Tallow? What’s Tallow Before I get into the “how to”, let me first answer a question many of you are likely pondering at this moment.
Tallow is another name for rendered beef fat. Rendering tallow is the process of taking the hard fat from the cow, mainly from around the kidneys and loin area, and turning it into a shelf-stable fat that you can cook with, add to animal feed, or even make soap and candles. At room temperature it is a solid, and can be stored without refrigeration for extended periods of time.
Here’s a fun fact – tallow isn’t the only animal fat you can process yourself at home. You can also render other fats, too. Rendered pig fat is called lutter, rendered butter is ghee, and rendered chicken fat is schmaltz.
People have been rendering their own fat for centuries but the process is one that has fallen out of popularity in recent years. Vegetable oils took over as it’s much easier to buy a gallon of canola oil at the store than it is to render your own fat! In many cases, though, tallow is healthier than vegetable oil, since it’s far less processed.
It is also quite affordable – and easy to make.
What’s It Good For?
Tallow is a very stable fat, perfect for frying. Traditional cultures value tallow for its health benefits (it’s one of the good fats for your body).
I use it when I fry eggs, turkey bacon, and chicken sausage. I just put a tbsp or so in the pan as it heats up, to help these foods cook without sticking to the pan. I also use tallow to season my cast iron pans, and to keep them greased after each washing. If you do any deep frying… I came across a hush puppies recipe I wanna try… tallow is a perfect fat to use for that as well.
Tallow has numerous benefits. It’s a great source of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. This is a fatty acid that can help with fat loss, ironically. It’s also rich in vitamins E, D, A, and K. It has a high smoke point, making it good for frying (as mentioned above).
Since you can grow your own animals and render your own tallow at home, it’s also more local and sustainable than other kinds of fat.
Where Can I Get Beef Fat?
Every year we buy beef in bulk from a farmer friend who sends his steers to the butcher for processing. They trim the fat from each cut of meat, and package it separately. I always request the fat from our portion of the order.
If you don’t have access to a farmer, the meat section at the grocery store might have some fat laying around that they wouldn’t mind letting you have. Doesn’t hurt to ask!
Of course, you can also raise and butcher your own cattle for tallow, too. Ideally, you will want to make tallow made out of the leaf fat of an animal. It is the mass of fat that you’ll find around the kidneys of an animal. It is cleaner and more mild tasting than other kinds of fat.
If you do your own butchering, you’ll find this fat, again, around the kidneys. It looks somewhat waxy and can usually be pulled out in one fell swoop. Just refrigerate it or freeze it until you are ready to render it down.
Rendering Tallow: Two Methods
I rendered beef tallow for the first time last week. I’ve had a little over 10 lbs of fat sitting around in the bottom of our freezer from the last time we bought 1/4 cow from our farmer friend, which I’ve been needing to process. We’ll have another order of beef coming to us in about a month, so I’ve been working my way through the freezer, trying to make room for the new meat.
It sounds a little intimidating at first, but rendering fat is super easy. Basically you’re just melting it down, straining off the impurities, and storing it up for cooking, soapmaking, or candles.
Here’s a little pictorial…
This is what the fat looks like when it comes back from the butcher:
It’s vacuum packed in plastic to keep it from getting freezer burn. I had to let it mostly thaw out in the fridge overnight before I could start cooking it down. I’m lucky because my butcher cuts it into chunks for me. However, if that’s not the case, you’ll need to chunk it up yourself.
You do want it to remain partially frozen so that it’s easier to cut into chunks. Ideally, you should cut the fat into 1-2″ pieces so that it melts down more quickly.
Some people recommend that you cut off any meat from the fat before melting it down, and other people say not to bother because the meat will just cook off. I went with the middle ground and cut off meat if there seemed to be an excessive amount on the fat, leaving the minor stuff alone.
There are essentially two methods you can use when rendering tallow – the crockpot method and the stovetop method.
I decided to try rendering in the crockpot and the stovetop to see if there was any difference, or if I had a preference for one or the other.
Rendering Tallow With A Crockpot
- 5-6 lbs tallow (or whatever you have available)
- A slow cooker
- Clean glass jars (wide mouth quarts work best but you’ll note I used regular in my pictures – it was all I had left after a busy canning season!)
- Water (optional)
- 30 mins
- 5- 12 hours (depending on wet vs. dry method)
- 5 hours, 30 mins to 12 hours, 30 mins
My crockpot held 5 lbs. of fat. I recommend rendering as much tallow at a time as you can, since this is a time-consuming and messy activity that you probably don’t want to do every weekend!
There are two ways you can render tallow – a wet rendering and a dry rendering method. There are benefits and disadvantages to both.
Wet rendering is best if you want to leave your fat unattended. When you’re dry rendering, you’ll need to stir and monitor the fat almost constantly. It is also easier on the fat so it is not as likely to burn it. It does take longer to render, though, and you’ll have to take one extra step to get rid of the water. Some people say that rendering tallow in this way can cause it to go rancid, but I’ve never found that to be true.
When rendering in the slow cooker, set the temperature on low. If you’re wet rendering, add just enough water to cover the fat. If you’re dry rendering, all you need to put in the slow cooker is the fat. Let it go for a few hours and stir every few hours. The fat should render out over the period of several hours (up to a day, in fact).
You’ll know your wet-rendered fat is finished when you get the feel that most of the meat chunks have given up all their fat content. They’ll be limp and lifeless. You won’t have the dry cracklings like you will with the dry-rendering method, so it can be a bit tougher to figure this out.
Here’s what the crockpot looked like as the fat was melting down:
When most of the fat has turned to liquid, strain it through a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer to get every bit of solid pieces out. This is done for both the wet and dry rendering methods:
The only difference is that, when the fat solidifies, there will be some water leftover with the wet rendering method. That’s not a problem – you’ll simply skim the fat off and discard the water.
Otherwise, simply strain the fat through cheesecloth into clean quart jars. Let it cool in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It should be a creamy white when finished.
When most of the fat has turned to liquid, strain it through a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer to get every bit of solid pieces out.
I put the leftover fat back in the crockpot for another day and was able to get almost another quart of tallow from it. The meat that remained was cooked, and although it’s safe for you to eat I chose to feed it to the dog- it was still pretty fatty.
Rendering Tallow On the Stove
- 5-6 lbs tallow (or whatever you have available)
- A large stock pot
- Clean glass jars (wide mouth quarts work best)
- Water (optional)
- 30 mins
- 3-5 hours (depending on wet vs dry rendering)
- 3 hours, 30 minutes to 5 hours, 30 minutes
My large stockpot held about 6 lbs of fat. Fill up the pot and turn the heat on to medium.
Agan, make sure your fat is chopped up into pieces. This will help it melt faster. Add a bit of water, if you are using the wet rendering method, but just enough to cover the pieces of fat. Bring the fat to a low boil and simmer it for several hours.
Be careful about bumping the heat up too much. This will cause it to splatter and crackle, burning everything it comes into contact with. You don’t have to stand by the pot the entire time you’re rendering, but you should keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. In most cases, the lower the heat, the better. This is where using a slow cooker can be advantageous.
As the fat melts, you can ladle the liquid into containers. Alternatively you can wait until all of the fat has melted and process it all at once. When the fat is finished, the remaining pieces will be translucent and the liquid will be dark.
Take out your trusty cheesecloth and pour the fat through the cheesecloth into your quart jars. The fat that’s leftover is the cracklings. Again, you can eat these or discard them. Depending on how “clean” your tallow is rendered down, you might want to pass it through the cheesecloth once more to catch any remaining small particles.
Here’s what the tallow looked like before it cooled. I was worried because it was such a dark golden color, and all of the pictures I’d seen of tallow were white. Don’t worry – it will turn white as it cools.
I put the lids and rings on the jars while they were still hot, so that the lids would seal. Not something you have to do, but I felt like it might help preserve it a little better that way. You definitely want to store tallow in an airtight container to keep it from spoiling.
Let the tallow cool and harden overnight. You may want to put it in the refrigerator to help it firm up faster, but you certainly don’t have to. It’s okay if there’s some separation when the tallow cools – you might notice the water resting on the bottom of the container with the hardened tallow on top. You can simply separate it off.
I was thrilled the next day when I checked on my tallow and it had solidified and turned a beautiful creamy white. From about 11 lbs of fat I ended up with 4 quarts of tallow.
If you keep tallow in the fridge it will last longer, though it doesn’t require refrigeration. I’ve got most of my jars sitting in my canning pantry, since I don’t have room in the chest fridge for them. I suppose if they start to spoil before I can cook with them, I’ll use them for another project like soap or candles.
In fact, when used in soapmaking, tallow is great because it helps give the soap a creamier, more stable lather!
If your tallow smells a bit mean like when it’s cooled, don’t panic. Most of the time, that’s not an indication that it’s gone rancid. You just need to melt it and strain it through the cheesecloth again to process it down a bit more. This usually gets rid of the odor.
In addition to storing tallow at room temperature or in the refrigerator, you can also freeze it. If you keep it in the quart jars, leave a bit of headspace to allow for expansion. You can also let the tallow harden and cut it into chunks. These can be frozen individually in bags so you can use just the amount you want without having to thaw the entire batch.
Which Method Do I Prefer?
Since the rendering process continued through the night and into the next day, the Crockpot ended up being my favorite rendering method. The stovetop worked just fine, but I don’t like leaving the burner on overnight for safety reasons.
Next time I render fat, I’ll throw it all in the crockpot. Although, once we go off-grid I’ll have to start rendering over a wood cook stove or a fire like they did back in the day. A post for a future time.
There is even a method of rendering tallow that involves baking it in the oven at 250 degrees for several hours. I don’t recommend this method, as it requires a lot of stirring and a lot of monitoring to avoid burning the fat. Plus, you’ll probably make a mess of the inside of your oven!
Anyways, those are just my observations. Have you ever rendered tallow? What’s your favorite way to use it? Be sure to pin this to your favorite Pinterest board for later!
update 12/19/2020 by Rebekah White
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.