Kitchen Confidence

In Praise of Lard, and How to Render Your Own

By • July 17, 2014 • 40 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Start cooking with lard -- and rendering your own. Jenny McGruther, author of The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle, gives us the how and why. 

Leaf Lard on Food52

With butter consumption at a 40-year high, it seems that home cooks are ready to embrace animal fats once more -- and yet lard remains almost universally reviled. I can promise you, though, that it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation: Lard is an extraordinary fat, rich in the same monounsaturated fats as olive oil and avocados, with a mild flavor and beautiful properties for sautéing, frying, and preparing pie crusts and flaky biscuits.  

More: See how lard compares to other fats that you might want to add to your pie crust.

At its simplest, lard is rendered pork fat. Leaf lard, specifically, is a fine, soft, white fat rendered from the fat in the kidney region of pigs and hogs. It is mild in flavor, soft in texture, and particularly well-suited to pastry making. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying lard, and tips on making your own:

Rendered Lard on Food52

Why Pasture-Raised Makes a Difference
Pigs, like people, produce vitamin D in their skin and in their fat when they spend time under the sun. So when a farmer raises his or her pigs outside on fresh pasture, not only do the animals enjoy a better existence than their confined counterparts, but their meat and fat also offer richer flavor and more nutrients.c

Raw Fat vs. Rendered Lard
Lard that hasn't been rendered is simply raw fat. When you cook with it, instead of melting completely like butter or rendered lard, it will melt a bit and yield small rubbery pieces of fat that will pepper your finished dish. Rendering lard before using it in a dish accomplishes two goals: First, it preserves the fat by removing excess water and other impurities that might otherwise cause it to spoil; rendered lard is shelf-stable, just like olive oil or clarified butter. Second, it produces a luxuriously creamy, spoonable fat that not only melts instantaneously in a hot pan, but also yields beautifully flaky pastry.

More: Get our community's best advice on baking the flakiest biscuits around.

Raw Fat on Food52

Where to Find Lard
To find good-quality lard, head to a butcher shop, search your farmers market, or go directly to a farmer or rancher who raises his or her pigs outside. Unlike the lard found in large blue buckets at grocery stores, unrendered pork fat or rendered lard from these sources has not typically been subjected to hydrogenization -- a process intended to extend shelf life and reduce the risk of rancidity. During this chemical process, hydrogen atoms are added to liquid oils; this keeps them solid at room temperature, but also creates trans-fatty acids which have been implicated in cardiovascular disease, stroke, and high cholesterol.

While you can render any uncured pork fat into lard, keep in mind that the soft, white fat found around the pig’s kidneys produces the finest results; you can generally find lard rendered from this kind of fat labeled as “leaf lard.” Its fine texture and light flavor make it perfect for pastries, pie crusts, and biscuits.

Lard rendered from other types of pork fat offers a stronger flavor that's better suited to savory dishes. It’s excellent for sautéing and frying, and it pairs well with beans and fragrant herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sweet bay.

Raw Fat on Food52

How to Render Lard
If you’ve happened upon a source of pork fat or leaf lard and you want to take on the project of rendering it yourself, keep in mind that while rendering lard requires no expert skill, it does take time. Allowing the raw fat to melt ever so slowly in a pot on your stove or in your slow cooker will yield lard that is smooth, creamy white in color, and nearly odorless. 

A note on buying: You can find raw pork fat at your local butcher, at your local farmers market, or by making a request for leaf lard or raw pork fat the next time a farmer near you processes his or her pigs. (Editors' note: We found that calling around to local butchers a few days in advance was the best way to find raw fat, pronto. Or just put out a plea on Twitter.)

Take about 3 to 5 pounds of cold fat straight from the refrigerator and grate it finely by hand or in your food processor (the finer the pork fat is before it hits your pot, the more lard it will release when you render it). If the fat begins to soften in the warmth of your hands, return it to the refrigerator to harden before continuing.

Rendering Lard on Food52

Once you’ve grated your way through the raw fat, toss it into a heavy pot set over very low heat. Pour a cup of water into the pot, which will allow the fat to render without browning. The water will evaporate by the time the fat renders completely. Leave the lard on the stove to render for about 3 hours, or until it's completely melted.  Smaller amounts of fat will, understandably, require less time to render. 

Editors' note: We started with whole pieces of fat in the pan, and then blitzed them in the food processor after they had been cooking for about 30 minutes.

Cooking Fat on Food52

As the fat renders, amber-colored crispy cracklings will form, rising to the surface of the hot, bubbling fat. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and set them on a plate lined with a kitchen cloth. Sprinkle them with salt, and enjoy them -- they’re lovely.  

Straining Lard on Food52

Once the fat has melted, and you’ve removed the cracklings, pour the liquid lard very carefully into mason jars, cap them tightly, and allow the lard to cool completely. You can also strain the fat -- cracklings and all -- into a large, heatproof container using a fine mesh sieve. If you do, be sure to line your countertop with cloth or tea towels to prevent spilling or staining.

When properly rendered, lard will store at room temperature just like olive oil; however, you can also store it in the refrigerator with no change to flavor of texture. Three to 5 pounds of raw fat should yield 1 to 2 quarts of lard. 

Rendered Lard on Food52

How do you use lard? Have you ever tried rendering your own? Share all your lard-related experiences in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (40)

Tags: how-to & diy, lard, fat, baking, pig

Comments (40)

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20 days ago Bobbe

I just rendered 1 lb. of leaf lard that I bought from a respected pig farmer at the Baltimore Farmers Market. Used a heavy pot, very low flame and 4.5 hr. My lard turned out pure white but why does it smell like...ham hocks? Just not sure this will make a good pie crust which was the reason I made it in the first place. Is this pronounced smell normal?

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3 months ago esther

Just spread it on toast and sprinkle with some vegeta.

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3 months ago Sylvia Carter

Or, just spread it on toast! I have read that Italians in some regions used to set aside the olive oil for sale and export and use lard in cooking and as a spread.

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3 months ago Danny Strain

Sylvia thanks for so much information. Your Grandmother was a lovely lady. I grew up with pioneers like her. Spent many hours in the storm cellar hiding from tarnados. Too bad I didn't have a tape recorder.

Regards, oldcatman

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3 months ago Sylvia Carter

My grandmother, who died in 1971 or 72 at the age of 99, was a covered-wagon pioneer when she was only 9 months old. Her family left Missouri for Kansas and Nebraska then, and they lived in sod houses and dugouts until they were able to build a brick house in Kansas. It was a hard, hard life, what with riding (side-saddle!) to round up cattle and kill rattlesnakes, and a hard-earth floor. Grandma could do anything, and she could, as the proverbial saying goes, make "a silk purse out of a sow's ear." It was my great good fortune that my life intersected with hers, and sometimes, still, I feel her standing quietly beside me as I make noodles that aren't as good as hers or pie crust that almost is.

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3 months ago Sylvia Carter

Thank you, Danny. I imagine that many of our memories are similar.

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4 months ago Peter FItzsimmons

Thank you for sharing. One question- approximately how long will the lard last unrefrigerated and refrigerated? How do you tell if the lard is rancid?

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

It won't last long at warm room temperature. On the farm where I grew up we kept it in a cool cellar in a crock. But refrigeration is best (or freeze it) if you don't have a cool root cellar. (Some lard has a small amount of salt added as a preservative and I believe it can be kept a while at room temperature when salt is added.) Rancidity is a fairly rank smell; you will know it.

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4 months ago Jenny McGruther

Actually, lard is shelf-stable at room temperature provided it is properly rendered. If any water or moisture remains in the lard, it will leave it prone to rancidity, so if you're uncertain all the water was removed during rendering, keep it in the fridge (up to 12 months) or freezer (up to 1 year).

Remember that lard is comprised primarily of monounsaturated fat (same fat found in olive oil) and saturated fat (same fat found in coconut oil and ghee) all of which are stored at room temperature. Rendered bacon fat is also something you'd store at room temperature, too. Stored at room temperature in a dark cupboard, and capped with a tight lid when not in use, properly rendered lard will last several months.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Isn't one year the same as 12 months? I agree, in cool conditions it will keep that long. And yes, we did always store rendered bacon fat at room temperature. The difference is that we had a huge crock of lard for the long haul, for many a pie crust. So we did try to keep it in a cool place. Sounds like you are an old hand with lard, Jenny.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Definitely check out lardlovers.com and lard lovers on Facebook.

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4 months ago Jeff Kiefer

I got leaf fat from a local butcher shop from naturally raised pigs. When I was chopping it there was a feint barnyard aroma. During rendering (stove-top, low heat) it became more pronounced. After straining and putting in jars there is still a little bit of order. It tends to dissipate during cooking. I see other lard instructional sites do not really mention the 'smell' specifically. Any thoughts?

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

The smell is normal while rendering the fat, but usually, properly stored lard (refrigerated or frozen) should have little if any smell after the rendering process. The best test is to make biscuits or pie crust with it and taste the result. I suspect you will find that the smell is gone.

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4 months ago Donna Young

I am a convert. Lard makes the best pie crusts! So flaky and delicious!

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4 months ago Jeany

Just remember that fat makes a hellish fire, so learn by processing small amounts and going slowly. Let everything cool. Make sure ALL the burners are off and cool. A sloppy pour that splashes into flame or onto a hot burner can cause the entire lot to flash, as if exploding.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Any kind of fat on fire is highly dangerous. Not just lard rendering.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

To Mark Trad: I have done way, way more than 10 seconds of research, hours and days and weeks. I have gone beyond just reading and studying and, as a journalist, have done many interviews. You are indeed part way right, but I am, too. You will not find a bigger champion of butter than I am. Alas, however, butter is not all that beneficial unless it comes from grass-fed (and hay-fed) cows. (I love butter: at the newspaper where I worked people used to joke that when I made something in the test kitchen, all the recipes began: Take two sticks of butter. I grew up on butter churned by my grandmother. (Please see www.eatwild.com, Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm and many other sources.) The provenance of food matters a great deal. For example, while we are on dairy, many of the benefits of milk are destroyed by high heat pasteurization and by homogenization. Finally: Let's try to be civil. I don't put you down, and I don't like seeing you put others down. It weakens your cred, too.

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4 months ago Teresa

I use lard when making Pork Rillettes. Good lard is difficult to find in So. Cal, I will start rendering my own now!

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Rillettes! Be still, my heart. Food of the gods.

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4 months ago George H

Good lard, rendered or not, is just so expensive. Haven't been able to get around this.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Good things and things that are truly good for you often are expensive. Rendering your own from leaf lard is really not that hard and it is much less expensive than buying it done for you (as with many other things).

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4 months ago Vitor Hugo

Not gonna lie: the spoonful (first photo) I thought it was ice cream, hahahaha

Well, about trans-fat isn't that simple. Ruminants have it naturally (ok, symbiotic relationship with microbiota and all the fun stuff), so when we eat meat and butter… And we've been eating it for ages.

The real problem is the excess and not molecule isomerism.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

By excess do you mean that people will eat more lard than they would olive oil, butter or other fats? Actually, the reverse may be true, since fats from grass-fed animals are very satisfying, and also, it does not take as much lard as it would butter for pie crust, for example. There's a lot of milky stuff in butter unless it is clarified, and lard is a more concentrated fat.

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4 months ago Vitor Hugo

Lard, butter and any other fat in excess will make you sick or gain weight. Where I live not long ago, coconut oil was a trend even with the higher price… people going crazy about it, but forgetting the essential: it still is a fat and has 9kcal/g.

Hum… I'm not so sure what you tried said here: "since fats from grass-fed animals are very satisfying". The excess food/energy will be transform in fat (the origin doesn't matter that much). The "satisfying feel" is more personal than other thing.

About the pie crust… I really don't know. Yes, butter has water and milk stuff. Lard being more concentrate isn't the case, it's almost pure fat. If you remove something, you create a "void". So, the void must be filling in.
The water and milky stuff interacts with flour as well. You gonna replace with fat in the lard case.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Well, duh. Yes, I agree, too much of anything (and not just fats; remember Snackwell cookies with oodles of sugar) will make you fat. Something that does not contain cholesterol may make your cholesterol high. My point was only that if you have something satisfying, you are likely to eat less of it. If not, you keep searching for more to satisfy. Two normal cookies instead of a box of Snackwells, a small piece of pie instead of one piece and then a second, another cup of coffee and then another instead of one really great, carefully made cup. In all these examples and more, you're searching for taste and satisfaction.

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4 months ago mark_trad

"any other fat ... will make you gain weight." This is nutrition ignorance 101. Fat doesn't make you fat. Do literally 10 seconds of research on this. You're repeating things we proved wrong decades ago (like 9cal per gram is worse because it has more calories). It's sad to hear that it's still common knowledge by people who clearly haven't read any studies nor books on nutrition. Butter is one of the healthiest things humans can eat.

"The excess food/energy will be transformed in fat. (the origin doesn't matter that much)" Again, please do 10 seconds of research before making completely blind comments about nutrition. Why not eat pure sand all the time? That has lots of calories in it. Oh wait, you'll lose a bunch of weight and die, no matter how much sand you eat. The origin matters immensely to how your body uses it.

Lard is benign at worse and a superfood at best. Your comment looks like it was written in 1970, when we were replacing all butter with margarine because we thought saturated fat was bad for you, and ended up killing people with trans fats, hydrogenation, and omega 6 excess.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

postscript to earlier post by me, to you: I never fell for the margarine myths. Please don't put me down like that! You most likely don't care to read the story I did on lard for the Raleigh News & Observer, but I did supply a link in my first post.

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4 months ago mark_trad

Sylvia, I was responding to "Vitor Hugo" as you can see by my responding to his specific quotes. I'm not yelling at you, I'm yelling with you.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Gotcha, but it is usually easier to win people over (more effective, I mean) if you do so gently. "A soft answer turneth away wrath" was a Bible verse my grandmother loved to quote. By the way, she had lard in her piecrust and drank her coffee with lots of heavy cream from pastured cows. And churned butter every week and ate all she wanted for that, too. In her 80s she hoed the garden and she made me pies in her 90s, when I came home from college. I have memories and photos that prove she sledded with my cousin and me, belly down, when she was 79. It was no photo op! She died at 99.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Forgot to say that Grandma milked cows in her 80s, the ones who gave the cream that she churned.

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4 months ago mark_trad

After hearing about the recent, increasing epidemic of onset childhood diabetes, wasting millions of dollars in American medical bills, how we're turning to drugs (statins) with nasty side effects that aren't as effective as diet intervention, and seeing how people get bored when talking about nutrition because they don't understand it, and how the medical community ignores changing knowledge, I personally prefer to inject a little emotion to get people moving. But we're both fighting the same fight, and I hope we can both convince people in our own ways.

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4 months ago dieubert

and how long does it last?

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4 months ago mamamarti

Mine lasts for months in the freezer.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

It'll last months in the fridge, and a year in the freezer. At room temperature, it will go rancid fast.

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4 months ago mamamarti

When we order a half-hog from one of the local pig farmers, I always ask for the fatback and leaf lard. All that's required is time and patience, and you will have the best shortening ever for pie crust and biscuits.

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4 months ago Allyn

I tried rendering my own once and it wound up... not great. I had much better luck getting if from a farmer friend back in TN. It was the lard that dreams are made of.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Getting a farmer to do it for you is great, but you probably did it at too high a heat, which will ruin it. Go slowwwww (some people use a crock pot) and long. I use a big old cast iron kettle. It takes a few hours, but you do not need to tend it constantly.

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4 months ago Susan W

I purchase leaf lard, beef tallow and duck fat from Fatworks here in Portland, Oregon. They are local here, but ship everywhere. Very small company that only uses fat from happy, pastured animals. I can't say enough about how great these guys and their products are.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Especially for North Carolina residents: Please see this story I wrote for the Raleigh News & Observer earlier this year: http://www.newsobserver... There is also a sidebar, same date, about me; I worked for many years as a food writer on staff at Newsday in NYC and on Long Island.

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4 months ago Sylvia Carter

Also, Rose's Meat Market in Durham makes delicious lard caramels!