How to Render Lard in a Cast Iron Skillet
Think “lard” is a dirty word?
I used to.
Thankfully, I moved past the American Heart Association’s mantra “Saturated fat is the devil” and now my food actually tastes good. 😉
Lard’s reputation was tarnished decades ago when manufacturers persuaded us that Crisco and Parkay, which are vegetable oils that are “hydrogenated” using chemical processes to change the oils to solids, were better choices than traditional animal fats. Then, in the ’90s, when the medical establishment began to hammer on saturated fats as the culprits in heart disease, lard’s shunning was complete. — “The Lost Art of Cooking with Lard” from Mother Earth News
Now I use all kinds of yummy and healthy fats in my kitchen: tallow, coconut oil, butter, and ….. LARD!
I’ll include some links at the end of this post if you want more information about the health benefits of lard and why it really does deserve a spot in your kitchen.
The lost art of rendering lard deserves a revival. There is something absolutely rustic and fulfilling about rendering lard from pig fat.
Uses for Lard
Lard does not impart a pork flavor to dishes, therefore, it can be used in a variety of ways. Home-rendered lard can be used as any fat would be, however it is suited for some uses better than others.
Historically, lard turns out the flakiest pie crusts and pastries. If you are a baker in any capacity, lard should most definitely have a place in your pantry.
Lard also has a fairly high smoke point — 370 degrees Fahrenheit — making it excellent for frying.
If you have an old recipe which calls for Crisco, lard is the best substitute, for Crisco was manufactured and marketed as a “healthier” alternative to lard. We now know this is ridiculous because Crisco is nothing more than highly processed, rancid cottonseed oil — inflammatory, damaging, and not nourishing at all.
What are the best uses for lard?
- Fried chicken, anyone?
- Roasted veggies
- Flaky pie crusts, biscuits, and pastries
- Spread on toast with a bit of salt
- Interchange lard for butter and shortening
- Refried beans
- To season cast iron
For even more uses for this beautiful, traditional fat, check out the book Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.
How to Render Lard in a Cast Iron Skillet:
Animal fats, such as lard and tallow (beef fat), can be rendered in a number of ways — in a Crock Pot, in a stock pot, in the oven, over an open fire even.
How you choose to render lard is simply a matter of preference. There is not one method that is “better” than all the others.
It really depends on how hands-on you want to be.
Rendering lard in a cast iron skillet is the more hands-on method, where as rendering in a Crock Pot is very hands-off.
If using a Crock Pot, you can place big hunks of pig fat in it and walk away for several hours, if needed. This method does not require babysitting or stirring or frequent checking.
Rendering lard in a cast iron skillet does, but it is the quicker of the two methods. Instead of taking several hours to render, you can go from pig fat to liquid lard in a matter of minutes.
I’ll be posting soon about rendering lard in a Crock Pot so you can see both methods and decide which is right for you.
Now, let’s get busy with some pig fat!
Cut uniform cubes of pig fat and place them into a large cast iron skillet. The size of the cubes of fat doesn’t matter as much as trying to make them relatively close to the same size. I did one-inch cubes.
This will help all the fat to render evenly; and you won’t have to deal with fishing smaller bits of fat out that would burn more quickly than larger pieces.
Also make sure that all the bits of muscle have been cut off the fat. Bits of burned meat will compromise the flavor of your finished lard.
Place the cast iron skillet on your stovetop on medium heat. I have an electric stove, and I put the dial on the number “5”.
As the skillet heats, the cubes of fat will begin to release liquid oil — lard!
Stir occasionally with a wooden or metal spoon. Do NOT use plastic; it will melt!
10 to 15 minutes into cooking, your fat cubes will be swimming in lard. The longer the pig fat cooks, the more lard is rendered out.
During the first 20 minutes or so, the fat only requires a bit of stirring. After this, however, the process moves along quickly, so don’t go too far!
When the pieces of pig fat turn brown and slightly crisp, the rendering process is over. You may notice that some smoke begins to rise from the skillet. Remove the skillet from the heat before or as soon as this happens.
You don’t want any of those cracklin’s to burn and ruin the flavor of your lard. And you also don’t want the lard to smoke because that damages its nutrient profile.
Cracklin’s = the browned pieces of pig fat. They are edible and very delicious sprinkled with a bit of salt. You can add them to salads, soup, chili, or as a garnish to any dish.
I save ours to use as wholesome dog treats!
Using a fine mesh sieve, very carefully strain the rendered lard into a heat-proof glass container, preferably one with a pour spout. Do not use plastic! It will melt!
I do this over the sink, just in case any lard spills out of the skillet.
Please do this step with caution. The liquid lard is extremely hot!
Allow the liquid lard to sit in the glass container for a few minutes. There will be a bit of sediment that will settle to the bottom.
Slowly and carefully pour the liquid lard into sterilized, warm glass jars.
You can heat them in a warm oven or by running hot water over them for a few seconds. The point is that you shouldn’t pour anything hot into a cold glass jar, or you risk shattering the jar and ruining your lard.
Try to keep the sediment out of the glass jars as you pour. This keeps your lard pure and creamy white.
Allow the jars to sit and cool until the lard has solidified. If your house is very warm, the lard may not totally solidify. That’s ok. Just make sure it’s cool before storing.
We must remember that our great-great-grandmothers were rendering and storing lard long before the invention of refrigeration.
Lard, which has been well-strained so that no bits of perishable fat remain in it, is shelf-stable. You can store it in a pantry, cool basement, root cellar, or in your kitchen cabinets without refrigeration.
You can also pressure can it with 10 pounds of pressure for 100-120 minutes.
I choose to freeze and refrigerate mine because I have the space. I don’t want to take a chance with this precious white fat that I’ve worked so hard to render the old-fashioned way.
Lard will last ages in the freezer. I once had a jar disappear to the bottom of the deep freeze, and it was over a year before I found it. It was still just as good as the day I rendered it, no funny flavors or anything!
If your lard has gone “off”, you’ll know it immediately by the smell. Fresh lard has just a slight smell of fatty goodness. Rancid lard smells, well, rancid. I don’t know how to describe it; but trust me, you’ll know.
Have you ever rendered lard? How do you use lard?
Lard from the grocery store is not from healthy pigs and should not be used under any circumstance. It can be a little tricky to find truly healthy pig fat. Look for a farmer who raises “pastured” pigs — not pigs that are kept in pens and eat garbage. Healthy pigs = healthy lard.
Where to look for pastured pig fat and/or meat:
- Check your farmer’s market
- Contact the Weston A. Price Foundation or a local chapter