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.
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.
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 have some homegrown pig fat so I could finally learn how to render 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.
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.
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.
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
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…)
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.
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. 😉
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