Saturday, January 2, 2016

Rendering Lard

Wow.  Overdue blog here.  It seems that this was my job to write and I've taken my time getting around to doing this.  Days, Weeks, Months even.  Not years, I'm better than that!

Ok.  So you are curious about lard.  Lard is pretty neat stuff.  It's the rendered fat from a hog.  And in days past it was used for everything from machine lubrication to candles to soap and cooking.  These days we have more suitable oils for lubrication so lard is mostly used for cooking, and some soap.

First you need to get yourself some pig fat.  You're friendly local pig farmer can help with that!

On a pig, there are 2 kinds of fat.  The first is Leaf Fat.  This is the fat that grows internally in hog, in particular around the kidneys.  It's smooth in texture typically can be pulled out of the carcass in 1-2 chunks.  Ask your processor to save it for you if you aren't processing at home.

Leaf Fat is rendered into Leaf Lard.  This is the cleanest type of lard and can be used in baking and pastries.
Leaf Lard as removed from the carcass

The other kind of fat on a pig is Back Fat.  This is the fat that grows outside the body cavity on a hog.  It's typically trimmed or removed when cutting port chops or loins.  It's often found in chunks as a byproduct of the processing.  Processors are glad to save it for you.

Back fat is rendered into regular old lard.  It's a little more "porky" flavored than Leaf Lard.  It's good for frying or soapmaking.  You could bake or make icing with it, but you'll have a stronger pork flavor than some may appreciate. 

Back Fat as removed from the carcass
To make your lard there are a couple of methods.  With all methods the first step is to cut the fat into small chunks.  I usually aim for 1" or less.  The smaller the better.  If you have a grinder you can use that, but since the fat doesn't have much structure in it, most grinders are tedious at best. 

Once you have your fat cut up, you have a couple options.  Option 1 is to use a roasting pan and an oven.  Place the cut up chunks in your roasting pan with about 1 cup of water and place into an oven that has been pre-heated to 300 degrees.  The water is to prevent bottom scorching early on before the fat melts.  It will all be boiled away during the process.

Cut up fat in roasting pan

Every 1/2 hour or so, open the oven and give the contents of the pan a good stir.  When you see the chunks starting to brown you're getting close. When they all sink to the bottom, you're done!

 At that point you can strain off the lard.  I like to use some cheese cloth.  Straining is particularly important if you are making leaf lard.  If you have a press, or other squeezing device, yo  can squeeze quite a bit of lard out of the chunks left behind.  Up to you if you do this.  

The old timers, would return the chunks left behind to the oven or put them in a skillet.  They will continue to fry.  Stir frequently and you'll end up with cracklins.  They are tasty, although probably not the most healthy.

Rendered lard and cracklins

Next method is to use a crock pot.  It's a lot less work that the oven method. But you don't end up with any cracklins and it takes more time.

Put your cut fat into the crock pot with 1 cup of water or so to prevent scorching.  Turn the crock pot on high and walk away for a while.  Every hour or so, give it a stir.

Fat cut up in crock pot
Partially rendered lard in crock pot

After many hours, you'll have something like what you see below.  Give it another good stir and get out your instant read thermometer.  We need to be sure that we get all of the water out.  Since water boils at 212 F, we're looking to see temperatures in the 240-250 range or higher.  Higher is ok.  Close to 212 and we want to let it go a while longer.

Rendered lard in crock pot, ready for straining
 Now you can strain off the lard.  I like to use some cheese cloth.   The material that is left behind from this method doesn't retain much, so not a lot of reason to squeeze or press it.   

We store our lard in clean mason jars.  Keep what you aren't immediately using in the freezer and it will keep for years.  

Last method is mostly for curiosity sake.  Not many people need to render multiple hogs worth of lard at a time. 

We use a butcher kettle that will hold about 20 gallons of material.  It has a propane burner underneath.  Using this method you need to have someone stirring constantly as the burner will easily scorch the fat and lard. This leads to a burnt taste. 

Lard rendering in butcher kettle

Rendered lard and cracklins in butcher kettle

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