How to render lard

I have long held that, were I required to limit my lifelong meat consumption to just one animal, it would have to be the pig. If I could have only one more meal of meat, it would be lamb, but a pig’s versatility makes it the premier eating animal. Spare ribs! Tenderloin! Bacon!

Raising my own pig has made it clear that spare ribs, tenderloin, and bacon are only the beginning. As Kevin and I work through scraps and hams and organs and weird cuts that never make it to the market (spider steaks!), the pig’s value becomes more and more apparent.  Every part is good — even the fat.

I have a deep-seated suspicion of fat. Fat, in some forms, is bad for you, and even the fat that’s good for you can make you fat. I don’t use fat with the open-handed profligacy of some cooks (I won’t name names, but my husband knows who he is). I do, however, recognize that food is better with fat, and some foods are only worth eating if they’re absolutely loaded with it.  Pie crust is one of those foods.

I’ve been making pie crust for over thirty years.  While I don’t lay claim to being a world-class cook, I will say that, up until a couple years ago, my pie crust was pretty damn good.  Now, I will go so far as to say that my pie crust is outstanding.  The difference is pig. Pig, and butter.

My first experiment with larded pie crust was when we bought a half a pig from a local farmer.  A half a pig has a great deal of fat on it, and I rendered it and reworked my crust recipe.

One taste, and I jettisoned the Crisco for good and all.

Rendering lard is the kind of kitchen chore I like – not a lot of work for a substantial and long-lasting benefit. A pound of lard goes a long way, and will keep indefinitely in a jar in the refrigerator. And it really isn’t a lot of work.

Start by cubing or grinding your lard. This is easier and less messy if it’s cold, so refrigerating it overnight is a good idea. The smaller the pieces, the more quickly it will render, so I run mine through the KitchenAid grinder, even though cleaning said grinder afterward is a job only a mother could love.

I use my trusty KitchenAid and, later, enough dish soap to sink a battleship

Once it’s chopped or ground, put the lard and a few ounces of water – five or six – in a skillet big enough to hold it comfortably, over low heat. The point of the water is to prevent the lard from browning at the beginning. Then, as the fat melts, the water evaporates out. It’s hard to predict how long it will take for all the fat to melt, as it depends on your heat, the size of your lard pieces, and the amount in the pan. Mine was done in about forty minutes.

When all the fat is melted and the leftover bits, known as cracklings, are golden brown, strain the fat. I do this in two stages: first through a sieve to get the big pieces out, and then through a coffee filters to get the crumbs.

There is some disagreement about what to do with cracklings. They are essentially deep-fried fat, an idea which I thought defied the laws of physics, but I also thought you should make pie crust out of Crisco, so shows what I know. In some circles, primarily the circles south of the Mason-Dixon line, crackings are a kind of delicacy, to be sprinkled on pulled pork or turned into biscuits.

I am lukewarm on cracklings. My chickens, however, are a flock of cackling crackling enthusiasts, so they get them.

Once you feed the cracklings to your chickens, your work is just about done. Your strained fat will be tan and viscous, and you want to pour it into jars before it solidifies and turns creamy white. Then, when it’s completely cold, make a pie crust (I even have a recipe), and you will be convinced that it’s all worthwhile.

If it’s enough to make you want to go whole-hog and get yourself a backyard pig, I just read that Sugar Mountain Farm is accepting deposits.

23 people are having a conversation about “How to render lard

  1. Stephen Andrew says:

    Is it even better than an all butter crust? Flakier? I’ve always dismissed that any pie crust could be better than butter…but if you say it is I suppose I’ll have to try.

  2. I’m a huge fan of fat and I look back at my low-fat diet days as a time of great deprivation. It is an amazing thing, being able to use so much of an animal, and getting the cuts that the butchers and chefs never allow to escape from the kitchen. And the smell of rendering fat is heavenly, whether it’s pig or bear or duck – it is a gift to be appreciated, not an ingredient to be scorned.

    • Oh Holly, I agree. I’ve turned into a huge fan of fat this past year. I ditched the silly low-fat high-grain standard American “healthy” diet and am 40 lbs lighter and a hell of a lot stronger and healthier than I’ve been my entire adult life. But let’s not talk ’bout that crazy Paleo diet- I just wanted to remark that another way to get great cooking fat if one can’t get ahold of a big piece of skin-n-fat is to get some good big beef bones (especially the marrow-y ones) and make a pot of broth. There will be a veritable raft of fat at the top- just let it cool overnight and then break it up and put into a jar in the fridge. The advantage (or disadvantage, depending on what you’re cooking with the resulting fat) is that it’ll take up the flavors of the broth. I often put in some pho seasonings (star anise, cinnamon, etc) and the fat will have a bit of that aroma later on. Eggs are surprisingly delicious cooked in pho-smelling beef tallow.

  3. Thanks. I have some fat in my freezer from the pig my husband and I bought with our neighbors. I had read that it made a great crust and now I will have to render and try it.

  4. SA — Give it a try and see for yourself. Lard has a different mouthfeel and a firmer texture at room temperature, and I think the lard/butter combo is the way to go. But I’d love to hear your opinion …

    Holly — I envy you all that bear lard! That’s gotta be a decade’s worth of pie crust.

    Pam — Please let me know how it comes out!

    Marthaeliza — That would be funny if anything, ever, that involved raccoons could be funny. As frequent commenter Paula would say, I hates raccoons.

  5. Oooh, yes. I have to buy leaf lard, not having pigs, but I feel so prairie/butch when I render it myself.
    Riffing a bit on Marthaeliza, using a crockpot is actually a great way to render the lard. No water necessary, no worrying that it’ll scorch. But, you could just keep the crockpot in the kitchen, thereby thwarting the raccoons.

    • Magpie — we render beef fat in the crockpot to make suet for the local wild birds. It stays in the garage because it makes the general vicinity smell like a WhatABurger. I feel a little greasy just going near it.

  6. Next time you render lard make a big pot of pinto beans at the same time. Then, take some bacon grease and put it in your cast iron skillet and put in your preheated oven to get hot. Make your favorite corn bread recipe and stir in the cracklings and pour the mix into the hot skillet. Bake until golden brown and serve with a big bowl of beans. Don’t forget to stir in some of the homemade chow-chow you canned from the last of your green tomatoes into your beans.


    I read this post and had to go start some beans soaking for tomorrow. I would love to have some cracklings for the corn bread I will be making.

  7. Tamar Hi, I have read your blog from start to finish and am very impressed. There is an easier way to render fat and that is to put it into a freezer uniil cold, grind as just as you did or cut it up into 1/2″ squares, put it in a large covered roasting pan in your oven at 300-325 degree F and let is cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours .
    Some people pour a very small amount of water into the pan first—just enough to cover the bottom—to keep the lard from scorching in the beginning. Eventually this water will boil away, but it takes longer to do it this way. If you keep a close eye on the lard, it’s not necessary.
    Stir the lard frequently. As the water evaporates the temperature will rise. Check temperature frequently with an Instant Read thermometer. Be forewarned that this will take a while at low heat. As the lard renders, the cracklings (brown bits of crispy fried tissue that do not render) will float to the surface. When the lard is almost done and the cracklings have lost the rest of their moisture, they will sink to the bottom.
    When the core temperature reaches about 255º, remove the pan from the oven and allow the lard to settle and cool slightly. The lard will be a gold color, but it will turn white when it solidifies.
    Carefully strain the lard through several layers of cheesecloth lining a sieve. The lard will be rendered without burning, and your can pour off the white lard into pint jars leaving 1/2″ head space and seal. You can then fry up the cracklings in a skillet for you or for the chickens.
    If you should burn your lard or if if it has an off color taste, then cut up one medium potato in 1/4″ wide strips and fry until golden brown, then strain your lard . The potato will absorb the off color tastes.

  8. Lard lovers, unite! Seems just about everyone does this. Brenda, if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s cornbread. Or something made with bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet. So that’s a win on both counts.

    Magpie — A crockpot makes a lot of sense for this, but I don’t have one. So, it’s either stovetop or …

    Joe — Thanks for coming to visit, and I admire your fortitude wading through the whole blog! Not even my mother could do that, I think. So, you like the oven method? When it’s something I have to keep an eye on, I find stovetop to be easier. But I love the potato tip, and will try it. Some of our lard has a barnyardy taste, and if that works, it’s a double whammy — you get better lard, and you get French fries!

  9. I don’t like cracklings either. I never thought about giving them to the chickens before. I’ve tried making lard the chopped up way and the ground up way. Grinding the fat up makes the whole process go so much faster.

  10. While it’s true that if you eat a lotta pie, you’re gonna get fat (but happy), it ain’t the lard’s fault. I’m going to hope that over the course of this year, you join Kevin in the fat-loving category. Here’s a fun fact: Traditional peoples that consumed lard were known to have excellent skin with few to no wrinkles, even those cultures that had ample access to sun. How about that?

  11. We rendered lard for the first time this winter using some recipe for it Steve found on the internets.

    Grinding it seems a touch of brilliance, however. I’ve been promised a boat load of leaf fat in exchange for teaching someone how to make pate, which I think a good trade….I sure hope it happens now I know your trick.

  12. Robin — You have chickens, I know. They will love you forever if you give them the cracklings. OK, that’s a damn lie. They will love you for 3 seconds.

    Eileen — Now there’s an interesting tidbit. Was there a control group that got a lot of sun but didn’t eat lard, and got wrinkles? Inquiring minds!

    Paula — That’s a nice deal you got there. Even with the grinder, it takes some time — but much less than if it’s cubed. Could I possibly convince you to post how you make pate? I read your blog regularly, but don’t remember your talking about it.

  13. Several of my patients at the nursing home speak wistfully of the ‘old days’ when they could go to the farmer’s market and buy fresh hot cracklings just pulled from the grease and sprinkled with salt. I’m not sure if their cracklings were made from the skin or from lard. You might enjoy a little bit this way.

  14. If you’re not raising and butchering your own animals, where do you get lard? I’d love to try rendering my own lard, and ditch the box of tenderflake.

    • KB, if you live in an area with a Mexican population, I’ve found that carnicerias will sell you fresh rendered lard as well, still liquid (often still warm). I ask for “manteca fresca” and they figure it out.

  15. Carol — I think the cracklings you speak of are the skin that’s left after the lard renders off. If you don’t separate them, and start rendering the whole slab of skin-on fat, that’s what you get. And I hear tell that those cracklings are delicious!

    KB — Make the rounds of your local butchers. Ask for leaf lard (first choice) or fatback (a good second). I bet you’ll be able to dig some up.

  16. Thank you, Holly and Tamar! I’m more likely to have success at a butcher; not much of a Mexican population here! Not that I am surprised; I thought about running away to Mexico last week myself, and with another week of -29 C and colder promised that thought still lingers.

  17. Hi. I am in business school at University of Washington. We are having a business plan competition. To win the contest, I am going to prove that locally sourced, organic, non-hydrogenated leaf lard is a winning proposition.
    I would love help with getting survey data to and from foodies to learn about people’s wants, needs, and expectations.
    Do you have advice on how to contact foodies to survey their opinions?

    Will Boyan, MD
    7068 Wing Point Road
    Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
    206 335 0934

  18. Not only is lard my fat of choice for cooking, I also use it for making soap. I no longer need to used hand lotions during winter. Wonderful stuff, lard.

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