Rendering lard is easy and way more cost effective than buying rendered lard online or from a reliable butcher, but there are important aspects of rendering that never seem to be shared in magazine articles and blog posts. So I'll start with the most important thing: clean-up.
You do not want to wash your lard-covered pots and utensils so that melted lard goes down your drain. Trust me. It will solidify and coat your pipes wherever the lard happens to be when it cools down, joining with rust particles, food particles, hair, whatever, into a drain-clogging, plumber-requiring mess. So:
Tip 1: Line your counter with newspapers before you start.
Tip 2: Have a plate or other container in which or on which you can rest your utensils to avoid drips. You will capture perfectly clean lard, which you can add to your jars.
Tip 3: Plan to wash everything in a dishpan with very hot soapy water and dump the dirty water outside when you are finished. Do not run it down the drain; do not use your dishwasher.
Tip 4: Rendering your own lard is ridiculously more economical than buying it.
Where do you find leaf lard to render? Any butcher shop that sells pasture-raised meats will be able to sell you leaf lard, though you may have to special order it. You can also buy rendered pasture-raised lard online. Here's how the economics work out.
I recently rendered about 8 pounds of leaf lard at the cost of $1.99 per pound (about $16 total). It made 10 cups leaf lard (good for baking), 11/2 cups rather porky lard (good for stovetop cooking), and 3 cups cracklings (good for putting in cornbread, topping salads). When you buy lard online, you pay by weight, about $1.50 per ounce, plus shipping, for pasture-raised lard. My batch of 8 pounds of lard made about 100 ounces, not counting the cracklings, so my cost per ounce was about $00.16. Quite a difference, no?
Tip 5: You can save trim from other parts of the pig to render into lard. This lard is fine to cook with, but it will not be suitable for pastry because it will have a porky taste. Render it separately from the leaf lard.
When you are ready to render your lard, chop the lard into small pieces.
Tip 6. A frozen piece of fat is no harder to chop than an unfrozen piece, but it will be less slippery and easier to handle.
Tip 7. When all the fat is chopped and in the pot, add a little water to coat the bottom of the pot and prevent the fat from scorching (it will boil off). Stir on occasion.
Tip 8: Stick around.
I hear there are people who render fat in the oven and walk away from the kitchen, but it is my opinion that the longer the fat rests on the cracklings, the more porky it will taste. So as the fat melts, I like to remove it from the pot. I know the last batch I remove will be darker and porky tasting, but the early batches will be white and neutral in flavor. Filter the fat through a paper coffee filter as you take it out of the pot.
Tip 9: Canning jars do break on occasion and you don't want it to happen when you are rendering fat.
I used to store my chicken, duck, goose, and pork fat in canning jars. Then one day, when I lifted up a jar of still warm goose fat I had just rendered, the bottom of my canning jar separated from the sides. My canning jars are old. Some have gone into the freezer. Some have had multiple canning baths. Having spent hours clean up that mess—and it was a big mess—I now play it safe and store my fats in quart-size plastic containers, which seem to multiply in the drawer so I always have plenty. I leave one quart container of fat in the fridge and store the rest in the freezer.
Tip 10: If you can, render the pork outside in a slow-cooker or run the fan in your stove hood. Otherwise your house will indeed smell somewhat porky.
Pastries are flakier; cookies rise higher; vegetables brown better in sautés, stir fries, and oven roasts; and all fries are less greasy made with lard. It is absolutely worth your time.
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