How-To & Diy

In Praise of Lard, and How to Render Your Own

July 17, 2014

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

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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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • vegasslots
  • Tony Eiselstein
    Tony Eiselstein
  • j7n
  • Lisa Wallace
    Lisa Wallace
  • lefitfen
Jenny McGruther is a food educator and the voice behind the award-winning traditional foods website Nourished Kitchen, and the cookbook The Nourished Kitchen. She teaches workshops and retreats on traditional foods, fermentation, and food activism. Jenny’s work emphasizes back-to-basics, old-world culinary techniques, and simple, traditional home cooking. Her second book, Broth and Stock, will be available next May.


vegasslots April 17, 2024
Tony E. May 12, 2021
I cut the fat off some 2 huge shoulder pork and through it in the slow cooker over night. Perfect.
j7n May 10, 2021
I made my lard in large batches on stovetop last winter, when it was easy to carry meat products and freeze them for free outdoors. I used a meat grinder. One pot took about 4 hours. This doesn't produce any cracklings, but a savory protein meal, unlike when cut with a knife, which is more time consuming.

The most tasty lard for me is actually liquid, obtained from the back of the pig. I use this more expensive tasty lard sparingly with eggs or on bread. In general, lard is easy to clean up, being mostly unsaturated unlike tallow. The process can get messy.
Lisa W. August 14, 2020
Have never rendered lard, but have done with tallow (beef fat). Easy and worth it!
lefitfen January 4, 2020
I was so grateful to found, it helped me not only to lose weight but keep it off, hope it helps some others!
jakestavis November 20, 2017
trying my hand at rendering some fat in the slow cooker today, would you recommend leaving it covered or having the lid slightly ajar? i added a bit of water per your recommendation but want to make sure it evaporates in the rendering process. thanks!
Tony E. May 12, 2021
I didn't use any water when I put mine in the slow cooker. However I used the fat from the shoulder cut. Not sure if that makes a difference.
Betty D. January 24, 2017
I have rendered my own leaf lard for the past 5 years and we love it. We put it through a meat grinder then cook it down in a crock pot. My second batch this year did not harden. I was wondering if anyone may know
why. Thanks!
Farmkid September 22, 2016
I'm confused as to why people who don't raise farm animals insist on proclaiming what makes them "happy". Hogs are not necessarily "happier" outside than inside. They want to be well fed and comfortable. I keep my cats indoors at all times for their safety and they look perfectly "happy" to me. I grew up on a farm, and our animals had access to both. It depended on time of year, what the grass was like, what the weather was like, whether coyotes were howling, etc. The nutrition and flavor of the product is another matter. Feel free to comment on that.
MamaCruz4 September 27, 2020
I'm pretty sure our backyard chickens are happy, and believe me, they do NOT come in the house. I think if we do the best we can to raise any animal, or any child, with love, care, attention, and respect, we'll probably do okay. Neglect, abuse, and selfishness on the part of the caregivers are the way to ruin a promising life. Indoors versus outdoors is just location, as long as the basic need for some kind of safe shelter is met.
Tony E. May 12, 2021
They had mentioned being outside under the Sun lets their skin produce vitamin D which apparently can affect the flavor.
relishyourchef November 18, 2015
question- you can put the hot liquid lard into a jar and cap immediately? you don't need to let it cool down first? thanks
BakerMary October 22, 2017
Use canning jars, preheat by filling with hot water then drain and dry. they can take the heat. If you have other jars, preheat as above then set a spoon in the jar while you fill it. This dissipates the heat a bit,
Regent August 23, 2015
I managed to stumble upon a pork farmer at the Hollywood Farmer's Market here in Los Angeles. Started rendering my own leaf lard for pie crusts immediately. WOW! It's been years of trying to find a resource, and finally success. But also discovered that the world's cutest dog, our Nounour [he's a pure-bred Bieffe] savors his dinner when it is sprinkled with some cracklings, or likes a few shavings of frozen lard dressing the top (canine Parmesan?), and is forcing(?) me to continue to render, and make a weekly peach pie.... What a life! Thank you for the tips on rendering s l o w l y ... that first batch was light brown and scented. And Nounour would like to thank you for the beautiful sheen of his coat.
the T. June 30, 2015
Mom used to render ladr too- she always saved the bits and made crackling potica with it!
Megan G. June 30, 2015
Can you just put the refrigerated lard through the meat grinder before you you render it instead of grating it?
Bobbe November 3, 2014
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?
esther September 3, 2014
Just spread it on toast and sprinkle with some vegeta.
Sylvia C. September 4, 2014
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.
Danny S. August 23, 2014
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
Sylvia C. August 23, 2014
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.
Sylvia C. September 4, 2014
Thank you, Danny. I imagine that many of our memories are similar.
Peter F. July 25, 2014
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?
Sylvia C. July 25, 2014
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.
Jenny M. July 26, 2014
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.
Sylvia C. July 26, 2014
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.
Sylvia C. July 20, 2014
Definitely check out and lard lovers on Facebook.
Jeff K. July 20, 2014
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?
Sylvia C. July 20, 2014
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.
Donna Y. July 20, 2014
I am a convert. Lard makes the best pie crusts! So flaky and delicious!
Jeany July 19, 2014
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.
Sylvia C. July 20, 2014
Any kind of fat on fire is highly dangerous. Not just lard rendering.