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We had company from the city last weekend, and we had an interesting conversation. I told them that I was going to render tallow from a sheep that we had butchered ourselves. I tell you what, I’ve never seen so many blank stares and scrunched up noses, asking me “What’s tallow?”.
So for this episode of the Self Reliant Skill of the Week, that’s right, I’m rendering tallow!
But just in case you’re giving your computer screen those same blank stares and scrunched up noses:
What is tallow?
Tallow is rendered fat from beef or other ruminant animals like sheep, goats, deer, elk, or buffalo. Rendering is the process of melting and purifying the fat. When you render tallow, it removes any small meat pieces and any other impurities that could cause it to spoil.
Lard is a more modern-recognizable rendered fat, but it’s still less popular than it once was. The only difference between lard and tallow is that lard is made from the fat of pigs.
Tallow has been used as a traditional fat for thousands of years. It has a high smoke point, much like ghee, and is actually quite healthy. However, its use went out of popularity in the mid-1900’s due to the new health initiatives that shunned things like eggs and bacon grease. McDonald’s actually used tallow to fry their french fries in until the 1990’s, when they switched to the more processed, and arguably less healthy, vegetable oil.
Is tallow good for you?
Tallow, especially from grass-fed, organic sources, is very high in nutrients, and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, K, and B1. It is also high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. CLA is a polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acid that is often sold with promises of helping with weight loss. Supplements containing CLA claim to boost fat loss, retain lean muscle mass, and even help control diabetes. CLA also claims to have some anti-cancer benefits.
Tallow can help lower cholesterol, is anti-inflammatory, and is a high-energy food. Because of its high smoke point, it doesn’t generate free radicals like other fats may. Tallow is a good source of amino acids, and can help boost your immune system. It is also rich in palmitoleic acid, which makes it antimicrobial as well.
The cell structure of tallow is similar to the cell structure of our skin, and it is very compatible to the oils that our skin naturally produce. So it can provide your skin with intense moisture without causing acne and breakouts. Using tallow on the skin will help protect and even repair skin damage. The antioxidants in it, as well as the nutrients, can help restore a youthful glow to the skin.
Tallow is a great resource to have in your pantry, and it’s super easy to render tallow at home.
Uses for tallow
Tallow has a multitude of uses. Although it has traditionally been used as a cooking fat, don’t just think of it as a cooking oil! Tallow deserves a place in the bathroom and shop as well.
- Waterproof clothes, boots, or tents
- Make candles
- Make soap
- Use as a makeup remover
- Prevent and treat wrinkles in skin
- Prevent stretch marks during pregnancy
- Lubricate zippers and gears
- Protect and condition leather and wood
- Use as a base for salves, lotions, and balms
- Use as a gun oil
- Relieve the itch of poison ivy and rashes
- Helps relieve yeast infections and rashes
- Prevent chapping of the skin from wind and cold
- Keep tools from rusting
- Soothe sunburns
- Season a cast iron skillet
- Make pemmican
- Prevent and heal blisters from ill-fitting shoes
If you butcher your own animals, you can simply save some of the fat to render tallow with. The “leaf fat”, that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the kidneys, is the best fat to use. It has the highest concentration of fat-soluble vitamins, and has a milder smell and taste. But really, you can use any fat that you trim off the meat and the carcass. If you don’t process your own animals, you can ask a local butcher if he has any fat to share. You should be able to get some for pretty cheap, and maybe even free!
The fat will likely be frozen if you get it from the butcher. And that’s okay! You can keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to render it. Just pull it out of the freezer the night before you want to render it, and keep it in the fridge until then.
There are 2 main methods of rendering tallow, wet rendering and dry rendering.
Wet rendering is when you put water in the pot before adding the fat. It helps ensure that the fat doesn’t burn, and is helpful for removing all the impurities out for a clean, unscented finished product.
Dry rendering is when you use no added liquid, just the fat itself.
For this “recipe”, we are dry rendering, but you should do some research to see which method you want to use.
How to render tallow at home
Thaw the fat that you are going to be rendering, and trim off as much of the small meat pieces as you can. Cut the fat into small, 1-inch or smaller pieces, or grind. The smaller the pieces, the more quickly it will render.
Put the cubed or ground fat into a crockpot, and turn the crockpot on low heat. You might want to do this outside, as the rendering process is kinda stinky. Stir occasionally, especially at first, to make sure no pieces stick to the bottom and burn. This will need to melt and render for several hours. I did this first attempt for about 8 hours.
When the bubbling and popping stops, and it doesn’t make additional noise when you stir it, your tallow is done. It will have a lot of chunks of meat and fat that didn’t render in the bottom of the crockpot. These are called cracklin’s, and a lot of people eat them. They are similar to pork rinds.
Turn off the heat and allow to cool enough that it can be handled safely. While it is cooling, heat up the jar that you want to store your tallow in. You can boil the jar, like you would if you were canning, or heat it in your oven at the lowest temperature it will go. I used a canning jar, and chose to heat in the oven so I didn’t introduce any water into the jar. Water in your tallow can cause mold.
Strain the liquid tallow into the heated jar. I used a fine mesh strainer, but to really make sure you get all the extra bits and pieces out, you may want to use fine cheesecloth or muslin. If you are using a canning jar, while the tallow is still hot, screw on a unused lid. The heat from the tallow will actually seal the jar until you’re ready to use.
Second rendering (optional)
If you really want to purify your tallow (for face creams, salves, and the like), you may want to do a second rendering, which is a purifying rendering. For this you would put the hot tallow into a large metal bowl, and allow to cool and solidify. You may see some brownish, almost gelatinous stuff at the bottom. Scrape that off, then break the tallow into pieces. Put back into the crockpot on low, and render again for an hour or two.
After the second rendering, strain with a fine cheesecloth or butter muslin, and pour into your jar as outlined in my main recipe. This will make your tallow pure white, and odorless.
Here is the video I made of my first attempt at rendering tallow. Please like and subscribe to help me grow my channel!
Oh, and in case you were wondering, in the video I was concerned about the color of my liquid tallow. Well, I’m pleased to post pictures of the final result – nice and white!
Rendering tallow is a good skill to have, and tallow is a great commodity to keep in your pantry. Tallow embraces the concept of using all parts of the animals you harvest, which is important for self reliance, and the most ethical way of homesteading.
I now know how to render tallow! I’m excited to have this new skill, and am happy to have this white gold to store on my shelf. I’ll be making candles, soaps, salves, and balms with this, and will probably need to render some more before too long. But, I did have to promise The Hubs that I would do it completely outside next time, instead of in my mud room!