Rendering fat is much easier than you might expect. All you need is a good stock pot, some heat-proof utensils and bowls, and… some fat to render. It’s a great way to use “waste” products and turn them into either tasty stirfry or, better yet, homemade soap.
To get the fat, you can take the trimmings off briskets or other store-bought pork and beef, especially handy if you plan to can the meat later.
In this case, because I intend to turn pork fat into soap, I purchased 20 pounds of pork fat from the local Richardson Farms in Temple, Texas, who raise pastured (aka happy) pigs. I believe in supporting local farmers as much as possible, and I also think you get a much higher quality product when the animals do not suffer throughout their lives.
Before I began I needed to make sure the fat was as cold as possible but still manageable. Cold fat is much easier to chop, whether you do it by hand or run it through a meat grinder. I chose to ice it down in a large cooler; you could also freeze it, though be warned that a 20 fat ice cube will be difficult to cut later.
Because I have no grinder, I chopped it up into cubes, roughly (and I do mean roughly) about 1/2 inch on a side. This is an imprecise science, so just do your best. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area will be exposed, making the rendering process faster and arguably you’ll get more fat in the long run.
I was able to fit about 2/3 of the bag into two stock pots, each with about 1/2 cup of water added to the bottom.
I turned the heat on high until the water came to a boil and began to break down the fat, and then I reduced the heat to medium. Slowly the solid chunks of fat melted into a light golden liquid, and cracklins, the solid meaty bits, floated to the top.
It can take a couple hours to get all of the fat melted down. Eventually I ended up with two pots of liquid fat. From there, I had to (carefully!) strain out the solids from the liquid fat. I used a metal strainer lined with a folded flour sack cotton tea towel. You can also use coffee filters, multiple layers of cheesecloth, or a very fine mesh strainer. Just be sure that everything is heat-safe, as the fat is a lot hotter than boiling water and will melt most plastics (we won’t go there right now…).
Once the fat is strained, you can pour it into mason jars or other heat-proof containers while it’s still hot. Once it cools, if you did everything right it will become snow white in color, and in the fridge (where you should store it to keep it from going rancid) it will get rather firm in texture as well.
In my first round of rendering this batch, I accidentally had the heat on a bit too high and it reached the fat’s smoke point. I immediately removed the fat from the fire, but it unfortunately gave the lard a bit of a light brown tone, and may affect the tast. While this would possibly be unacceptable for cooking lard, I’m not going to waste it and will still use it for soap.