How to Render Tallow (Beef Fat)

18 Jan


NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Animal fat gets a bad rap this days, mostly because we’re scared of those totally-dangerous saturated fats. The old fast food joints used to cook their fries in lard (rendered pork far) or tallow (rendered beef fat, also known as suet) until the low-fat craze of the 70s forced everyone to use vegetable shortening (and their lovely, cancer-causing trans fats). I’ve looked around for animal fats to use in cooking but all I’ve found is partially-hydrogenated lard, and I’ve come to learn that the hydrogenation process, while useful because it allows for the lard to be kept at room temperature, also has trans fats. While we’re still searching for pork fat to render lard, our local Whole Foods has been more than happy to set beef fat aside for us as they trim their cuts down for sale. Within a day they had 10 lbs of beef fat for us, which I rendered into tallow the other day.

There are two ways to render fat – “wet” or “dry”. Dry rendering is simply leaving fat pieces to cook on low in a stockpot or crockpot until the fat has liquified (leaving cracklings for later), but the fat can burn and leave a bad taste in the tallow. I decided to do a wet render (which basically involves boiling the fat pieces until the liquid fat has been extracted). I found the whole experience to be surprisingly easy.

The first step is to cut away all pieces of meat from the fat, because it can spoil the tallow. Put all the fat pieces into a stockpot, and add enough water to reach the top of the fat. Simmer the fat on low for a few hours, until the fat starts to shrivel. Stir it around every 20 minutes or so.

Pour the whole shebang into a colander that’s lined with a cheesecloth, with a pot underneath. Leave the colander there for a while to let everything drip into the pot. I also moved the fat pieces around with chopsticks to loosen any liquid, which worked well.

Put the pot in the fridge overnight, and in the morning you should be able to separate the tallow from whatever water is left.

Lastly, cut the tallow up and smoosh it into a wide-mouthed jar or container for easy access. I used a cookie cutter and then shoved the leftovers down the sides of the jar. Keep it in the fridge, and it should keep for several months.

Also, I took the pieces that had a lot of meat on them and sautéed them with a little seasoning, and had them for breakfast. Pretty tasty!

In summary, I would say that if you have any access to fat, it is definitely worth your while to render your own. The only part that felt like “work” was having to cut the meat away from the fat, which took about 30 minutes. As a whole, it was a very satisfying experience and well worth the time invested.

15 Responses to “How to Render Tallow (Beef Fat)”

  1. Casey January 24, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

    Great article. How long did it take you to go through that tallow? I’m assuming it will last a long time!

    Know of any way to save bacon grease without it spoiling?

    • Russ Crandall January 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

      Hi Casey, glad you liked the post. We’re still eating the tallow, it’s only been a couple of weeks since I rendered it. I actually ended up scooping half of the jar out and freezing it just in case we don’t use it fast enough. I’ve been cooking my eggs in it when I don’t have any spare bacon grease, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t impart any beefy flavor onto the eggs.

      As far as bacon grease, I’ve heard that refrigerating can help it keep for about a month without spoiling. We use ours up so quickly that we just keep it under the sink and it’s usually used within a week. I guess you could freeze it if you have a lot, as well. When I worked in restaurants we would usually use the leftover bacon grease to make the next day’s gravies, so I’ve never thought much about storage…hope this helps!

      • Rogiere Nelson September 4, 2011 at 12:43 am #

        After refrigerating the melted fat and then removing same from the water beneath the fat cap, can you melt the fat again and then pour it into a container to freeze rather than to cut it up cold and have to cram it into a container leaving air spaces around it?

        Roger
        RogerKatie@neb.rr.com

        • Russ Crandall September 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

          Hi Rogiere,

          I don’t see why you couldn’t melt the fat to make it store better. My only hesitation would be that re-heating anything (even if you are going to immediately freeze it) brings the food that much closer to spoiling. In truth, you could eliminate the whole refrigerating/packing part of the process and just skim the tallow from the top of your pot as it renders, but you would probably lose some of the tallow in the process…

  2. Casey January 26, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Helps a lot. Thanks Russ. I have plans to bug Whole Foods in the next week. Looking forward to eggs ‘n tallow!

  3. Amanda Lutwick January 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    Do you think that you could use the fat leftover from making bone broth? Or would it be “bad” because of the meat and marrow?

    • Russ Crandall January 25, 2012 at 11:18 am #

      Amanda, you should definitely keep the leftover fat from making bone broth for cooking. It may spoil relatively quickly compared to pure tallow. I would recommend putting it in the fridge and using it within a week or so.

  4. Melissa February 15, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    I have been redering beef fat on a dry way and it has a very strong smells. We used it for cooking and for our skin it does work very well because my very extreem dry and cracked skin is getting better and smoother. We are using organic 100% grass-fed beef fat to make sure that no chemicals or if there is at least less. Now i found your article I will try to render more fat in wet way I will see if it doesn`t have the strong smell. I will let you know. What is your advice on using this as skin balm instead of just a soap?

    • Russ Crandall (thedomesticman.com) February 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

      Hi Melissa, I think you’ll find that wet rendering definitely leads to a milder form of tallow. As far as skin balm, I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea :( Sorry!

  5. Valerie June 24, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    I developed the same technique a few years ago. Super simple way to render either tallow or lard.

  6. Greg November 6, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    Good article and I agree. I think dry rendering is in essence frying the tallow i.e. it’s cooked a bit, goes brownish and doesn’t taste as good as wet rendering. Also wet rendering enables you to render a lot more fat.

  7. Greg November 6, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    Isn’t lard easier to render and tastes better. i.e fat from pigs?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 Processed Foods in a Healthy Diet | Live Fit with Stephanie - September 5, 2011

    [...] of bone broth can be found  here and here. Tips on rendering animal fat can be found here and here.       This is not an exhaustive list. There are countless other foods that we eat on a [...]

  2. Easing into a Paleo Diet « The Domestic Man - August 26, 2012

    [...] to like it like my family did. Other good fats are non-hydrogenated lard (rendered pig fat) and tallow (rendered beef fat) from grass-fed animals, but those are harder to come by and take a little extra [...]

  3. Bison Tallow « The Domestic Man - January 22, 2013

    [...] of my long-time readers may remember that over two years ago I rendered my own beef tallow and shared the experience with the world. It was actually one of my first “Paleo” [...]

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