(And why you should)
Did you know?
Did you know there are good fats? There has been so much negativity surrounding the word for so many years, that it just sounds bad. Your body actually needs healthy fats to function properly! Lard just so happens to be a healthy fat! Not only is lard a healthy fat, it is also high in vitamin D (as long as your pigs are pasture raised with plenty of sunlight).
Fun fact: “Free Range” pork lard is the second richest source of vitamin D! It is second only to cod liver oil, but smells unbelievably better!
Did you also know that lard can be used for more than just cooking? It’s true! You can use it for making soap and candles (like the old whale oil, but again, less smelly). It makes a great moisturizer for your hands, lips, feet, or any other part of your skin that gets dry and cracked! Mixed with beeswax, it can be used to treat both wood and leather! It can even be applied to a burn, rash, or inflamed area to relieve your symptoms! Sunburn easily? Goodbye cocoa butter, hello lard!
Now to the fun part:
Rendering down the lard is pretty simple and there are a few ways you can do it. The most important thing to remember is “low and slow!”
I like to use a large cast iron skillet, but you can also use a slow cooker.
Our packages of fatback are around 5 lbs. I’m only going to process about half of that and leave the rest in the freezer for another day.
The first thing I’m going to do is cut up the fat into small cubes. You’ll want to make sure you cut them into pretty uniform sizes so they’ll cook down evenly for you. The fat cuts easier if it is a little firm, so I like to cut it while it is still frozen.
Once I have my fat all cut up, I put my skillet on low heat and add the cubes. This is a long, slow process. I like to process my fatback on days where I know I’ll be doing a lot of busy work around the house. It’s going to take at least 2-3 hours, depending on how much fat you use.
To the pan!
I like to check in every 15-30 minutes and give it a little stir to keep it from rendering down too quickly.
About halfway through, you’ll notice some of the fat chunks are starting to brown. This is perfectly normal. You’re doing great! Don’t you dare turn that heat up no matter how tempted you are! Keeping it on the lowest heat possible is going to give you a more pure and tasteless lard.
Your fat chunks are going to continue to brown up, but it’s not quite ready yet. At this point, you’re going to want to keep a closer eye on it.
When the fat chunks are looking brown and crispy and the pan is just starting to smoke, the process is done! Go ahead and turn off the heat.
Pouring the lard
Now you’re going to want a mesh skimmer, or similar, to scoop the cracklings out of the pan. You’ll want to make sure you put them on something that will soak up the excess oil. I layered up some coffee filters to place them in. Go ahead and set them aside and get your canning jars.
The half package of fatback is going to just about fill 2 pint jars. I’ve already made sure to sterilize them ahead of time. You’ll want to heat the jars up before adding the lard (it’s really hot)! I heated them up in a pot of hot water, making sure not to get any water inside the jars!
The first time I tried straining the lard into the jars, I used a mesh colander lined with a coffee filter. If you hate yourself and enjoy pain, or are a naturally patient and incredibly strong person, please feel free to use that method. If you would prefer a less painful and much quicker method, line your mesh colander with cheesecloth. If you don’t have any cheesecloth on hand, a (clean) cotton dish towel will work just as well!
Don’t forget to wrap that handle on your skillet before you grab it! Slowly pour your lard through the strainer into your canning jars. At this point, the lard is going to be a light golden color.
I like to keep the cover off until it completely cools. You can place a piece of cheese cloth over the top to keep out any dust. It’s going to cool to a pure white color. (If it has a brownish tint, it means it was a little overcooked. You can still use it, but it’s going to have more of a “porky” flavor. I wouldn’t use it for baking, unless you’re making meat pies. And, if you’re baking meat pies, please invite me!)
Your properly rendered lard will be able to hang out in your pantry for about six months. If you’d like it to last a little longer, you can store in in the fridge for about a year and two years in the freezer!
Having a jar of lard ready to use is so helpful in the kitchen! You can use it to replace your cooking oil when frying up foods, and it can replace butter to make EXTRA flaky pastries! It’s also a perfect option for seasoning your cast iron cookware!
If you think about it, lard is its own kind of superfood!