Beef tallow is a delicious, healthy fat. It’s saturated, and made from beef suet (raw fat from cows). If you happen to be buying a part of a grass-fed cow (we just bought a whole one!), request a bag of suet along with it. Failing that, ask a local farmer if he can get you some next time he has a cow butchered. Once you have the suet, though, you do have to render it in order to end up with tallow.
That leads to a bit of consternation for many, as it did for me initially. Just how do you render this stuff?! It really is not complicated at all, but it does take time, you will get greasy, and your house will smell funny for awhile. But it’s worth it. Have you ever had fries cooked in beef tallow? It’s what McDonalds used to use, 20 years ago. It’s what made their fries so delicious but without trans fats or MSG! Sadly, they switched due to “heart health,” ironically making their fries less healthy….
I digress. Suffice it to say, beef tallow is something you’d like to have around. It does have a strong flavor, so it’s not a fat you’d want to use in everything (lard is much more neutral), but it is still really excellent. Let’s get to how to render it.
Stuff you need:
- A large stock pot (mine was 8 quarts)
- A cutting board
- A sharp knife
- Glass bowls
- A wooden spoon
First, you need a big chunk of suet, which is raw fat. Here’s mine:
Would you believe that’s only half of what I got from my cow? Yeah, I have a lot!
Start cutting it into 1″ cubes, likes this:
Now, be careful. You want to remove any muscle meat that’s left, or any blood vessels. This is what the meat might look like:
And this is what the blood vessels look like:
You’ll note these randomly inside the fat. You don’t want them in the pot, so cut around them and just set them aside. You can throw these bits to animals, if you have any, or just throw them out.
Once your fat is cut, fill your pot with it. I’ve used an 8-quart stock pot, and this fat just fits inside it:
Now, place the pot on the stove, uncovered, and turn it on low. Very low. You want it to melt, not burn.
After awhile, the fat will start to melt. There will be partially melted chunks that are kind of greenish-yellow now. See? There are a few chunks on top of the still-white raw chunks:
Keep stirring your pot every 20 – 30 minutes so that more and more of the chunks get to the bottom and start melting. After a couple hours, your fat will have cooked down some and you’ll have mostly partially-melted chunks along with lots of liquid fat. This is what it looks like:
Around this time, especially if your pot is as full as mine was, you’ll want to start pouring off some of the liquid fat. Get a glass bowl (please no plastic, it could melt the plastic and certainly leach harmful chemicals out. Fat and heat are the two things that cause the most leaching, so putting this in plastic is a big no-no!) and a sieve and pour the fat through it carefully. This is some freshly rendered tallow!
Now, return your pot to the stove and keep stirring it. Over the next couple of hours, you’ll keep stirring and pouring off melted fat. Eventually you’ll get down to maybe 15 – 20% of the volume you originally had, and the bits won’t seem to melt anymore. That looks like this:
[Insert pic of leftover bits]
This is normal. Your fat will not completely melt. These leftover bits are called “cracklins'” and they are edible! Keep cooking until these bits are nice and crispy. You may not want to pour off the last bit of liquid fat, especially if it has tiny browned bits in it. It will make your tallow gritty and weird. Here are the cracklins:
These cracklins’ are good to eat, so go ahead and toss a little sea salt on them and have a snack! Just remember that they’re pure fat, so you won’t want to eat too many (hard on the tummy!).
Allow your fat to cool. It’ll turn from that greenish-yellow color back to a creamy white color when it solidifies. Put a lid on it and store it in your pantry for about a month, or in your freezer indefinitely.
That’s it! That’s not so hard, is it? It does take about 5 hours or so from start to finish, but other than cutting the fat it’s not much hands-on time. I got about 25 cups out of that whole piece of fat, which will last months. So considering how long it will last that’s really not too bad!
Also, note that this same method works to render any type of fat — lard, lamb fat, duck fat, etc. Any raw fat can be rendered the exact same way.