Back in my grandmother’s day, lard was the king of the kitchen. Most women kept a can of lard on the kitchen counter since it was used so frequently. Lard created a flakiness that butter or other shortening couldn’t when it came to pie crusts. It seasoned cast iron (another work horse of the kitchen), and was a favorite fat for frying (pan frying or deep-frying). Oh… what vegetable in that era didn’t have some lard at the bottom of the roasting dish?
Over the decades, it became villainized in favor of modern cooking oils. More and more cooks turned to corn, vegetable, as well as soybean oils. Fortunately, the tide is turning and lard is once again making an appearance in the home cook’s kitchen.
If you are looking for lard, it can be found in some grocery stores in the same aisle as cooking oils or even in the baking aisle. But if you are more adventurous, you can get pork fat from your local butcher… or better yet, from a farmer/rancher that sells meat shares and render the fat into lard yourself.
But you don’t have to go hog-wild and get all the fat from a single pig. Chances are, you won’t have the space to store (freezer is best prior to rendering) it. You can do small batch rendering which is perfect for the urban homesteader and/or modern cook that typically has limited space. To give you an idea of what is small batch, I used two and a half pounds of pork fat which resulted in one quart of lovely lard.
Prior to the rendering process, I freeze the fat. Once I am ready, I remove it from the freezer and let it set at room temperature for approximately one hour. Why, you ask? Well, it makes cutting the fat much easier.
How to Render Lard in a Small Batch
- Using a sharp knife, cut the fat into 1″ pieces (the fat renders more uniformly compared to placing large hunks of it into a pan)
- Place into a heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast iron) that is placed over medium heat
- Stir the fat slowly
- After a few minutes, the fat will begin to render as a clear liquid is released (this is the lard!)
- Continue to stir and render out the fat
- After about 20 minutes, the pieces of fat will become golden in color and crisp in texture
- At this point, the rendering is complete
- Remove the crisp pieces (which are called cracklins)
- Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a heat-proof container
- Pour the contents of the pan into the cheesecloth
- The liquid lard will be strained through the cheesecloth leaving the cracklins behind (cracklins can be eaten, but if you are not a fan, they make great dog treats as well as nice treats for chickens)
- After the liquid lard has cooled slightly, pour into a container, such as a glass jar; NOTE: sterilize the jar before use, but the jar (or jars depending on the quantity of pork fat used) should be warm as pouring hot liquid into a cold glass jar could result in the jar shattering
Now that you are in possession of home rendered lard, you have options for storage.
- Freezer (may wish to use a container other than glass)
- You may also pressure can the lard for long-term storage
Lard is shelf stable as long as there are no remaining pieces of pork fat (cracklins) left in the lard, but proper straining should take care of that issue. Straining will also help ensure a white color as sediment should be captured by the cheesecloth.
Folks, you have now successfully rendered lard! Pat yourself on the back for learning this homesteading skill. So go ahead and use it for baking, roasting, frying, and cooking. But don’t worry about it lending a porky flavor to what you make. At best, it lends a slightly fatty flavor to your creations. Trust me, lard deserves a place in your kitchen.