How to Render Lard (Using a Slow Cooker or Stockpot)
When it comes to homesteading skills, learning how to render your own lard is high on the list of things that will have you feeling like you’re channeling Ma Ingalls in your kitchen.
Of course, us modern homesteaders know there’s absolutely no shame in using modern tools to get the job done, like a slow cooker, an electric stove or even an Instant Pot:)
However you slice it, dice it, grind it or render it, learning how to make your own homemade lard is something you should definitely add to your repertoire. Not to mention, the finished product is bound to come in handy whether you’re frying foods, making a melt-in-your-mouth flaky pie crust, seasoning your cast iron skillets or even making your own soaps and candles at home!
What is lard anyway??
Simply put, lard is pig fat that has been processed through rendering (cooking) it down into a liquid form and then allowing it to cool and solidify into a form that’s similar in texture to butter.
There are two types of lard: The first comes from around the kidneys and is commonly referred to as “leaf lard” or “leaf fat.” Leaf lard is prized for its purity and is considered the best type of lard for baking.
The second type of lard comes from the back of the pig and is appropriately called “back fat” or “fatback.” This type of fat is much harder but can also be rendered into lard. In its solid state it is often diced up and added to sausages. Once rendered, the lard from back fat is better suited for frying foods as it does tend to have more of a distinct porky flavour than pure leaf lard, which is odourless and flavourless.
The recipe below calls for leaf fat as this is typically the type that is used for home cooking and baking, but this recipe will also work for fatback if that’s what you’ve got.
Lard vs. Shortening
Lard is a natural source of solid fat that has been used in cooking and baking for millennia. Up until the 1800s, lard was commonly used much like butter is today in most North American and European homes.
Technically lard is a type of shortening since the definition of shortening is any type of fat that is solid at room temperature and is used for baking things like pastries. Shortening got its name from the fact that it shortens gluten fibres in baked goods, which is what makes them more crumbly and flaky and less doughy.
Then there’s “shortening” as most people know it today, which is vegetable shortening (aka. Crisco).
Crisco vegetable shortening is a highly processed hydrogenated oil (originally made from cottonseed oil) that was invented by Procter & Gamble around the turn of the 20th century. The company launched a very successful –as well as deceptive– marketing campaign that convinced people to switch from traditional and natural sources of fat like butter and lard to the what they called the “altogether new and better fat,” aka. hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Basically vegetable shortening is to lard what margarine is to butter.
Lard began to fall out of fashion as Crisco rose to popularity, and that’s pretty much how it stayed for the next 100 years. But as people are becoming more conscious about what they eat and more aware of the dangers of highly processed foods like hydrogenated vegetable oils, traditional foods like butter and lard are regaining popularity.
Where to get pork fat for lard
As with most things, you could technically just buy lard from the grocery store rather than rendering your own, but first of all, that’s not as fun as making your own. And second of all, much of the lard that you’ll find on grocery store shelves contains added preservatives including BHA and BHT, both of which are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of food additives. Homemade lard, on the other hand, is 100% pure pig fat, plain and simple.
If you raise your own pigs, making your own lard is a no-brainer! Make sure to ask for the leaf lard (and the fatback too if you want it) if you’re hiring someone else to do the butchering.
But if you’re not raising your own pigs, you can still get your hands on some pork fat by asking for it at your local butcher or by making friends with a local pig farmer.
The first time I made lard was from some leaf fat we were gifted in exchange for helping our neighbour butcher and wrap one of his pigs. This is an example of how building community is actually so beneficial for anyone striving to be more self-reliant, rather than trying to go it completely alone.
How to render lard at home
So you’ve got your pork fat and you’re ready to render it down into a pure white lard that you can use for cooking, baking, frying, greasing and all manner of other homestead-y things. Now what??
The process of rendering lard is actually very simple. If you’ve got a slow cooker or an Instant Pot, I would suggest using one or the other. But if all you have is a stockpot and your stovetop, that will work just fine too.
To make the process as easy as possible, start by freezing the pig fat. Freezing pig fat makes it easier to trim and cut up before you render it down.
Once it’s frozen (or very cold), remove any skin and trim any bits of meat off the fat.
Cut the fat into small pieces. You can use a food processor or even a meat grinder to do this, but it can create a bit of a mess to clean up. Personally I just use a sharp knife and cut the fat into small, roughly ½-inch cubes.
The smaller you dice or grind up the fat, the quicker it will cook down. But don’t worry if you dice the cubes a little larger. They’ll still cook down and render just fine, it just might take a little bit longer.
Next, add ¼ cup of water to your slow cooker, Instant Pot or to your stockpot if that’s what you’re using. Then add the pig fat.
If using a slow cooker or stockpot, leave the lid off and cook on low for several hours, allowing the fat to melt and render. (Leaving the lid off will allow the water to evaporate. The water is necessary to prevent the fat from burning).
* While I have never rendered lard in my Instant Pot on the pressure cook setting, I did find this article that tells you how to do it in just a couple hours.
Keep an eye on your lard, checking it every hour or so. Once the leftover bits of meat and fatty bits rise to the top, strain the lard through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid fat.
Store the liquid fat in a glass jar (or multiple glass jars, depending on how much liquid you’ve got). The liquid lard will be yellow in colour at first, but as it cools it will turn solid white.
If using leaf fat, your lard should be odourless and neutral in flavour by the time it cools.
If you’ve got a lot of little fatty bits, you can return them to the slow cooker and continue to render them down. Any liquid fat that accumulates will be slightly “porkier” in flavour than the first rendering, so it’s better for frying savoury foods rather than for, say, pie-baking.
Any leftover fatty bits can be fried in a frying pan until crispy and then enjoyed (pork cracklings). Try sprinkling with a little salt and topping your soups and salads with them!
Store your lard in the fridge or freezer. Lard keeps very well, and should last in the fridge for several months and even longer in the freezer.
However if it ever smells off-putting it may be past its prime. In this case toss it and start a fresh batch.
How to use your lard
Once you’ve rendered your lard, it’s time to put it to use! Use your lard in any recipe that calls for shortening. It’s especially good in homemade biscuits and pie crust!
Use your lard to fry foods, to grease or season your cast iron cookware, to make your own homemade candles… You can even use it as a moisturizer for your skin, lips, hair and nails!
What’s your favourite way to use lard? Let me know in the comments below!
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- Cold leaf fat (kidney fat from pigs)
- ¼ cup water
- Remove any skin and trim any meat from the fat. Cut the fat into small pieces. (You can use a food processor if you have one. Otherwise just use a knife to cut into small cubes). *Pig fat is easier to cut when frozen or very cold. Consider freezing it first.
- Place ¼ cup of water into a slow cooker (or use a stockpot over low heat on your stove). Add the pig fat. Leave the lid off and cook on low for several hours, allowing the fat to melt and render. (Leaving the lid off will allow the water to evaporate. The water is necessary to prevent the fat from burning).
- Keep an eye on your lard, checking it every hour or so. Once the leftover bits of meat and fatty bits rise to the top, strain the lard through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid fat. Store the liquid fat in a glass jar (or multiple glass jars, depending on how much liquid you’ve got). The liquid lard will be yellow in colour at first, but as it cools it will turn solid white.
- If you’ve got a lot of little fatty bits, you can return them to the slow cooker and continue to render them down. Any liquid fat that accumulates will be “porkier” in flavour than the first rendering, so it’s better for frying savoury foods rather than for pie-baking. Any leftover fatty bits can be fried in a frying pan until crispy and then enjoyed.
- Store lard in the fridge or freezer. Lard keeps well and should last in the fridge for several months and even longer in the freezer.
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