Family Recipes

Rendering your own lard

Danny Baskin
Fayetteville Arkansas

There are a lot of pig farms up here in the Ozarks, and one of the cheapest, easiest, and most versatile ways to capitalize on this great abundance is to render your own lard.

Step 1. Buy some pork belly or fatback from your favorite pig farmer. It's usually extraordinarily cheap for a huge amount. Keep it cold, almost frozen, but not rock hard frozen. Chop it into little cubes, about a 1/2 inch thick. If you have a meat grinder, you could course grind it, but that's not necessary and I find it's more work to clean the grinder afterwards than it's worth. If there's any large chunks of meat (not fat), set it aside for cooking and eating how you wish but it's ok if you have some little bits of meat still in the cubes.

Step 2. Put all the cubed fat into a big heavy bottom pot and heat it up on a low setting (I use a 1 or 2 setting on my gas stovetop) or use a slowcooker on low and let it do it's thing. If you cook it too hot, the lard will get a somewhat gamey flavor that not everyone loves.

Step 3. Over the course of many hours, the fat will melt, the small bits of discard (or cracklins) will sink to the bottom then rise to the top over time. Once the cracklins have risen and it's "speaking to you" or lightly hissing, it's probably ready for the next step.

Step 4. Using a layered tea towel or some cheesecloth and a colander, strain the lard extra well. It should be absolutely clear with no bits of any kind left in it and often has a light yellow tint to it at this stage. Once you let it cool on the counter for a number of hours, it should be a milky waxy white substance.

Step 5. Now you can keep it in the fridge and use it for whatever you'd like! I store mine in a well sealed glass pyrex container and am sure to use clean utensils when I'm scooping it out for use. It tends to last for a very long time, but if it starts to grow mold or smell strange, don't use it. I've never had any problems with mine going bad and one batch tends to last me a full 6 months at least. But still, caution and care are always encouraged.

Uses: Lard is great for cooking anything with, just as you'd use butter or olive oil. It's got a very high smoke point and is pretty healthy, when used in moderation of course. It's great for pie crusts, tamales, frying stuff, and even for keeping your garage tools well oiled and your cast iron pans well seasoned. You can even make soap with it. It's also a great way to help use sometimes wasted parts of an animal that gave it's life for someone's breakfast.

The Ozarks to me often seems to hold self sufficiency, local ingenuity, and keen resourcefulness in very high esteem. This means that many of the food traditions I experience here are based in using all the parts you can, with the least amount of processing or chemicals needed, and the closest available resources. This often also creates healthier, cheaper, and more accessible food. When I think of a recipe that encompasses all of those tenants, I think of the simple, easy, useful recipe shared above; rendered pork fat or lard. It makes a lot, it’s super easy, and it can be used for a million different things.