In recent years, I've started really enjoying cooking with pork lard. I almost always use it when cooking wild game. We stopped grinding fat into our meat in order to have more versatility with it. I don't want to be "locked in" to a certain percentage of fat in the meat. Instead, I switch up how much fat I cook it in. I find that a wild game breakfast sausage cooked in a good amount of lard tastes just the same as if you ground the fat into the meat.
What is lard?
Lard is another term for rendered pork fat. It's made by heating pork fat at a very low temperature until the fat has liquified. The liquid is then strained and left to cool into a solid state. It can be used for baking or cooking but lard is my favorite fat to cook wild game in because it doesn't overpower the flavor of the meat but is great for browning meat and adding some richness. There are a lot of types of commercial lard out there, most of which contain preservatives. If you're not able to make your own, I suggest using a 100% pork fat product like this one.
What type of fat do you use to make lard?
I used the fat that runs along the inside of the loin, called leaf fat. If you're looking to make lard with less "piggy" taste, this is the fat you should use. You can also use pork back fat which is exactly what it sounds like - the fat that runs along the back of the pig. Either type will work to make lard for meat cooking purposes but leaf lard is prized for its use in baked goods. Leaf fat produces a smoother lard with less pig flavor.
How much lard do you get per pound of fat?
I'm a bit of a nerd and I love a good food science calculation. I was very curious to see how much rendered fat comes out of raw fat. I started with 4.75 lb of raw fat and ended up with 3.5 lb of lard and 14 oz of cracklins. Assuming a 5% loss of lard to cheese cloth, paper towels, cracklins, etc. that means my fat was probably somewhere between 75-80% pure fat. This means you should get about 12 oz of lard per pound of fat which is a little less than what fits in a pint-sized jar. The rest of the fat (20% or so) is actually protein and water. The cracklins are the leftover protein matrix that holds the fat together.
Processing fat into lard:
When it comes to rendering fat, the more surface area you have, the faster it will render. This means the smaller your pieces of fat are, the better. You can either cut the fat or grind it. Grinding it will ensure a much faster rendering process but cleaning out your grinder after running 100% fat through it can be a bit of a pain.
Once the fat is cut or ground into your desired size, it's time to heat it up. Add the fat to a large stockpot and turn on the heat as low as it goes. The lower you have the heat, the less chance of having "piggy" flavor in the lard. The fat will start to render pretty quickly after the pot starts heating up. But, don't be tempted to remove any of the lard until all of the fat appears to be "cooked." Removing lard before the fat reaches a certain temperature could risk contamination of your lard with unwanted bacteria. Sure, you won't be eating it raw (I hope) and it will get cooked later but better safe than sorry.
Once you are ready to remove the rendered lard from the pot, line a small mesh strainer with cheesecloth and pour the lard over the cheesecloth into a glass jar. Place the lid on the jar and let it cool at room temperature. Place cooled jars in the freezer to keep them fresh. Once you've opened a jar, you can store it in the fridge. You can use lard for cooking so many things! Some of my favorites are biscuits and gravy, smashburgers, and Philly cheesesteaks. Happy cooking!
Homemade Pork Lard Recipe
- large stock pot
- small mesh strainer
- glass jars with lids
- 4 lb pork leaf fat
- Cut the lard into small pieces, 1" cubes or smaller. The smaller the pieces, the faster the process will be. You can also grind the fat.
- Add fat to a large stockpot. Turn the stove on to very low heat.
- Fat will start rendering as soon as the pot has heated up but will take quite a while to completely render. The time it takes to render depends on how low or high your heat is. But, the lower the heat, the less chance of a "piggy" taste in the lard.
- Don't remove any of the rendered lard until all the fat appears to be "cooked." If the remaining fat hasn't reached a safe temperature and you remove some of the lard, you could contaminate the lard with unwanted bacteria. But, you can start removing some of the lard before it is completely rendered.
- Removing some of the lard early on will give you that perfect snow white lard. Once you get to the end of the rendering process, you may have some more brown-colored lard. This is ok and will still be good for cooking but will have a stronger flavor.
- When you are ready to remove some or all of the rendered lard, place a small mesh strainer over a glass jar and line it with cheesecloth. Pour lard over cheesecloth and into the jar. Place lid on jar and allow to cool at room temperature.
- Once the fat has completely rendered, you will have "cracklins" left. You can add salt to these and eat as a snack or you can save them but they are best eaten right away if you so choose.
- Place jars in the freezer once they are completely cooled for optimal freshness. Once you are ready to open and use a jar, you can store it in the fridge.
- 4 lb of fat will yield approximately 3 pint-sized jars of lard. The amount of time varies widely depending on how big or small the pieces of fat are and how low or high your heat is.