Lard, the misunderstood fat (and how to render your own lard)

Oh great, another article about how lard is healthy.  I bet you think I’m about to make an effort to convince you that lard should replace all the butter, shortening and olive oil in your pantry.  Yeesh, no way.  Or maybe you’re thinking, here we go, a pseudo-scientific health article comparing different levels of chemicals that make up the various fats available and somehow prove that when you look at lard a certain way, it’s a bona fide superfood.  Nah, too over my head.  Lard is good for three reasons if you ask me: it’s naturally part of our evolved diets as omnivorous humans, it performs amazingly for baking and frying, and it can easily be obtained and rendered from local sources (perhaps most important of all!).  Leave the fake science for the wannabe nerds that think turkey puts them to sleep!

Let’s talk about why many people think that lard is an obviously evil, unhealthy, artery clogging demon.

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Lard: The bad guy of fat

I think it starts with shortening hitting the market in 1911.  Crisco, the hydrogenated fat that could.  Solid at room temperature like butter and lard, but no animals required–just factories.  Crisco was touted as the easy to digest alternative to lard, and people were into it.  Marketing back then was awesome, you could get away with anything!  Before scientists figured out how crazy unhealthy shortening really was, the product was a hit.

And hey… didn’t this coincide with the beginning of a new era in manufacturing in America,  with Ford cars coming off assembly lines (1913) and cake mixes coming in the not too distant future? Yes, lard is an unappreciated victim of the American detachment from making things on our own with real materials and ingredients. Trust in automated, ultra-processed food became standard as time went on.

Combine this idea of new technology “fixing” our food with the fact that lard is wearing its truth in the open for all to see.  Lard is fat.  It’s not that different from the fat in our bodies.  Lard can’t pretend it is derived from cute olive trees swaying in Italian breezes, and it certainly isn’t as cutting edge and exotic as coconut “oil”.  It’s the fat that you can grow in your back yard, yet I know almost nobody who actually uses it.  People make faces when we talk about it.

Why lard ain’t so bad

Healthy?

Look, I’m not saying lard is so healthy you should pull out a spoon and go to town.  Lard, just like any other fat, is only good in moderation.

And c’mon, let’s be real.  Do you really think a teaspoon of olive oil used for those sauteed onions is that much healthier than a teaspoon of lard would be?  Does anyone have the cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings of folks from a controlled study where people ate generally healthy diets, and just used lard instead of olive oil?  I don’t think there would be a single difference to report.

But lard has good stuff to offer, like a good level of monounsaturated fats, which is apparently good.  I’m not a scientist, but someone out there is and says so.  It’s also high in Vitamin D. Vitamins are good I’m pretty sure.

Local? LOCAL!

And lard is the local, neighborhood fat.  The only other versatile fat I can think of that could be obtained locally in just about everywhere in the United States is butter, and making butter is hard work! Not to mention we aren’t all evolved to properly digest animal milk–it’s technically for baby cows.

Using lard makes you less dependent on ingredients sourced from far away.

It reduces your carbon footprint.

It brings our goddamned communities together!  Lard can save the world!

Lard is the fat we’re designed to eat

We are humans. We eat meat.  Animals are meat. Animals have fat. Lard is animal fat.  Animal fat has been a part of the human diet for as long as we’ve had teeth.  You think early humans spread butter on their toast or used shortening to bake smooth cakes?  No way. But I bet they ate meat and savored the nutrition and taste that fat brings.  They survived on it.

Lard is easy to make

What impresses me most about lard is how easy it is to make. You can go from the raw butchered cut of pork to pure white lard with minimal skill and effort right in your own kitchen.  With a knife, pan, and source of heat, home rendered lard to can be yours.  It’s a homesteader’s dream.  Anyone out there have any clue how to make olive oil in your kitchen from local ingredients?  Let me know when that coconut tree in NH has a good yield. #boomroasted

OK let’s render some then, shall we?


 

How to render your own lard

What you’ll need:

  • pork backfat or kidney/leaf fat (kidney fat is considered better, but both are good)
  • knife
  • slow cooker (like crockpot) or heavy bottomed pan
  • some water

Process:

1. Cut the fat into small pieces, removing any skin as needed.  You could leave the skin on, actually, it will just give the lard a more “porky” flavor.  Up to you.  The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will render. We usually aim for somewhere around a half inch.

Pork Kidney Fat for Leaf Lard

Pork Kidney Fat for Leaf Lard

2. Fill your slow cooker or pan with fat pieces, as much as you can comfortably fit and still get the lid on.

How to Make Lard from scratch

3. Add enough water so there is a layer of water at the bottom, maybe 1/4 inch.  Set the slow cooker to high or if using a pan, set to medium low. Grab a cup of coffee or something, relax.

4. After about a half hour, check on the lard and stir it around.  Fat is rendered when it becomes liquid.  Stirring it will ensure all the pieces have a chance to render.

5.  As the level of liquid rises, you can pour off occasionally through a strainer or cheesecloth into jars that can handle hot liquid.  With the newly freed up space, you can add more of the chunks you cut up, if you have any left.

Freshly rendered lard

6. Keep going until it seems like you’ve rendered most of the solid into fat, straining the liquid as you go.  When you are finished there will be “cracklins” leftover, which is the component of pork fat that won’t render, basically ultra-fried meat.  We like to freeze these and use sparingly as dog treats, but you can also salt them and eat them in yourself.

Pork Cracklins

7. The lard is ready to go as is, but if you want to ditch the sediment and reduce pork flavor, you can let the jars stand for an hour or so, and then carefully pour into new jars, leaving sediment behind.  If the lard happens to solidify before you pour it off, no big deal, just scoop with a spoon.

Pure white leaf lard

What to do with your new wonderful lard:

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