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

A Primal Primer: Animal Fats

iStock 000008763315XSmallAnimal fats have recently been implicated as the cause of heart disease, obesity and, in a roundabout convoluted stretch of logic, global warming. If you let health officials tell it, they’re pure evil. Reviled, shunned, and lambasted by the general public (thanks to less-then-sterling endorsements by health officials), animal fats have really gotten a bad rap.

It wasn’t always this way.

No, for hundreds of thousands of years, animal fats played a huge role in the human diet – whether it was Grok going straight for the fatty organs and tossing the lean muscle meat to the dogs, Prometheus making a meager sacrifice to the gods more appealing by draping it in swathes of fat, or Mom cooking with real butter instead of margarine. But you already knew that. I don’t have to sell you guys on the beauty of animal fat (after all, there was already quite a robust discussion taking place in the forums!), but the widespread societal backlash against animal fat means most of us don’t know everything we should about the stuff. For a lot of us, anything other than lard or butter is a mystery, and that’s a damn shame. There are tons of different varieties with many different uses, and we PBers need to be familiar with them all.

Lard

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It has become part of the lexicon, used to describe the obese (“lard-ass,” “tub of lard,” “lard bucket,” etc. – we prefer “pail ‘o grains,” ourselves). For most people, merely mentioning it in a culinary context causes heart palpitations and shudders of revulsion. Fine by me: that just means more lard for us.

Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered form. The best lard is called leaf lard, and it comes from the fat deposits surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin. Leaf lard is “best” because it has little to no pork flavor, making it ideal for bakers (doesn’t really apply to us) and for general cooking. Next is fatback, which comes from the subcutaneous, thick fat deposits between the skin and the muscles of the pig. The cheapest is the soft membrane known as caul fat, which can be found wrapped around the internal organs. There’s also bacon grease, that delicious bacon-flavored lard that comes in handy when you’ve just fried up a platter of bacon and could really go for some eggs. If you’re not going to use it right away, don’t throw it out. Keep empty jars handy and just pour the hot grease in whenever you’re done. Store all your lard in the fridge, where it’ll avoid rancidity for months and be easily scoopable.

Whichever type of lard you choose, it can be used the same way you’d use butter. Stir fries, grilled steaks, fried eggs, and sautéed veggies are all delicious cooked in lard. Even if you don’t use leaf lard, the flavor is fairly mild, and the “porkiness” is minimal – if that sort of thing bothers you. Of course, the way you render your lard has an effect on the flavor. Dry-rendered lard (rendered without water, as if you were frying up bacon) tastes more porky, while wet-rendered lard (where the lard is rendered in water and skimmed off the top) is very mild.

The leaf lard from Flying Pigs Farm seems to get rave reviews online, and it can be shipped all over the country. Still, the farm’s located on the east coast, so unless you live nearby the shipping costs can get pretty prohibitive. You could just check out the local farmers’ market or the butcher shop. Pig fat is usually fairly cheap, and you can get a good amount of usable lard from a couple pounds of leaf or fatback. Don’t buy the cheap stuff in big tubs! It’s hydrogenated and full of trans-fats.

Lard is relatively stable, with good levels of saturated and monounsaturated fats.

Per 100 g (3.5 oz):

SFA: 39g
MUFA: 45g
PUFA: 11g

Poultry Fat

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The holy trinity of poultry fats consists of chicken, duck, and goose. The concept of poultry fat is similar to lard; take the fatty portions of the bird and slowly render them until pure, unadulterated liquid fat is produced. Most foodies sing the praises of goose and duck fat, and for good reason: waterfowls, being relegated to the water, are generally loaded with fat for buoyancy and that makes for excellent eating. There’s more of it and what’s there is generally richer than fat rendered from a chicken. That said, there’s still a place in the kitchen for chicken fat. One popular iteration is schmaltz, which is poultry (usually chicken, but sometimes even pork) fat rendered with onions for flavor.

The public typically celebrates these fats for their potato-enhancing qualities, but I personally love using poultry fat as an incestuous accompaniment to roasted poultry. A bit rubbed on the bird before tossing it into the oven makes for crispy, delicious, fatty skin. Or if I ever do splurge on a sweet potato, I’ll usually fry it up in some poultry fat. Apples and pears are also good roasted in poultry fat; I prefer goose, but anything with wings and feathers will do.

Poultry fat is easy enough to find. I’ll sometimes ask the butcher for any extra skin he might have, and it’s usually incredibly affordable, much more so than lard. If your meat market processes skinless breast and thighs in-house, chances are they’ll have piles of poultry skin lying around too. You can probably even get organic, free-range skin for next-to-nothing. Goose and duck trimmings are far more rare and coveted, so you’ll have to pay extra for those – but believe me, it’s well worth the effort. And be sure to save the fat that naturally renders in the bottom of the pan when roasting a bird.

Store your poultry fat in the fridge for up to two months. It’s less stable than lard, but it probably won’t last long enough for you to find out.

Per 3.5 oz:

Goose fat
SFA: 28g
MUFA: 57g
PUFA: 11g

Duck fat
SFA: 33g
MUFA: 49g
PUFA: 13g

Chicken fat
SFA: 20g
MUFA: 45g
PUFA: 31g

Tallow

800px Tallow beef suet after render

Tallow refers to rendered beef (and sometimes lamb) fat. It comes from suet, which is the raw, hard raw fat of cows and sheep, usually surrounding the loins and kidneys. You don’t see tallow a whole lot; it’s high in saturated fat, which makes it easily demonized. In fact, McDonald’s used to fry their fries in real beef tallow until, in the name of “better health,” they were forced to use hydrogenated oils instead. We all know how that turned out.

To make really good tallow, you have to be patient. It’s a slow process, but it’s worth it. Good tallow is solid at room temperature and incredibly stable, so if you’re dead set on deep-frying something, you’ll want to use tallow. Tallow is relatively mild in flavor, so you can use it for just about any recipe that calls for fat. It’s particularly great for browning meat for stews, curries, and chili.

You may have to special order suet, simply because there isn’t much of a demand in most areas. Farmers’ markets are good options, as are butcher shops. Just go a few days in advance and place a special order to ensure it arrives in time. Eatwild is, of course, always a good source if you can’t find it locally.

Per 3.5 oz:

SFA: 50g
MUFA: 42g
PUFA: 4g (grass fed, remember, will have a better Omega-3 profile)

Ghee

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Ghee is rendered butter with all milk proteins and solids removed. It is pure fat, and it can be treated like an oil when heated. Nuttier than butter, ghee is completely stable at room temperature, provided you keep it in an airtight container. Like butter, ghee is incredibly high in stable saturated fats, making it ideal for sautéed dishes and higher heats.

I use ghee to grill steaks and as a starter for my curries. Whole Foods sells a great ghee made from organic, free-range cow’s milk. It’s a little pricey, but you can reuse the container to store your other fats. Make sure the ghee you buy comes from pure butter, and butter alone; some brands combine vegetable oil with butter to make their ghee.

Per 3.5 oz:

SFA: 65g
MUFA: 32g
PUFA: 3g

Those are the basics – the ones most of us are going to be able to have on a regular basis. Animal fat has been unjustly demonized and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Hopefully, this cleared things up and made it a bit more accessible and understandable.

I’m interested in hearing about other types of rendered animal fat, though. If you have access to rendered moose fatback or emu kidney leaf fat, let us know about it in the comments!

EssG, thebittenword.com Flickr Photos (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This post makes me sad, hungry and then a little happy.
    Sad because for years I didn’t listen to my own basic instincts- I LOVE animal fats. But CW told me that they were bad so I switched to veg fats and high carb diet which left me fat, depressed and my hormone levels all f**ed up.
    I’m a little happy to know that my instincts weren’t off, I wasn’t just being a pig and now I can go make some eggs in my leftover rendered wild boar bacon fat and enjoy them knowing that I’m not just being self indulgent!

    Simonne wrote on June 20th, 2010
  2. Hi Mark,

    I rendered my own chicken fat last night, and it solidified into two layers – the bottom layer, a jiggly (jello-like) translucent, darker color (as in your picture, above) and the top layer, a solid whitish layer, that looks more like the beef tallow. Are both parts good for cooking, and what is the difference?
    Thanks!
    Ashley

    Ashley wrote on July 26th, 2010
  3. @Ashly, the top part is the cooking fat. The “jelly” stuff is awesome for soups and what not. It’s basically chicken stock. It’s jiggly because it’s protein from the bone marrow and joints and will melt into awesome flavor for just about everything!

    Colleen wrote on July 26th, 2010
  4. Thanks colleen!

    Ashley wrote on July 28th, 2010
  5. I think you have to consider your amount of physical activity to how much you eat and how you well burn it.Old farmers ate a lot of food(cooked in lard)yet a lot of them lived to be old men,but they worked hard and burned calories.

    kapie9969 wrote on August 4th, 2010
  6. I think you make an excellent point, Kapie – I’ve put on some weight since switching to this diet, and I think it has to do with this sort of thing – I need to be more careful!

    Ashley wrote on August 4th, 2010
  7. Okay, I’m confused. In the bone broth thread it said to toss out the poultry/chicken fat but here you use it?

    What’s the difference between poultry fat that has been low simmered as in broth and fat that is cooked on high heat?

    Am I missing something? Did I misread?

    Thanks!

    Nan wrote on September 26th, 2010
  8. It’s funny, reading this brought a memory back of my aunt constantly using bacon fat when cooking while I was growing up. I wonder, did she know she was doing her body good?

    Pamzzy wrote on March 9th, 2011
  9. I am assuming that the author is Black American from the south. Only a Black person from the south could answer this question. I would like to know the appointed name of a grease made from hog boiling used to grease the body and was good for ashy skin.

    patricia wrote on March 13th, 2011
  10. Hey – I’m a pretty avid omnimore, whole grains included (I don’t seem to have these crazy grain issues others seem to have, refined anything sucks).

    My problem is, however, that I just find many animal fats gross to eat, especially mammalian fats like lard and tallow. When I eat something high in these fats i feel like I’m going to throw up. I don’t really have this problem with high fat fish or poultry cuts. Does anyone else seem to have this problem, or am I the only PB reader that can’t hold down high amounts of saturated fats? ugh, i just gagged thinking about non-burned-to-a-crisp bacon.

    James wrote on April 7th, 2011
    • I agree! I have a hard time mentally eating chewy, jiggly animal fats. the thought makes me ill.

      Charity wrote on May 23rd, 2011
  11. I didn’t know you could use bacon fat for frying another time. Sad now about all that bacon fat going to waste so have started collecting it. Looking forward to frying my eggs in it. I have found goose fat to be the best for plain eggs so far and butter the best for scrambled eggs (an double cream for a lovely wholesome taste). Am gonna try dripping next as goose fat is really expensive here in the UK and not every where sells it.

    Polecatz wrote on May 2nd, 2011
  12. one of my favorite things is chicken fat on a toasted garlic bagel. It is the only thing to make garlic bread with! A buddy of mine used to chide me for eating that. it turns out, he died from not taking care of his diabetes! High fat diets are not neccessarily bad. However, if you are going to eat like a coal miner, you better be mining coal!

    Ron Clayman wrote on December 12th, 2011
  13. Read Susan Allport’s amazing book “The Queen of Fats” which explains among other things our transformation to a seed based feed diet for livestock and why that is causing an omega three deficiency in humans. Grok killed buffalo that were grass fed. Now we feed cattle corn.

    Ken Dew wrote on January 7th, 2012
  14. OK, Wulf and Beebop –

    There is a good source of detailed info (including dietary analysis based on stomach and intestinal contents) on Otzi online:

    http://www.iceman.it/en/node/226

    Here’s my own brief (sketchy) synopsis based on the details and the current thinking about Otzi:

    Otzi was about mid 40’s and was likely a shepherd who spent most of his time walking hilly terrain. His diet had a significant level of carbs, including grains. The meat he ate was lean. He had extensive dental caries and advanced periodontal disease – likely a result of carb consumption. He had genetic markers for atherosclerosis. He had compromised immune system and had several periods of illness in the year prior to his death. He had a chronic case of Lyme’s disease. He had degenerative spinal and joint issues.

    rarebird wrote on February 20th, 2012
  15. I have been getting beef suet from our local butcher (who processes only naturally raised animals) for a few months now. I render it, pour it by the quarter cup into my donut pan. Then I pop it out and keep it until I need it. I use it to make tortillas – they turn out way better with tallow than butter.

    Gosfield Acres wrote on March 27th, 2012
  16. I love the taste and texture of grass-fed mutton and goat fat. It is quite “gamey”, almost “fishy” tasting, some people may be put off by that taste but I love it.

    And I do remember when McDonald’s and other fast food places cooked their fries in beef fat, they were so good back then!

    skuafox wrote on June 2nd, 2012
  17. I live in New Zealand, and have been able to buy cold rendered beef dripping. I use it for roasting and it is lovely. My question is, is it advisable to use the fat from the roasting tray after roasting? In the old days it was poured into a dish and kept! Is it ok to cook with again, and if so how long can it be kept in the fridge ? Thanks.

    Megan wrote on October 23rd, 2012
  18. Thank you for all the great information. I always use the fat that I get from making broth for cooking, but recently, I realized that fats and oxidize, not only from exposure high heat, but also from extended cooking time. I noticed that when I added some left over shrimp heads and shells along with the rest of the carcasses from chicken and marrow bones to make a soup stock, that it initially tasted great when I tested it a few hours into the brew, but when I left the broth to simmer the rest of the day, the broth had developed an off taste. I think perhaps the Omega3s from the shrimp heads had oxidized. As I paid more attention to the quality of each batch of broth that I made, I noticed that if I left a meat stock on the slow cooker for 24 hours, there would already a slight smell of rancidity. So, my question is, how long does it take for the different fats, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp and fish to oxidize when left to simmer, or is it better just to skim off the oil immediately as it floats to the surface?

    gwong wrote on December 15th, 2012
  19. If the fat isnt from organic, grass fed beef/ free roaming chickens, etc, is it still good for you?

    I have fat sitting here from two conventional chickens thst I made soup out of and the conventional store bought corned beef I made today.

    Should I throw it out?

    jess wrote on March 17th, 2013
  20. Are you in a position to manual me personally on your website owner or person who takes care of your website, I have to determine if it would be possible to be a visitor poster.

    web technology wrote on April 8th, 2013
  21. Thanks for the post on fats. I’m recently obsessed with making my own chocolate. I’ve been using coconut oil, but it melts around 74 degrees which means chocolate fingers when you eat it. I’m wondering whether leaf lard or tallow would be a better solution. Thoughts?

    Ernie wrote on June 29th, 2013
  22. I use ghee on a lot of things. I do not eat that much bacon, but I cook alot with bacon grease. I don’t even save my bacon grease from cooking it anymore. I just buy it from amazon. Or you can google hot belly bacon grease and go straight to the site. Some things are better with ghee, and some things are better with bacon grease. Sometimes I use a little of both. Great for the palio diet.

    ToniH wrote on January 18th, 2014
  23. I came upon something quite by accident. I bake my bacon in the oven. I have experiemented with various temps to cook the bacon. I was experimenting with the cooking temperature to reduce all the burnt particles in the grease. The other day, I tried cooking it at 300F versus the usual 350 – 400. I was shocked at the grease I obtained.. it spelled like veggie oil, did not become a solid white and even in the fridge, is not completely solid, and has a yellowish color, not white… and of course, no burnt “crumbles” from the bacon.

    Is it possible that this is also better for you than the “burnt” grease that one normally gets from bacon??

    james wrote on July 29th, 2014
  24. Great blog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What host
    are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol

    Ketone Advanced wrote on August 28th, 2014
  25. Does anyone know where to get pure rendered lard or tallow without antibiotics, hormones, or other added chemicals in Alameda, CA?

    Peter wrote on November 28th, 2014

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