The Addictive Power Of Pork Fat

Well, I don’t usually echo Emeril Lagasse, but pork fat really does rule. I’ve known vegetarians who hot-rodded their Boca patty with bacon when they thought people weren’t looking, and any meat product that can find its way into desserts is a force to be reckoned with.

But pork fat isn’t just bacon. For as long as hogs have been kept for food, people have melted down pork fat to make lard. In some cultures, the fat of the pig was as valued as the meat.

As a culinary fat, lard is pretty unrivaled. It is a fantastic shortening for baking, adding flakiness to pie crusts and baked goods. It is excellent for high heat cooking, and I haven’t met a meat or seafood that doesn’t beautifully sear in a hot cast iron skillet coated with a little lard. In fact, I’d say once you make the leap to lard, it’s hard to go back.

I have proof. A month or so ago I gave my friend Fruit Lady a pint of lard. She’d never used it before, but she was intrigued. Yesterday she stopped by for a cup of coffee and looked me dead in the eye.

“I need you to give me more lard. Or show me how to make it, or something. I’m almost out. I can pay you, or trade, or whatever.”

That’s right, kids: first one’s free, then you’re hooked. Fruit Lady was hooked.

Now, I render pork fatback 5 pounds at a time for cooking lard, so I’m happy to give a little away to my friends (especially friends who routinely drop off canned Asian pears or pineapple syrup they’ve put up) but as it happens, I was on my own last pint of lard. Being a pork fat junkie myself, I kept my last tub but invited Fruit Lady to come render my next batch with me and share in the spoils.

Here’s how I feed my pork fat habit.

Lard can be made from three grades of pork fat. The highest grade, leaf lard, comes from around the hog’s kidneys. This fat is the mildest in flavor and is preferred for baking (people not wanting a vague porky quality to infiltrate their pie crust, I suppose). It is hard and white. The next grade is called fatback. It comes, as you might imagine, from the back of the pig, just under the skin. It is slightly softer than leaf lard but still hard, and is a creamy color. The lowest grade of fat for rendering lard is called caul fat and comes from around the interior organs of the pig. Caul fat is great for wrapping lean cuts of meat or pate before cooking, but it doesn’t make a nice, firm finished lard.
I have rendered both leaf lard and fatback, and have found them both excellent for my everyday-cooking uses. Fatback is a bit cheaper and easier to come by, so that’s what I use now.
Here’s what 5 pounds of previously frozen pork fatback looks like.

And here are the pieces of fat separated.

Start by dicing the fat into medium-sized cubes. This is the most tedious part of the whole process. Five pounds of slippery fat is a lot to dice – have your steel handy to frequently hone your knife edge and clean it of fat. Or, do what my friend does and rough chop it and throw it in the food processor. I haven’t personally tried that, but my friend tells me it works great.

Cram all the diced pork fat into your Crock Pot. You do have a crock pot, right? If not, here’s some non-crockpot options for you. Add a cup or two of water to your crock pot, put the lid on, and turn it to a long-and-low setting. My goal in this is to render out the maximum amount of fat from the fatback at the lowest temperature possible. I have found that high temperatures can brown the fat too quickly, leaving too much unrendered lard in the fatback and imparting a cooked meat flavor to the lard I do not want.

After awhile everything will get bubbly. That’s fine. Fat and water together getting hot leads to splattering. Consider yourself warned. Long sleeves are your friend. Every 30 minutes or so, or when it looks like it needs it, give the fat a gentle stir.

When the diced fat – called cracklins – is brown and has sunk to the bottom and shrunk in size I call my lard done. This usually takes 4 or 5 hours for me but I suspect it will depend greatly on how hot your crock pot gets and how hard you work to render every last drop of lard.

Strain out any bits. I like to do a second straining through the same colander, lined with a lint-free towel or paper towel, just to catch any fine particulate.

Pour into storage containers. This is plastic – bad me! But wide mouth glass Mason jars work great too. The lard can be kept in the fridge for at least a month, and in the freezer for at least six months if it is properly wrapped and sealed against freezer miasmas.

Use and enjoy.

Do you cook with lard? How do you use it?

Life At Walking Speed
Can You Get Arrested if You Kill-A-Watt?

Comments

  1. Cornbread. There is no cornbread like cornbread cooked in lard-rubbed cast iron.
    (A friend tried to get me to switch to Pam and a glass baking dish. We're finally speaking again)

  2. Oh, thank you, thank you for this post! I have just been doing a little research on eating animal fats today, and how they ain't that bad for you, as has been made out over the years! This post made me remember about my grandma's tin bowl of white lard she always had in her fridge! My husband would be right into this too, using all the animal, esp. if we can source local & organic pig parts! Thank you for explaining how easy it is… I mean I knew, but this has motivated me to try it myself…

  3. I really don't care two hoots much for chocolate…but pig fat and mutton fat send me to heaven and it's a guilty secret I cannot share with many. I don't mean to say that I eat it by the spoonful with my coffee, but I do agree that for cooking it is like no other. I resent being made to feel guilty about it when those tut-tutting are the chocolate every day kind of people. I think it is very timely and wise that you demo the rendering process. Thanks.

  4. Dreaming of Jeanie says:

    I have a friend obsessed with Southern cooking and lard. She would flip if she found out how easy it was to render herself. I think maybe she would even put it in her coffee. I'll have to give her the good news. ;)

  5. We didn't get a hog this year or last, and since we've stopped, we've had a really hard time finding a source for pork fat that I knew was not contaminated and gross. Any recommendations on where to get fatback? We love us some tamales! And lard is the only way to go (though we've used bacon grease in a pinch, which changed the flavor, though not unpleasantly).

  6. In addition to all the wonderful cooking benefits I also make my soap with lard. Lye, lard, ground oatmeal and olive oil make a really nice wholesome bar of soap. The piggy smell goes away as the bars cure.

  7. mmmm…. lard. :] being lactose intolerant lard is my cooking best friend. i use the crockpot too, oven was too messy. and the food processor is the way to go, makes quick work of it and much more surface area to render the fat out. and i agree nothing sears better than lard. i'm glad to see it's making a comeback. nice post!

  8. Have never tried the crock pot method, nor put water in it. Usually just get the biggest stainless steel kettle I have and cook down over a very low heat.

    During cooking, I use a soup ladle and take some out as it gets done, strain it a ladle at a time as your picture shows, into stainless mixing bowls. As one bowl cools down some, I put the lard into used clean mayo jars (yep, plastic), put plastic wrap over the jar mouth, and put the lid on tight and freeze. Seems to last forever that way.

    When the kettle is as done as possible, I use a potato masher to squeeze down the cracklings to get the last drop of liquid out.

    Then the actual cracklings are put on a baking sheet in the oven to finish up.

    Cracklings are used in cornbread and for seasoning. The lard for all the rest of the cooking, and for seasoning my cast iron pans, of course.

    As I render after butchering, I was not not aware of the various grades of fat – so that was interesting facts :) Thanks.

    And as a last resort, lard CAN be bought in little bricks at most grocery stores.

  9. PS – If you are lucky enough to harvest a BEAR, bear fat rendered down is THE BEST for baking! Cookies and zucchini bread, etc – the best I've ever made came from Bear Lard !!! Plus we used it for waterproofing boots….

  10. Must…find…bear fat….must…find….bear fat. Thanks, Marci, now you've done it, I have a new obsession. ;-)

    And just an FYI for everyone – I think the lard in the grocery stores, if you can find it, is hydrogenated. Personally I try to stay away from the partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated fats.

  11. +1 to marci – my dad hunts and got a black bear a couple years ago. Along with the rug and bearclaw necklaces, he also rendered the fat, which made delicious though very delicate pie crust and is good boot grease to boot, heh. I don't think the stuff can be bought though. Even our local grocer who does custom grinds for hunters and is used to processing game isn't allowed to process bear meat.
    Pork lard is an all-time favorite. I have struggled and cursed my way through dozens of mediocre butter-based pie crusts but every lard crust I make is effortlessly perfect. (Hits: apple pie with sharp cheddar in the crust and mini huckleberry tarts.) We were pretty indiscriminate with trimming and didn't even bother to separate out the premium stuff from the inferior in the melee of butchering three pigs in a not-too-big kitchen, and the final product is still pretty awesome.

  12. Sherry – try putting some coffee grounds in your soap. They act as a natural deodorant and add a nice scritchy factor.

  13. i love the crockpot idea. i always do mine in the oven on a low temp and do a couple pourings. the first pouring is nice and white and then after i render it some more the last pouring is kind of yellowy. i use the latter for seasoning the pans. btw, i've really been enjoying your blog. super funny and engaging. been meaning to add you to my blog roll at ittybittyfarminthecity.blogspot.com . will do that now :)

  14. Just bought some lard to try today (couldn't get backfat, but will try local butcher & then have fairly local, organic farmer who does pork) but figured I'd better try cooking with some first (when we were younger, my mother did cook with lard, but you know, before ordering some pork fat in special, should try cooking with lard myself!) And besides, you got me hankering for some, so bought some on whim! AND my point, the packaging says 'This product is not hydrogenated' (this is in Australia anyways). When we younger, my mother would use lard, but thou

  15. I would use it more often if I could easily find the fatback or some source of non-hydrogenated lard. I do use bacon grease often in cooking.

    I have nothing against lard, but I won't use the hydrogenated stuff.

  16. Where do you get your fat so make the lard?

  17. I’ve seen prices for leaf lard vary wildly – what have you seen as a good price for organic or naturally handled pork? Average seems to be $3-5 a lb. What has your experience been?

  18. Morfydd says:

    Terribly belated, just reading through your archives because they are fabulous.

    Have you tried finding bear fat at the McCleary bear festival? My mom has been and says you can eat bear meat there, so I suspect someone might be able to sell their fat. I just looked it up and am sad to say this year’s festival was last weekend – sorry! http://mcclearybearfestival.org/

    Perhaps their vendor list might help, though…

    Meanwhile, I’m in Germany – I assume that I can use Schweineschmaltz as lard? Happily it’s easy to find here, and eventually I’ll be able to tell it from Ganseschmaltz, etc.

  19. I make a killer pie crust with warm lard and hot water. It freezes heavenly. Hubby seasons all our cast iron with lard. My mom used to swear by rendered goose fat. All my German aunties used to spread cold goose fat on bread and put a little salt on it, and moan with delight.

  20. Do you just use the lard in place of butter? I can see how you would use it as a fat for browning things in, but I’m having a hard time imagining something like cake, or pie crust using lard.

    My mum never used lard, so I’ve no idea how to use it in cooking and baking. Some lard-based recipes would be nice :)

  21. What would a good price for rendered lard be, from sustainable pork? Ran across a farmer at the local market. Most of her meat is a bit pricey compared to what I can get elsewhere, but the lard is $2.59 a pound.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] First, make or buy (if you must) enough crust for a double crust pie (top and bottom). I really like this crust recipe.  I prefer crust made mostly with butter (salted butter) and lard.  Specifically, homemade lard from “gently raised pigs”.  Thank you farmer Jack!  You can (if you must) substitute shortening.  You should really check out what Northwest Edible Life has to say about cooking with lard.  [...]

Your participation makes this whole thing work, so join in! Comment policy: Wheaton's Law enforced here.

*