One of the nice things about a homestead type of farm is that you can raise a lot of your own food. We’re in the throws of chicken butchering now, but we also raise up a couple of pigs each year for our own use. We hire out the butchering still, but I always ask for the organs and the fat. We’ve grown quite a taste for liver; I’ve learned how to cook it perfectly. Heart is incredible, intensely flavored of whatever animal it came from. (We’ve had sheep, beef, and pig hearts.) I haven’t steeled myself for tongue yet.
But I do render the fat into lard.
It’s a time consuming process, usually done in the heat of summer when you least want to do it, and I confess I always wait until the last minute. You know, when I need the freezer space. Right before we start processing chickens. Autumn is very hard on me.
In years past, we rendered by chopping the lard and simmering in a slow cooker. It worked all right, but it took a long time to work through all the fat, and multiple women with a knife. Last year, I bought two roasting pans from Walmart, and we chopped the fat and baked at low temps in the oven till melted. It was faster, but it still took a couple of days and two to three of us to get through all the fat. Chopping is tedious work.
This year, I read Moby Dick. Gosh, that book was long. And tedious. Just as tedious as chopping hog fat. But I can’t say I’m sorry I read it, really, and it did speed up my lard-rendering time considerably. Not quite enough this first year to make up for the hours spent reading, but I’m sure it will come out even eventually.
See, the Pequod had a mincer on staff, and his job was to, well, mince the blubber before it went into the “try” pot. Why, yes! I thought, reading along. The finer it’s minced, the more “oil” we should be able to render out of it, and more quickly, too. But I don’t have a mincer on staff, and I don’t want to spend even more time chopping fat. I’ve got cows to milk, children to educate, dinner to cook, and babies to hold, you know? So I got onto Amazon before I even finished the chapter and ordered an electric meat grinder.
That did the trick! I rendered two hogs’ worth of fat by myself in two mornings.
How To Render Lard
2 roasting pans (Mine are just like this, but purchased at Walmart for $10 each.)
electric meat grinder (I got this one. I’m very happy with it.)
sharp knife (This is a fine choice. Get a sharpener, too. This one is great.)
fine-mesh strainer (Like these, but check Walmart.)
canning jars or 5-gallon food safe buckets*
What To Do:
- Thaw your fat, if you’ve been storing it in the freezer and dreading the day you have to do this job.
- Preheat the oven to 300°.
- Slice the fat into strips that will fit into your meat grinder.
- Put a roasting pan under the grinder blade and process the fat through the meat grinder. I found my grinder liked it cold, but not partially frozen. It could handle warmer or semi-frozen stuff, but not as well.
- Spaghetti-like strands of fat will build up in your pan. Move it into all the corners so as to fit as much as you can into the pan. It will shrink somewhat in the oven, so it can be a little heaped, but you don’t want to be worried about sloshing oil around later.
- Bake at 300°. It’ll probably take about half an hour to render down. I put the first pan in, then start in on slicing and grinding and filling the second pan. By the time I get that one into the oven, the first pan is melty enough that it needs to be stirred.
- Do stir periodically. It helps to break up the clump of fat that will form as it melts and render more completely.
- When you’re tired of waiting or the fat looks as completely melted as it’s going to get (browned bits stop rendering) pull it out of the oven.
- Position a fine mesh strainer over your storage container* and begin ladling the liquid fat into it. You don’t want any leftover bits of fat or meat contaminating your finished product.
- Rinse and repeat until all of your fat has been rendered!
*Storage Containers: I have used quart canning jars to store the lard, but it takes a lot of jars and it can be difficult to get the lard out later. I think there is no way to speed up or improve upon this process except by using 5 gallon food-grade buckets. That’s what I’m going to do next year.
The rendered lard should store fine at room temperature for as long as it takes you to use it up.
What To Do With Lard
Lard can be used in many recipes that call for butter or margarine. It makes the flakiest pie crusts and the fluffiest biscuits. It can also be used for deep frying delicious things like donuts or apple fritters. Lard is the primary ingredient in homemade soap, too. (I don’t know how to make soap yet, so don’t ask!)
I’m sorry I can’t include any pictures of the process; my hands were a bit greasy. It’s pretty straightforward, though, and I know you can do it!