Lard is a glamorous fat in need of a comeback. She has been sidelined for many years now in our fat-phobic world. We’ve been scared she will make us fat. We now know that saturated fats aren’t the villains they were once thought to be— they actually help with weight loss and lower cholesterol. Common, cheap oils, such as canola and vegetable oil, are oxidized and rancid and contain free radicals, which cause premature aging and cancer.
I have seen the benefits of saturated fats in my own life. When we started the GAPS diet, we began to add coconut oil and lard to everything and I lost 30 lbs in a few short months. I had also struggled with dry hands, feet, and elbows most of my life, but as soon as I started eating lots of good fats, my skin changed for the better. I no longer struggled with dry skin and my skin began to glow (and it still does!).
What is lard?
When you heat pig fat, you evaporate the water, leaving behind a delicious, healthy, heat-stable fat. It has been used by a long time by many cultures. Back in 1871, Laura Ingalls Wilder outlines how her mom made lard from the pig they butchered in her book “Little House in the Big Woods”. Back then, they had to build a perfectly hot fire to render but not burn the lard. Ma even saved the brown bits of fat (“cracklings”) for flavoring johnny cake, which was a sort of a corn pancake.
Why should I render my own lard?
As it is with many homemade products, you get better quality for a lower price. I have seen lard for sale at health food stores but the price makes me want to run back to Mama Canola Oil as fast as I can. When I bought fat for this batch, I was able to find it for $1/lb. I bought 20 lbs and made 9 quarts of lard. When I compare that price to other high-heat oils I buy (such as avocado and coconut oil), the price is about a quarter of what I pay for them. Also, the fat is a byproduct that otherwise is thrown in the trash. It is a great way of showing honor to the animal and using every little last bit.
Where do I find the fat?
- Butchers are the best place to find animal fat. Many offer fat for a very fair price. I always call before I drive out to buy it just to make sure they have it.
- Don’t decide to obtain fat in the late fall/early winter… many butcher shops use their extra fat to make game sausages as they process the hunting seasons’ catch.
Here’s what you need to get started
- Pig Fat
Doesn’t get easier than that!
Try to begin this project in the morning or at the beginning of a long stretch of time when you will be home. It’s no fun to get up in the night to check on your fat. It’s also not fun to wake up in the morning with over-browned oil. (Believe me, I know.) Get out your fat. Cut it into smaller chunks. I cut mine about the size of my hand, but if I had cut it smaller it would have rendered faster.
Fill the crockpot to the top with fat. Turn on the “low” setting.
Let the fat render for several hours. If you cut your fat small, it will take as little as 8 hours, but if you cut yours large like I did, it will take more like 24 hours. Check on it from time to time, stir it, and enjoy the happy crackle it gives you as that water releases!
One it looks like crispy bits floating in liquid fat, it’s time to strain out the solids. (Also known as “cracklings”) I used a large slotted spoon to get out the bigger chunks. NOTE: Don’t throw these out! Save them in a separate container. More about this at the end of the blog post!
Turn off your crockpot and let the lard cool a bit. Always use caution when working with hot oil! Once it was slightly cooled, Trent used a ladle to scoop the liquid lard, and as you can see, he made a straining contraption with a mesh sieve and a canning jar funnel. You can just use cheesecloth or the smallest mesh strainer you have in your kitchen, no need to go buy something special. Just know that the larger the mesh, the more likely you are to have small chunks in the bottom of your lard jar, which make it less “premium” or pure.
Once the jars are filled, screw on the lids and set them on the back of your counter to cool.
Once the jars are at room temperature, move them to the fridge. This keeps them extra fresh as they wait to be used. As they cool, they will lose their amber color and become a creamy white color. Generally, the lower cooking temperature you use, the whiter the lard will be. (See below)
What should I do with the cracklings?
Put cracklings in a food processor or blender and blend until the pieces are small. Transfer them to airtight containers and keep in the fridge. Then add them to your eggs, refried beans, sautéed veggies, or rice. They add a wonderful rich nutty flavor to savory food. In the picture above, I have added them to my cast iron pan as I am preheating it for scrambled eggs. They taste like bacon bits in the eggs!
How to use lard
- Homemade soap
- Greasing the pan for eggs and veggies
- Oiling moccasins