Beef tallow is a traditional cooking fat used for high heat cooking. If you would like to add this ancestral food back into your families diet, read on as we go over how to render beef tallow.
Tallow is kind of having a moment right now. As people are becoming more concerned about how their food is produced and knowing where their food comes from, it makes sense that tallow would be sliding back into peoples kitchen.
Traditionally, tallow is used as a cooking fat. It is stable at room temperature and is great for high heat cooking, specifically deep frying. But that is not all it can do. Tallow can be used for soap making, as a base for balms and salves, and for candles.
Beef tallow vs beef suet
While the word tallow is used to describe the fat rendered from a ruminant animal, in this article we are going to be talking about cattle specifically, there are 2 different types of tallow that you can render from the animal.
Suet is rendered from the fat around the internal organs, most commonly the kidneys. This fat is lighter in colour and has a more delicate flavour. These qualities make it an excellent candidate for baking. You can use it for pie crust, biscuits, anywhere you would use cold butter, this tallow is an excellent choice.
Beef suet is also a good choice for homemade balms and salves. While any product made with tallow will have a slight tallow scent to it, those made with suet will have a less prominent odor.
Tallow that is rendered from the rest of the fat on a cow is called tallow. This generic tallow is made from all the remaining fat trimmed from the carcass. This tallow is the fat you will want to use for your every day cooking. You can use it for roasting, deep frying or just adding to a pan instead of butter or oil.
Why use beef tallow?
Beef tallow is a stable cooking fat that is good for high temperatures. It is rich in vitamins A, D, E & K. These types of vitamins are easier for your body to use when they come from an animal based product. Tallow will also help your body absorb the fat soluble vitamins from the foods that you cook in it.
Health reasons aside, I think that when we choose to eat animals we need to make sure that we are being respectful of what was given up in order for us to have food on the table. These animals deserve to be treated well in life and death. Part of treating the animals well in death, to me, means that you use as much of the animal as possible.
When we have a cow butchered, I alway ask the butcher to keep any fat that they trim off. This always comes home to be rendered down into tallow for my family. I don’t want to get to get too deep into the ethics of eating the whole animals, maybe I’ll save that rant for another post. But the point is, there is so much more to a cow than when we see in the grocery store case, and tallow just happens to be one of those parts.
Is tallow the same as lard?
Tallow and lard, while both are type of cooking fat that come from animals, are slightly different. Tallow is rendered fat that comes from ruminants, including cattle, bison and sheep. Lard, on the other hand, is the rendered fat from non-ruminants, such as pigs and boars.
Both are good for high heat cooking, and can be stored for long periods of time. Tallow is more firm than lard. I tend to use them interchangeably in my kitchen, just depending on what I have on hand and what I am cooking.
How to render beef tallow
Rendering beef tallow is much simpler than it might sound. Render is just a fancy way of saying melting. The basics of rendering fat is that you want to slowly warm the fat up so that it will melt and you can strain away anything that is not fat.
You do not need a lot of special supplies to render beef tallow, but if you were going to invest in (or borrow) anything, I would recommend a meat grinder. The idea is that you want your pieces of fat to be a small as possible. This will make rendering the beef tallow a little quicker and you will see a higher yield.
In order to render your own beef tallow you will need:
-a meat grinder or food processor (optional)
-a sharp knife
-heavy bottom pan, such as dutch oven or a slow cooker
-fine mesh strainer
The first thing you are going to do it keep your fat cold. It could even be partially frozen. The colder the fat is, the easier it will to be to work with. So leave the fat the fridge until you are ready to use it and don’t take it all out at once.
You are going to want to trim away any silver skin, blood clots or other bits that might effect the flavour of your tallow. I like to have 2 bowls going for this. One for anything that I have trimmed away and another larger bowl for all the cleaned, trimmed pieces of fat.
Take the cleaned trimmings and cut them into pieces small enough to fit down the tube of your meat grinder. If you are not using a meat grinder, cut these pieces as small as you can with a knife. The smaller the pieces, the more beef tallow you will be able to render out. If you have a food processor, you can run the fat in the food processor to chop it up even more.
Once you have all your fat ground up, you are going to want to put it into your slow cooker or dutch oven. I like to put in just a cup or two of the ground fat to start and turn the heat onto the lowest setting. Rendering beef tallow is not hard work but it does take time. The name of the game is low and slow.
Once the fat has started to melt in the pan your can add a little more the ground fat. Keeping repeating this melt and add more process until your pot is 2/3 full. You want to leave space for all of the tallow that will render out.
You do not want the beef tallow to start to bubble or sizzle. If it gets too hot it will start to fry the little bits of meat that are in the pot and that will make you tallow have a more beef-y flavour. If this happens, DO NOT THROW IT OUT! That tallow is still completely fine. Just put it in a different jar and save it for savoury cooking.
Keep an eye on your pans. If you are using a slow cooking, rendering the beef tallow will take longer. It will take a couple of hours. If you are using a dutch oven on the stove top, it won’t take nearly as long to render your beef tallow. Maybe an hour. You will reach a point where you will be able to tell that the tallow is done. It will be mostly liquid, with a few bits at the bottom of the pan, and the level of the tallow will not rising any further on the side of the pan.
Once you have rendered out all of the tallow, turn off the heat and let your pan cool. This is important, the fat is hot and if you try to deal with it now you could get seriously burnt.
After you have let your pan cool, but while the beef tallow is still liquid, place a fine mesh strainer over a pot and line it with cheese cloth. Very carefully, pour the tallow through the strainer. The strainer will catch any bits that aren’t tallow and your rendered beef tallow will be in the pot below.
At this point you can transfer your tallow to very clean jars. If your jars aren’t clean the tallow could spoil. I like to pour my tallow into bread pans or baking dishes that I have lined with parchment and allow it to cool. Once it is cool, I cut it into blocks and vacuum seal them. Whether you choose to use jars or my method, I like to store my rendered beef tallow in the freezer. I feel like better knowing it is safe in the freezer.
If you only render enough beef tallow to make a jar or 2, feel free to store it in your fridge and just take it out as you need it.
Wet rendering vs dry rendering
The method I described above is called dry rendering, and it is my preferred method. The other method is called wet rendering and that is when you add water to the pan with your ground fat. The idea is that the water will heat up first and prevent your fat from scorching, which could give your finished tallow a beef-y flavour. As the beef tallow renders, the water will evaporate, leaving you will just tallow at the end.
I haven’t had a good luck with this method in the past. Not all the water has evaporated out, and my render fat has gone rancid. I will encourage you to try both the wet and dry method and see what works best for you. Just maybe try a small batch first….
Does rendered beef tallow go bad?
If rendered properly, that means there are no contaminants in the tallow, beef tallow can be stored for up to 12 months at room temperature in a sealed container. It will last longer if you keep in in the fridge, close to 18 months. And it can be stored for year in the freezer.
I like to keep mine in the freezer and just pull out a new piece as needed. That way I am not worried about any of it going off. While this project is not hard work, it does take time and your time has value. I do not want my time to be wasted by having my tallow go rancid before we get to eat it.
So tell me, do you use beef tallow? Have you ever rendered your own before? Let me know in the comments.