Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Jun

How to Render Beef Tallow

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I realized that I’d never actually made my own beef tallow from scratch. I’ve collected plenty of bacon grease in my day, and I’ve made schmaltz and used beef drippings from roasts as cooking fats, but never beef tallow. In fact, I almost never hear about it, even in Primal circles. It’s either lard, duck fat, or ghee getting all the attention. Hey, those are all great, delicious fats, and they deserve their prestige, but I like sticking up for the little guy. I like an underdog. In this case, of course, the little guy comes courtesy of a big cloven-hoofed ungulate.

To render beef tallow, you need to get your hands on some raw beef fat.

It’s called suet, and the best stuff for rendering is going to be solid and firm. Most suet comes from the tissue surrounding the kidneys and the loins, but any hard beef fat will do. What I did was buy steak and roast trimmings from a butcher. It wasn’t grass-fed, unfortunately, but it was from clean, organic meat from a guy who really knew his stuff. It was also incredibly inexpensive (I paid two bucks for around three pounds) and just about the only source of raw beef fat I could find on short notice. If you can find a good butcher that deals with grass-fed meat, I’d imagine buying the fat trimmings is still fairly inexpensive and completely worth the extra effort.

I don’t know whether my batch was suet or not (I suspect there was at least a bit, judging from the thick, hard pieces that felt like cold butter when you sliced into them), and it did look a little ragged and hastily thrown together, but it was still fat. I wasn’t going to let a little uncertainty slow me down, for I was armed with the knowledge that fat can always be rendered.

I threw my motley crew of beef fat onto the cutting board, grabbed my chef’s knife, and began to cut the fat into cubes. I’d read tons of contradictory information about particle size, with some recipes calling for larger, 1-inch cubes and others claiming finely diced or shredded fat got the best yield. My experience with rendering pre-shredded buffalo kidney fat was painless and easy, so I went for shredded. I figured the more surface area, the better. As I cut more and more and trimmed more and more, however, I realized that tossing a bunch of room temperature fat cubes into the food processor was asking for a congealed mess. The solution? Freeze the cubes.

So, after trimming the fat completely and removing all attached muscle meat and bloody tissue (see pic of me holding up a speck in my fingers) (this step is crucial, because meat and blood will only burn and ruin the purity of your tallow), I threw the whole lot into the freezer for a couple hours.

You don’t want completely frozen and you don’t want completely… thawed? You want the middle. You want a texture like sorbet (mmmm, beef sorbet anyone?) or cold butter. After two hours, into the processor they went, and twenty seconds of pulsing got me the shredded (yet still intact) fat I needed.

This is where I had to make a huge decision. Was I going to do a dry-render over the stove in a high quality pot, or was I going to do a wet-render and get the potentially purest tallow by boiling and then separating fat from water? I’d read about several different ways to render fat, but I chose two that seemed to make the most sense. The wet-render sounded tempting, if a bit messy and time-consuming, but I eventually passed on it. I settled on doing the traditional dry-render over super low heat on the stove top along with an oven render at 250 degrees. For both, I used reinforced cast-iron pots (from Martha Stewart, no less!) and about a pound of shredded fat in each.

The plan was to cook it long, slow, and low while noting the differences between the two methods and ultimately choosing a “winner.” The stove top fat started rendering almost right away, even with just a tiny flicker of a flame doing the heating. After about 20 minutes, the first sign of “cracklins”began to show: light brown shriveled up pieces of (former) fat bubbling around inside the newly rendered fat. I was initially worried that I was going too fast too soon, but that wasn’t the case. The cracklins were great, and they never burned. The fat remained pure and clear.

In the oven, things were slow going. I had set the timer for two hours, and an hour into it there was a decent layer of rendered fat accruing. There were no cracklins to be seen, only soggy grayish chunks of fat. An hour and a half into it, cracklins were everywhere – almost as many as in the stovetop pot. Neither pot smoked nor burned; neither source of rendering fat gave off a foul odor (although my dog did set up camp right in front of the oven, no doubt hoping for stray splatters). I was a little worried that I’d mess it up somehow, but I didn’t. Both pots of fat fully rendered without burning. The stove top took about an hour and twenty minute to fully render (1 pound, shredded, over ultra low heat), while the oven pot took closer to two hours at 250 degrees F.

I’d also read that I might have to clarify my tallow – to remove random miniscule bits, flecks of meat, crumbled up cracklin that could mar the purity of the fat. Much to my surprise, there really wasn’t a need for clarification. I used a fine mesh strainer and it was completely sufficient. The result was pure, delicious tallow that turned white in the fridge and was easy to scoop. If you look really closely, you can see some specks at the bottom of the jars, but you’d really have to stare.

From my experience, both methods work equally well. If you like stay in the kitchen and tend to your dishes, go with the stove top method. As long as you keep an eye on it and keep the fat from sticking to the bottom, your fat will render much faster this way. If you want to go do other stuff while it renders, use the oven method. Other than keeping the heat low and occasionally popping in for a quick stir and scrape, you can pretty much set the clock and forget about the rendering.

Anyone ever use the wet-render method? Got any tips for my next batch of tallow? Let me know!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Suet is used in the classic Christmas/plum/suet pudding, whatever you call it in your locale!

    This was a great post and I enjoyed reading all the comments, too! Although I have rendered lard many times from our home-raised pigs, this will be my first attempt at tallow from a grass-fed steer we bought from friends. So it’s the exact same process! Good to know! Easy peesy! I always use the dry method for lard and will for the tallow, too, in the oven, and in my cast iron Dutch oven (which seasons it!), then strain it through paper toweling into pint sized jars; I then use new dome lids with rings so that it in essence “cans” the lard preserving it. One 5 lb. batch of rendered fat yields 5-6 pints and lasts us 1 year, but we don’t fry much. I’ve heard thus canned like way it’s lasted others 3 years or so.

    Thanks again for the great article!

    Krystal wrote on November 27th, 2010
  2. Great article and comments.

    Ahmed wrote on December 1st, 2010
  3. Thank you for the wonderful instructions. I just used them to make beef tallow for the first time, and it went perfectly. I used a piece of muslin (the kind used in quilting) for my filter, and it even got the teeny specs in one go.

    Amanda DR wrote on February 13th, 2011
  4. I just wet rendered some beef tallow myself tonight. The first batch I got from a Carniceria near my house that happily gave me the fat for free since they usually just throw it out. The second time I went to them I got a different butcher and he charged me 50 cents a pound :/ but I had them put it through the grinder for me to make my job easier. When I got home I threw it into my largest pot with just enough water to cover it and a tablespoon of salt per pound of fat. In about 15-20 minutes all the meat was cooked and tallow melted. I strained off the unwanted chunks of meat and whatever else was in there (cartilage?) And threw it in the refrigerator. I am so excited to wake up tomorrow and retrieve my bright white, clean tallow!!! I’m using it to make soap :)

    Kim wrote on March 21st, 2011
  5. I was able to get about 10 pounds of beef fat / trimmings from the local farm where I buy my grass-fed beef. They charged me $5.00 total, really just for the trouble of getting the trimmngs from the butcher they use.

    I froze half and rendered half. It came out very consistent and clean. I used some to make pemmican and the rest for cooking.

    David Pryor wrote on March 28th, 2011
  6. We render 20 pounds of beef tallow a week. Done that the last 6 months.

    After much trial and error we found the VERY BEST way (and most tasty) to make it is the following:

    1. Grind the fat in a meat grinder (I use coarse setting). Or cut in small pieces if you don’t have a grinder.

    2. Add to a big pot.

    3. Put pot in the oven at 90 degrees celsius (195 F).

    4. Stir after a few hours.

    4. Keep in the oven for 24 hours (depending on size of batch). Ours is 10 pounds at a time.

    5. Filter the tallow.

    The tallow tastes so much better, when done on relatively low heat and slow rendering. It has a nice beef flavor.

    Highly recommended.

    PER wrote on April 12th, 2011
  7. Accidentally made tallow (sort of) one time and used it for a week. Didn’t know it was even called tallow. I just used my George Foreman for some burgers one night–which is designed to collect fat in a little dish. Since becoming primal, I thought…why let all that fat go to waste? So I used it until it was gone. Awesome stuff!

    Leo wrote on August 5th, 2011
  8. I live in Oregon and we get our beef from my parents-in-law who grow the cattle just for family. I always get all their bones because they don’t know what to do with them. I make a lot of mineral-rich bone broth and the by-product is a lot of beef fat.

    When I make beef bone stock, I skim most of the fat and place it in a jar. Once it hardens, I break it apart to remove the layer of broth at the bottom. I later read that this is basically the “wet rendering” process.

    So I end up with a mineral rich broth and a side of tallow. The proverbial two birds with one stone.

    Sara R wrote on August 22nd, 2011
    • That’s what we do with all the meat we make stock from! I have two bags in the fridge- one of beef tallow and one of chicken fat… whatever that’s called! I’ve started using the fats instead of olive oil, which apparently has a much lower smoke point and should not be used for cooking.

      I didn’t realize I could use it to deep fry- this is going to make our Popplers (… because we’re sort of morbid. They’re really just tiny little chicken nuggets.) even MORE super-delicious than when I cook them in peanut oil!

      Kyoki wrote on January 30th, 2012
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    zyngachipscheats wrote on September 4th, 2011
  10. So would somebody please post the definitive rendering method. We have just killed a cow and have never rendered before and would like to try our hands.

    Thank you

    Caroline wrote on September 8th, 2011
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    Bruce wrote on September 13th, 2011
  12. I used the fat the rose to the top after making bone broth – there was a really thick layer. After chilling, the bone broth was gelatinous and the fat easily came off the top. I used the fat to brown the meat for beef tips and Mexican shredded beef. It browned really nicely – it was my first time using the fat. I have been buying 1/2 beeves for the past 4 years or so but never thought/knew to ask for the fat. I always ask for the bones and in the past threw out the fat that rose to the top after chilling! Wow – wish I could go back in time! This year I will ask for the suet and fat trimmings.

    NorCalGirlDiver wrote on October 2nd, 2011
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    shelbyville tn dog groomer wrote on December 7th, 2011
  14. I’ve just rendered my first batch of grass fed beef fat and am concerned that I may have over-rendered it. Is this possible? After straining through cheesecloth, the remaining solids were a dark brown, the tallow has the appearance of a latte with extra cream.

    Also, has anyone tried infusing the rendering fat with cloves of garlic or sprigs of fresh herbs adding towards the end of cooking time? Would love to hear back from you more experienced tallow men/women. Thanks so much.

    Camille wrote on December 9th, 2011
  15. I’m going to render for the first time today as I’m a soaper and have heard that beef tallow makes superior shaving soap.

    Just a tip: country butcher shops often just dispose of the fat and other ‘extras’. I get mine for free. They even separated out the kidney fat for me.

    Dana wrote on December 10th, 2011
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  18. Great post. And the comments gave me lots of ideas. Since I actually have the “Fat” cook book I’m gonna go check that out. I figure since my 5lbs beef fat came from Whole Foods it probably does not have any “toxins” in it. :-p Now I’m off to tallow!

    Diana wrote on March 3rd, 2012
  19. So I just tried this, but…ahem…modified the method slightly. After cooking dice-sized pieces in the crockpot for a while, I got impatient and hit them all with a stick blender. Now I have fat, but it’s yellow with a lot of floaters too small for the strainer. Did I ruin my batch?

    Nelly wrote on March 12th, 2012
  20. “You want a texture like sorbet (mmmm, beef sorbet anyone?)”

    I made lard ice cream once. It was particularly strange.

    Michael wrote on April 15th, 2012
  21. I was using Sally Fallon’s recipe for beef stock yesterday and in the recipe she mentions another recipe which uses the fat from the stock to make tallow. I already planned on using your recipe for the extra fat I picked up from the butcher when grabbing my quarter beef the other day but thought it was nice to have the Nourishing Traditions version to compare. She heats the fat on medium/high heat but this is using the already liquid/strained fat from the stock so this would just be to clarify the tallow that was rendered from cooking the stock. I haven’t tried her method yet but do have the extra fat from the butcher in a saucepan cracklin’ away as I type. I have it on medium/low heat now because low heat wasn’t getting things working fast enough. It has been about an hour and 5 minutes and the fat chunks aren’t browned yet. Maybe I’ll turn the heat up to medium for a bit to speed things up. Thanks for the great instructions!

    Greg wrote on June 23rd, 2012
  22. Hello, Mark! Judging from the picture, those pieces of fat are trimmings rather than true suet. In any case, please see this webpage on the easiest way to render tallow…our “secret” method!:

    http://www.vintagetradition.com/how-to-make-tallow-balm-at-home.php

    Kenneth Gardner wrote on September 5th, 2012
  23. We bought a side of beef, and I rendered about ten pounds of the fat using Mark’s dry method as outlined in his blog post. The result is beautifully white a room temperature, but it is as hard as a brick! I know tallow is used in candles and soap, as well as cooking. But, I thought the rendered tallow would be scoopable or cutable at room temp. Any of you experienced suet renderers have any suggestions?

    Brad Dawkins wrote on October 13th, 2012
  24. If you’re going to render fat into tallow then I feel the best use for it is for making Pemmican. Once you’ve got tallow you’re half way there. Just make some beef jerky, shred it and mix. Of course there are more details to the instructions but that’s all the big steps involved. I made my first batch two months ago with no trouble at all. It’s nutritious, Primal, calorie dense and it keeps for years. I was concerend about the taste and texture after reading reveiws but I liked it right away and have since grown to actually crave it. My wife and kids think it’s ok. I tried plain and a few different seasonings and all were good. Great for back packing.

    Nisseman wrote on October 22nd, 2012

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