Tallow Candles Render a Light in the Darkness

Learn how to process tallow and make emergency candles in case of power outages or other emergencies.

| July/August 2020

Photo by Adobe Stock/magann

Turning ordinary animal fats into candles for emergency lighting is one of the easiest self-reliance skills to master. These plain, old-fashioned candles begin by rendering fat into tallow, and then forming that tallow into candles using minimal equipment. The final product requires little to no out-of-pocket expense. And while it’s true that paraffin and beeswax candles have been around for many years, animal fats remain the most reliable candle base in times of need, due to the relative ease of access to leftover fats.

Finding Raw Material

Free to the hunter or livestock owner, and often free for everyone from the local butcher, any animal fat — deer, cow, goat, elk, even bear — may be used for candles. The most noticeable difference is the hardness of the cooled fat. For instance, lard made from pork fat is much softer and faster burning than tallow from beef or venison, and as such is limited to use in container candles. Tallow, however, makes excellent pillars or dipped candles — regardless of its source — and is the fat I prefer for my own emergency candles.

Photo by Kristi Cook

Once you’ve acquired a source of fat, you’ll want to select the densest fat possible. This will often be the fat located along the back, as well as the leaf fat, or the fat found around the kidneys. If your fat is coming from a local butcher, you may not be able to ask for fat from specific areas. If that’s the case, don’t worry. Just select the hardest sections of fat you can find to render. Most of the time, you’ll notice little difference in the finished candles, regardless of the exact location of the fat.

From Fat to Tallow

Once you get the fat home, you need to render it into tallow before making the candles. The rendering process melts the fat and allows for the removal of impurities that would otherwise interfere with efficient candle burning. First, partially freeze the fat to make it easier to work with. Then, trim off as much tissue, skin, and other nonfat material as you can. Cut the trimmed fat into small pieces, or pulse it a few times in a food processor. The smaller the fat pieces are before heating, the faster the rendering will go. I like to pulse the fat until it almost resembles ground beef.

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