So you’ve decided to try your hand at creating old-fashioned tallow candles. Or maybe you’ve decided to make the switch from conventional shortening and vegetable oils to the more healthful and time honored practice of cooking with tallow. Whatever the case, rendering your own tallow from grassfed beef fat is both easy and satisfying. All it takes is a crockpot or large stock pot, a supply of beef fat, and time.
To get started, obtain the best quality beef fat possible, preferably from grassfed animals. It doesn’t really matter which part of the animal the fat comes from as it all makes fine cooking and crafting tallow. However, the fat located around the kidneys, also known as leaf fat, is the mildest tasting, cleanest, and hardest fat, making it the fat of choice when it’s available.
Once you have your fat in hand, you’ll need to trim off as much muscle tissue, skin, gristle, and other nonfat particles as you can. I have found this process is much easier if the fat is nearly frozen but not quite hard yet. If the kidney was left in the leaf fat, carefully trim the fat from the organ as cleanly as possible. It’s ok if you cut into the kidney, however, as any nonfat tissue will be rendered out in the end. Also, leaf fat tends to have a covering of clearish tissue surrounding it; just slice or pull as much of it away as possible. Again, any remaining pieces will be cooked out during the rendering process.
After you’ve removed as much of the impurities as possible, cut the fat into small pieces to make the rendering process go faster. You can do this with a sharp knife or even kitchen shears; however, I prefer to grind all the trimmed pieces in a food processor until it resembles ground meat. To keep the fat from sticking to the blades, I usually toss any warm fat back into the frig for a couple of hours before grinding, but it’s not totally necessary.
For the rendering process, you can choose either the wet or dry method. Wet rendering is the practice of adding about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to the pan to avoid burning the fat as it slowly melts. This added water also allows for a slightly reduced amount of stirring in the beginning. The main concern with wet rendering is that any water left in the final product will cause premature rancidity. However, as long as you render the fat completely the water will evaporate and won’t pose any issues.
Dry rendering is the same as the wet process, except no water is utilized. Rather, it involves slowly heating the fat in a crockpot, skillet, or pot with careful and frequent stirring used in the beginning to avoid scorching. The plus side is no concern over water remaining in the finished product. The downside is it can scorch easily if you heat it too quickly.
Regardless of which method you choose, slowly melt the fat over medium low heat (or the low setting on a crockpot) and stir frequently. You’ll notice changes as the fat begins to VERY slowly melt. Don’t be tempted to speed up the process though, as this increases the likelihood of burning. This is where patience becomes a virtue. The melting process itself may take half an hour to several hours depending on the size of your batch.
While the melting process takes time, the rendering part always seems to go faster. After the fat has mostly liquefied, watch and listen for the fat to start hissing and spitting. This is the fat releasing it’s impurities, water, etc. You’ll see small pieces — sometimes called cracklings — float to the top. Take a large slotted spoon and remove these impurities as they appear to avoid smoking up your kitchen.
You’ll know the rendering is complete once you see clear liquid in the bottom and few remaining floaters and other debris throughout (provided you skimmed these off). At this point, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool enough to be handled. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth and store in clean jars or pour into a pan and allow to cool. Personally, I prefer to store my tallow in the refrigerator and freezer, but the traditional practice was to keep a can of tallow on the stove so the cook could remove scoops as needed while making dinner. It’s your choice, just be watchful of rancidity regardless of your storage method.
Rendering your own tallow is a simple affair of gathering one ingredient and a single pot. Add to that a bit of time, and you’re well on your way to the best homemade cooking and handcrafted gifts. Once you’ve made your first batch, you’ll likely never go back to store bought imposters again.