What you don't know about lard
Not only does lard make the best pie crusts, it's lower in saturated fat than butter--if saturated fat bothers you. It doesn't bother me, in fact, the plaque levels in my heart have actually improved since I've started eating good saturated fats. (They've actually gone and looked, so I feel safe in saying this.)

Technically lard isn't even a saturated fat; it's a monounsaturated fat. And it's one of the best dietary sources of vitamin D. It also contains no trans-fats. If there's fat to be avoided, trans-fats are the ones.

Finding fat
The hardest part of making lard is finding a good source of pork fat. You're going to have to do a little digging, and it's important that you not just use any pork fat you find; you want to make sure the pig was properly cared for and fed right. Your average supermarket "butcher," and I use that term loosely, isn't going to have it; that pork is all factory farmed, and very few supermarket butchers cut whole carcasses any more. You may have more luck at a specialty market like Whole Foods, Wild Oats or the like, but be sure to inquire after the feeding practices.

If there is a farmer's market near you, look around and ask questions. That's how we stumbled onto our farmer, who is really in the goat cheese biz; he raises pigs on the leftover whey. We've bought two (incredibly delicious) pigs from him in as many years, and surprised the butcher by asking for all of the fat--and as much of the offal as we could get, but that's another article. Hey, we were paying for it. If you don't have a farmer's market, try where you can find farmers with good growing practices, and not just for meat.

Making it
Once you have found your fat, decide what you want to use it for. If you want it for pastries, try to find and use only the fat from around the kidneys--what's called "leaf" lard. I don't make much pastry, so I don't care about that. Chop the fat into at least 1" cubes, taking any meat chunks off in the process. Some folks put it through a meat grinder. In any event, you want small pieces; otherwise you won't get as much fat out. Heat your oven to 225°F. I use my cast iron dutch oven to render lard in. Put about a quarter-inch of water at the bottom of the pot; this keeps the fat from browning too much at the beginning, and it'll burn off in time. Add your chopped-up fat. Pop it in the oven for at least a couple of hours, stirring now and then. Eventually the chunks won't give up any more fat--it'll become obvious, the chunks will look the same after an hour as they did before. As you're doing all this there will be a distinct smell. Some people like it, some people don't. It's a little too intense for my comfort, frankly, which is why I try to do a bunch of lard at once. If you can do this outside, or in a canning kitchen if you have one, so much the better. Let the lard cool to lukewarm; while it's cooling is a good time to gather up your jars and lids and make sure they're clean and ready to go. There are various methods to filter out the bits of meat and unrendered fat--the cracklings--from the lard, but what I use is a paper coffee filter and cone. Ladle the still-liquid lard, skipping the bigger chunks, into the filter. Refrigerate the lard and use it within a month. If you've made more than you can use in a month, it freezes well.

Using it
Use it anywhere you'd use butter or shortening: To pop popcorn (the best!); to make pie crust; to fry eggs. In some cultures it's even spread on bread, topped with onions and salt, and called a sandwich. As for the leftover bits, the cracklings? Salt them and put them on salads or just munch on them. Josie loves them. We got more cracklings than we could eat, so we fed a lot of them to the chickens and used them as doggie and kitty treats.

First, it’s very high in vitamin D, a vitamin we are often in great need of. Second, one author was pointing out that lard’s composition was the closest to our body fat, so they considered it easier for us to handle. Thirdly, it’s the original shortening! The shortening you can by at the stores is decidedly one of the worst things for you. If you are going to stay away from something, stay away from that. Lard was once used in pies and tarts. Last, lard is definitely a food that our great grandmothers would recognize, so it passes the “real food” test hands down. It also makes the best mexican food. Oh yes, there are many uses for lard. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a great fat to use at high temperatures too? But you have to be careful about buying it at the store as it’s usually partially hydrogenated which is bad news. If it’s stored unrefrigerated, stay away and always check the labels. The best thing to do is render it yourself, so finally, here is my long promised post about how to render lard. This last week, I had a large amount of lard to render so I decided to go ahead and do a comparison of different methods. The dry rendering process is when you don’t add any water during the rendering process. The wet rendering process is where you add a bit of water at the beginning to make sure it doesn’t brown too much at the beginning. And then I compared rendering it on the oven top to rendering it in the stove. I found that the dry and wet rendering process gave me very similar products in the end (I really couldn’t tell the difference between the two), so I will be sharing the dry rendering process. Between the stove top and the oven, they are both very easy to do, so it’s really up to you which one you want to do. It is nice to have the lard contained in the oven, but, like I said, it’s up to you. Finally, if you overcook the lard a bit, you will get a more “porky” taste and brown coloring. Good for savory dishes, not so much for pies.

What you need: About one pound of leaf lard (best grade, best for pastries) or fat back. You can get this from a local farmer at slaughter time, or at a local meat shop (they may have to special order it for you). I think there are also several places online that you can order from too.
For Stovetop rendering:
Cut the lard into small pieces and place in a pot over medium-low heat. The lard will start to slowly melt. Make sure to stir once in a while. After about 20 minutes a big portion of it will be melted. You will also at this point start to see the “cracklings” form. At this point you will want to be careful. Remember how bacon sputters? As moisture is released from the cracklings it will definitely sputter, and I even got a big splash of hot lard in my face at one point! When all of the sputtering is finished and the cracklings are floating, you are technically done. I let mine cook for a bit longer to get the cracklings a little more brown (don’t waste them, as they are quite yummy and can be used in many recipes too!). I think it took between 45 minutes and an hour to cook it. Line a fine sieve with cheesecloth or a coffer filter and strain through into a jar. It will be yellowish when hot, but turn white when cooled. The cracklings will be left in the sieve.
Oven Rendering
I followed the following great directions from here for oven rendering. I found it took about the same amount of time as the stovetop version. It was nice to have it contained, but I didn’t watch it quite as carefully because it was out of sight. “To render lard, grind it or chop it — this is easiest when then the lard is partially frozen — and put it in a 300-degree oven in a shallow casserole. Stir it often, and cook until the lard melts and the cracklings, called chicharrones in Spanish, are floating. For a roasted pork flavor, render the lard in a 350-degree oven until the cracklings are brown. Cook until the cracklings sink to the bottom. Strain your rendered lard through cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter. Cool and refrigerate for up to two months or freeze. Frozen lard lasts for more than a year. Save the cracklings or chicharrones to enrich cornbread, burritos or tamales. Home-rendered lard adds wonderful flavor to baked goods like cornbread and bizcochitos and enriches refried beans.”

Lard. I have to admit that for most of my life that I’ve been terrified of the stuff. Be it schoolyard taunts that used the word, or the absence of it at both the grocery store and in my childhood home—I believed that it was bad news and something to be avoided. A few years ago, I embarked on a quest to teach myself how to make flour tortillas. The first recipe I found listed lard as a key ingredient. I was scared at first, but I sought out a pound of it as my love for flour tortillas triumphed over my fear of pig fat. And while that initial foray into flour tortillas proved futile, I did discover that lard isn’t so bad, in fact, often it’s my preferred fat of choice. People think that cooking with lard will make everything taste of pork, but this is not true; its flavor is neutral. What it does, however, is create incredible texture and structure. With lard, you’ll fry chicken that is both moist and crisp. With lard, you’ll make a tender pie crust that flakes. With lard, you’ll make airy French fries that crunch. With lard, you’ll cook refried beans that caress your mouth like velvet. With lard, you’ll steam tamales that are soft and fluffy. And with lard, you’ll bake ginger cookies that snap. But the best thing about lard is that it’s not bad for you. It has less saturated fat (the bad fat) than butter, while it also has more than twice as much monosaturated fat (the good fat) than butter. And it has none of those pesky trans fats—that is, if it hasn’t been hydrogenated to prolong its shelf life. And that, my friends, is the problem. Most lard you find at the grocery store has been hydrogenated to make it shelf stable indefinitely, which robs it of its good qualities. Some butchers will sell freshly rendered lard that has not been hydrogenated (clue: if it’s not refrigerated than it’s not the good kind of lard), but it’s also quite simple to render it yourself. For years, I heard stories about how difficult and malodorous the lard-rendering process was. My opinion changed, however, after a visit to my grandparents’ farm last August. As we were looking through old family albums, I found a fantastic photo of my great-grandfather standing outside stirring a large cauldron with a long stick. The caption? “Dad rendering lard. Dec. 1940.” It seems that lard was the fat of choice for both my grandparents growing up, and when I looked through some old family recipes, I saw that indeed many of them called for that fat. When I returned to New York I decided it was time to render my own lard. And after a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket to pick up some pig fat, I was well on my way to being in hog heaven.
If you’ve never rendered lard before, trust me, it’s very, very easy. And the best thing is that when you’re done you can look at your supply of white, luscious fat and have a blast dreaming of the culinary possibilities each jar contains.
What you need:
A pound or so of pig fat, either leaf lard or fat back. Leaf lard is the best grade of lard and is preferred for pastry, while fat back is the next-best grade of lard and is appropriate for frying. Each pound of fat will yield about a pint of lard.
A big pot
A lard stick (though a wooden spoon will suffice)
Some water
Some containers—Mason jars work nicely.
Open your kitchen window. After buying your fat, preferably from a farmer or butcher that treats its hogs humanely, chop it up into little pieces.  In a Dutch oven or heavy, large pot, add about a half of a cup of water to the pot, and then add the cubed fat.  On the stove, heat the pot on medium low, stirring occasionally (every 10 minutes). After the fat starts melting (about an hour), you’ll hear some very loud pops. Do not be alarmed—that is just the last gasp of air and moisture leaving what will soon become cracklings (little fried pieces of pork). Now is the time to start stirring more often. Soon after, the cracklings will start floating on the surface. Keep stirring frequently, but be careful—you don’t want the fat popping out of the pot and burning you. When the cracklings sink to the bottom, the lard has been rendered. Let it cool, and then pour it into containers through a colander or strainer lined with cheesecloth. The cracklings will be left behind in the cheesecloth and these make for a fine, fine snack, especially sprinkled over salad if that’s not too perverse for you. The lard will be a yellowish liquid. This is what it’s supposed to look like. Refrigerate it overnight and when it solidifies it will turn white. It will keep in the refrigerator for about three months, and the freezer for up to a year.

First, go downstairs to the freezer and get out a big bag of fat. If you don’t have a big bag of fat, you’ll have to go to a butcher shop. Trust me, it’s worth it. Making your own lard is easy! It’s fresh, natural, and not hydrogenated like store-bought lard, and if you grew your own pig, you know exactly what it was fed. I hear tell it makes the best pie crusts in the world and I can hardly wait to make some. I made my first homemade lard this week and was instantly hooked. No more lard from the store for me. Lard has a bad rap, but don’t let the Crisco people fool you. You should see what’s in shortening! Lard, home-rendered, is actually good for you. Generations before us thrived on traditional fats, which are much healthier for you than man-made. Lard is a real, natural food–don’t be afraid of it!

pork fat
(Short ingredient list.)
To render lard for baking, the best pork fat is kidney, back, or belly fat. Freeze the fat first to make it easier to handle–cutting up the fat is a messy job. Chop it into about 1-inch pieces. (Some people even grind the frozen fat. The smaller the pieces of fat you start with, the quicker it will render.) How much fat you render at once doesn’t matter–however much you want to work with at a time.
Use a large cast iron kettle or dutch oven to cook it on the stovetop or cook it in a crock pot or the oven. Cook the fat any way you choose–the method is similar no matter which way you do it. I used a crock pot, and for my first batch, used a small quantity of fat, enough that about filled up my small 3 1/2-quart crock pot. This rendered down to a quart of regular, creamy-white baking lard plus a half-pint of what is called savory lard and the cracklins. (You actually get three products out of one job! The mild baking lard, the savory lard, and the guilty pleasure of the cracklins.) First add water to cover the bottom of the pot or pan you’re using to cook the lard then add a layer of fat pieces. The water will eventually cook out–it’s just there at the start while you get the first pieces of fat melting so the fat doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cook the lard slowly. I set my crock pot on low and kept the pot uncovered throughout the process. When you see the first pieces of fat floating and turning white, the rendering has begun. Go ahead and put in the rest of the fat. You can stir it occasionally, but it doesn’t need a whole lot of attention. It knows what it’s doing. It doesn’t need your help. The pieces will float as the amount of melted fat increases. Eventually, the pieces of fat will sink to the bottom–those are your cracklins-to-be. Stick a spoon in there and you’ll see your nice, clear liquid fat. The cracklins will still have a puffy fatness to them. (Not crispy yet.) You want to render your good, mild baking lard before you finish the cracklins. When you see the pieces sinking, it’s time to get the good stuff. In my crock pot on low, this took about 12 hours. Line a colander with cheesecloth. Strain the lard into the colander. I used a bowl underneath to catch it that has a pour spout, the easier to then pour my lard into a canning jar for storage. Be careful, pour slowly–you’ll make a mess if you pour it out too quickly. This first rendering of clarified lard is perfect for pie crusts and other baking uses (and also for soapmaking). It will be mild and turn a gorgeous white once it sets. Chill it quickly for best texture. I put mine in the freezer for about an hour then once it started to set, transferred it to the fridge. Here are the cracklins, left after the straining. See how you can still see a lot of puffy fat to them. I dumped the cracklins back in the crock pot and returned the heat to low. I cooked the cracklins for about another hour and a half, until they were crispy and golden. Cracklins are delicious sprinkled over salads or on top of casseroles. (Think Durkee fried onions and green bean casserole. Anything where you’d use fried onions, you could use cracklins.) Again, I strained the lard into a cheesecloth-lined colander, clarifying this second rendering, then set aside the cracklins to cool. After the cracklins were cool, I put them in a labelled storage baggie and stuck them in the freezer for next time I’m making a casserole. I poured the strained second rendering into a half-pint jar. This is what is referred to as “savory” lard. Because it was made from cooking down the cracklins, it has a much stronger flavor. You can use it for various savory cooking purposes–it’s just probably not something you’d want for apple pie. It will set to a light amber color. To store your home-rendered lard, choose whatever method you prefer. You can keep it in the fridge (or freezer, if you’ve made a large quantity at once). You can store it right on the pantry shelf–many people say they do that. You can even can it. I’m keeping mine in the fridge. Beautiful, creamy homemade lard. The mild first rendering is a wonder to behold. I see biscuits. Making your own lard is incredibly easy and takes you another step closer to your food and its origins (and even more natural homemade soap). Any recipe that calls for shortening–pie crust, cookies, biscuits, frying french fries, and so on–can be made with lard instead of shortening. The rendering process does take a good amount of time, so be sure to take that into account in making your plans. Now that I’ve familiarized myself with the process, next time I’ll cut the fat up the night before, stick it in the fridge to keep, then start it in the crock pot first thing in the morning. I think I’ll try it in my cast iron kettle next time, too. (Think of the seasoning that’ll be for my cast iron!) How long it takes for you will vary depending on the amount of fat and the starting size of your fat pieces. Remember, however, that the rendering needs little tending while it’s taking place. I made the mistake of starting mine in the evening and I actually turned it off when I went to bed then got up in the middle of the night and turned it back on. The first rendering was ready when I got up in the morning. I was sleeping during several hours of the cook-time after I turned it back on. (The 12 hours for my cook time is the total minus the time I had the pot turned off.) I’ve got plenty more fat in the freezer and I’ll be making my own lard from now on. I want to thank Cathy, who inspired me with her lard-making experience. You can read a whole discussion on the Chickens in the Road forum here about making lard. The discussion also includes links to other resources on methods of rendering and also on canning lard. You can render fat from any animal, by the way. It’s an amazingly simple process that is old-fashioned, natural, and traditional–and as good today as it was for the generations that came before us

Lard – sounds like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Well, don’t let it fool you. It’s much easier than it sounds!
You will need:
Polyface Pork fat (these come in 5 lb bags)
A Crock pot (a 4-qt holds 5 lbs of fat – very convenient huh?)
Strainer or cheese cloth or slotted spoon
Clean container to store your lard in (I use wide-mouth quart jars)
Thaw the lard. I usually set mine in the sink overnight. Put it into your crockpot. Turn your crockpot to LOW and let it sit all day until all of the fat is melted and appears clear. Pour it through your strainer or cheese cloth, or pull out the chunks of fat that are left. If you want to, you can fry these for cracklin’s. I disposed of mine. Pour the lard into your containers, let them cool just a bit, then refrigerate it. It will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge. Viola! You have made lard! It will harden in the fridge turning a beautful white. I have also run the crockpot over night and then strained it in the morning. Worked perfectly. 10 pounds of fat makes about 3 quarts of lard. For those of you who don’t have a crock pot – don’t despair! You can still make it. Just put the fat into a nice large pot and turn your burner onto low – as low as it will go. You will want to watch it a little more carefully and stir it on occasion to make sure that it doesn’t burn. Follow steps 2 & 3 like normal. Uses for lard: Use it for frying or sauteing anything – anytime you need an oil, just use the lard – try my fried chicken recipe. It will “wow” your family and guests. Use it in place of shortening in recipes. It’s much healthier for you. Pie crusts are excellent made with lard. 

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