Good quality saturated fat is one of the cornerstones of eating ancestrally. Our ancestors have been using it in their kitchens for centuries. Yet it’s not always easy to access in our modern world and, when you can find it, it is often very expensive. For this reason the last decade has seen me rendering lard from pork back fat in my own kitchen regularly.
We use lard as our main fat. I fry with it, add it to breads, use it in casseroles, line bread tins with it and it is my go-to fat for spreading on bread. I choose lard over tallow (which is made from cow fat) for three reasons:
- I prefer the flavour
- I can more easily access good quality pork back fat than I can fat from a cow
- I find the softness of lard at fridge temperature much easier to work with in the kitchen and at the table.
It is not difficult to render lard (even in the smallest of kitchens) providing you are organised. It does take time though! Expect the process to take 6 to 8 hours. Although you need to be available throughout that time, the actual hands-on time is very little.
I use a slow cooker to render lard as I find it the simplest equipment to use for the process. My medium-sized slow cooker can fit 4 kg (8 pounds) of pork back fat. From that original 4 kg of fat I usually end up with around 2 kg of lard. This lasts my family 4 to 6 weeks.
There are two ways of rendering fat – the wet method and the dry method. The wet method, which utilises water, creates a much more fine, ‘clean’ and deodorised fat, but is very time-consuming and fiddly. The dry method does not use water and is easier. I have used both methods in my kitchen but have settled on the dry method for almost all of my rendering. It creates a fat that stores well in the fridge for weeks (or the freezer for months). This article will talk you through the dry method.
How to Render Lard (in a Slow Cooker)
Be choosy about your source of back fat
All fat is not created equal. The type of food an animal eats directly impacts nutritional profile of its fat. In addition, if animals are treated with antibiotics or their food treated with fertilisers and pesticides this will show up in their fat and therefore your lard. Choose pork back fat from a farmer that uses traditional feed and doesn’t routinely use antibiotics. It’s also worth looking for fat from traditional-breed pigs – newer breeds often have non-traditional fat profiles that don’t ally with ancestral eating.
Consider asking for your fat to be ground
Back fat needs to be cut up into small pieces before it can be rendered. Doing this for, for example, 4 kg of fat can take over an hour. If you ask your farmer/butcher to put the fat through the meat grinder, you will save time – being able to put this straight into your slow cooker with no further preparation needed.
- Slow cooker commensurate with the size of the back fat you wish to render.
- Utensils to aid with straining, cooling and storing the lard.
- large metal spoon
- large metal bowl
- colander that fits inside the large metal bowl
- medium metal bowl
- oven gloves
- lots of freezer-safe containers to hold the lard
1/ If your back fat has not been minced, dice it into 2cm squares.
2/ Put the prepared back fat into the slow cooker, close the lid and turn it on. Slow cookers vary greatly in their temperatures – mine is not particularly hot and I start my lard on high and then after four or five hours turn it to medium. You may need to use different temperature settings depending on how hot your slow cooker runs.
Tip: Slow cooker’s often take a long time to heat up. If you are short of time and want to speed this process up, put your cut-up back fat into the ceramic insert of your slow cooker and place this insert into your oven on a medium heat (150°C) for an hour. This kick-starts the process of fat release.
3/ Prepare your equipment and space to receive the liquefied fat. I find a metal colander resting inside a large metal bowl the easiest method.
4/ Watch the heating fat. When you see a good amount of liquefied fat around the edge of the solid back fat, drain this liquid from the slow cooker into a bowl using a colander to catch the solid pieces of back fat so you can then return them to the slow cooker.
Tip: If you are processing a lot of fat, it can be hard (particularly at the early stages of the process) to tip the entire contents of the slow cooker through and into the colander. A way to get round this is to use a large serving spoon to spoon out half of the solid fat into your colander and allow it to drain, before temporarily removing what’s in the colander to another bowl and then pouring the remaining contents of the stock pot through the colander. You can then return both sets of solid fat to the slow cooker to continue the rendering.
5/ Repeat step four again and again (I tend to strain my fat every 1 to 2 hours). The the solid fat will get smaller and smaller and you will get more and more lard! As the lard builds up in your large metal bowl test it for temperature and when it has cooled down sufficiently transfer it into containers for the fridge or freezer so that you are leaving your large metal bowl free to collect more lard from the next straining.
6/ As this process goes on you will notice the solid fat starts to give off a lot less fat – the rendering is nearing an end. The more times you render, the more you get better at judging when to stop. Do a last strain of the lard/back fat and turn off your slow cooker. Leave it to cool before cleaning.
In the process of making lard, nothing need be wasted. After your last straining you will have the remains of the original pork back fat in the colander. These are cracklings! They are delicious and have been used in foods by cultures worldwide.
Here are some of my suggestions:
If you want to eat some immediately, heat up a cast-iron pan and cover the bottom of it with some of the still-warm cracklings. Stir them as they brown and crisp up further. More fat may be released from them and you can drain this from your cast iron pan as you’re cooking. Serve these cracklings on fresh bread, just-cooked vegetables, scrambled eggs, stews…they are delicious on almost everything! Whilst they are still in the pan you can enhance them with fresh garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
You can keep the remaining cracklings in the fridge for at least 10 days. I pack them into a glass container and then every evening for days after our lard-rendering session, I heat up my cast-iron pan and crisp up several spoonfuls of cracklings that become a treat to accompany our supper.
Bread with cracklings is amazing! There are many recipes for traditional breads using the leftovers from lard all over the world. In Italy, where I live, cracklings are called ciccioli. Here’s a fun recipe for my own sourdough take on an Italian bread using ciccioli – Pane con Ciccioli, and here’s a recipe that I love from Naomi at almostbananas.net for Slovakian lard biscuits (you can hear Naomi on two Ancestral Kitchen Podcast episodes – #23 about traditional Slovakian pig butchery and #49 about the glories of Slovakian food!).
Cracklings also make incredible spreads – something they’ve been used for traditionally in Eastern Europe for many generations. I love to hard-boil some eggs and put them into the food processor with an equal weight of lard cracklings plus lots of salt and pepper. The resulting spread is delicious and keeps in the fridge for ages! (You can hear me talk about this spread on the patron-exclusive podcast Kitchen Table Chats #16. To get access to this and much more, join Ancestral Kitchen Podcast’s Patreon community at the Companionship level here)