On our homestead, we raise pigs for meat, which means we have an abundance of fat at butchering time. I’ve become fond of rendering my own since it’s an ingredient I can make and not purchase. The process is simple and helps me feel more connected to the art of creating food for my family. Plus, I really enjoy snacking on the cracklings (crunchy chunks of fried pork skin) that I get in the process of making the lard.
Grind and/or dice. There are no fancy tools required for lard rendering, but having a grinder can make the process a lot simpler. Grinding the fat allows it to cook down faster and requires less attention on the stove. If you don’t have a grinder, you can easily get away with using a knife and cutting board to dice the fat into small pieces.
Cook it down. If the pork fat is pre-ground (a habit I got into doing prior to freezing it for later processing), then just thaw and add it to a heated pan to begin cooking it down. Doing so in small pieces releases moisture more quickly and promotes an even cooking temperature, and keeps spattering oil and burns to a minimum. Once you begin heating the fat, be sure to maintain a low cooking temperature and never leave the pan unattended.
No strain, no gain. Once the fat has turned into a liquid state—aside from the bits of cracklings floating around —turn off the burner and carefully strain the hot liquid through a metal strainer and into your preferred storage container. My favorite is a good, old-fashioned mason jar since I always have a bounty of them on hand. Let the jars cool while setting the cracklings aside on some newspapers to drain, just as you would bacon. Salt or add your favorite seasoning to them and enjoy as a savory snack, salad topping or mix into gravies for added flavor.
Store it. Once your lard is completely cooled, add a lid and move the jar to a cool, dark place for storage. Use lard as you would another cooking oil, for frying eggs or veggies and in baking, or for greasing pans. You can even season your cast iron with unseasoned pork lard.
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.