next few months. Would the fat from these be safe to render for lard or not? I’m new to doing lots myself. I don’t live on a farm, actually in the suburbs in a subdivision currently. So raising my own animals be rather difficult. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!

  22. Tiffany R. says:

    What videos from the meatman did you reference for butchering your hog? I looked on his site but didn’t see one that said pig butchering. We are getting ready here soon to butcher but I’d love more info and know how. Like you we have had experience with deer and whatnot. I’d appreciate any help you would have!

  23. I am curious when you use the fat for frying can you reuse it? For example you mention making French fries, can you refridgerate the used fat and use it again?

  24. I remember rendering hogs with my parents when I was a kid. Mom rendered lard and cooked cracklins in a big black castiron pot and when dad got the tenderloin out, she would take it and go to the house and fry tenderloin and make homemade biscuits and bring it back to the hog party. Those were good days. Mom and dad are both still living so Ill have to bring this subject up and let them reminiece. Thanks for great post.

  25. So, is the grease left from frying bacon considered lard? Just wondering, as I save it for cooking.

  26. Christina says:

    I rendered lard for the first time last summer…we had gotten a half a pig thru a local farm and i had stuck the lard in the freezer. I would never go thru huge amounts of it..so I canned it. I researched it and they said it can pretty much last a super long time once it is canned..so i have a ton of it in my cupboard.

  27. I wonder if you could do this with wild hogs? Also wonder if you could do it with fatty small game animals like beaver and raccoon? Maybe not for human consumption, but possibly for birds and such.

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