For today’s Happy Homesteading post we are going back in history to learn the long-lost skill of rendering beef tallow fat like many pioneers made & used. Beef tallow was used in cooking as it makes an amazing oil for frying or pastries. They would also use tallow fat for candle making, soap making, moisturizing, keeping cast iron pots from rusting and even for waterproofing leather.
What is Tallow?“Tallow is the rendered fat of cows, sheep, and other ruminant animals such as deer. It is very solid and waxy at room temperature and can be kept for extended periods without the need for refrigeration. Rendering is the process of gently heating the interior fat tissue, called “suet,” causing the pure oils to melt away from the rest of the tissue.” (Source)
Tallow is solid at room temperature, with a texture harder and more waxy than shortening. In fact tallow and lard are rendered the same way, but lard is pig fat slowly melted down and is softer like shortening.
Beef Tallow is a Healthy Fat
Tallow is the healthy fat that sadly got pushed off the shelves once vegetable oils came around.
Before doing this homesteading series I had honestly never heard of tallow. And when I asked my friends and family about this I just got weird looks. Isn’t it amazing how something that was basically a staple in homes a hundred or two years ago has seemingly been lost or forgotten? After researching I found that beef tallow is actually a very healthy fat full of vitamins and is actually better for you than some of the hydrogenated oils we buy at the stores.“Tallow is an excellent source of niacin, vitamins B6, B12, K2, selenium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and riboflavin. Grass Fed beef tallow contains high ratio of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a cancer-resistant agent. Contrary to the popular conception, tallow is good for health as tallow fat is similar to the fat/muscles in the heart. Recent studies have shown that human beings need at least 50% of saturated fats like tallow and lard to keep the heart pumping hale and healthy. Tallow from pasture-raised cows also contains a small amount of Vitamin D, similar to lard. It is also a good source of K2 in its suet form.” (Source)
First thing you need is some beef fat. I found a nice local butcher shop, called them up and asked if they had any beef fat. Lucky for me they did and it was only $.67 per lb too. For the nicest and healthiest tallow try to get beef fat from right around the kidneys and preferably from a grass-fed cow. I didn’t ask the butcher at the time I purchased it if this was a grass-fed cow or not, I think I was in shock that I actually found beef fat and that it was so inexpensive. But next time I will ask for sure.
The beef fat I purchased was frozen, so I let it thaw enough that it was still hard but not frozen solid so I could use my food processor to grate it up. If you don’t have a food processor just use a knife and cut the fat into as small of chunks as you can. If there are any pieces of meat you can cut out do it at this stage too.
Here is all my beef fat put into my 5 qt. Dutch Oven I purchased. I think there is about 4 lbs of beef fat in there. I filled my pan to the top.
With the heat on low I put the lid on the beef tallow fat and let it start slowly cooking. Here is how it looked after 1 hour. If you had only 1 lb of fat it would look a lot more melted at this stage, but since I have 4 lbs, it is slowly cooking from the bottom.
Here it is again after 2 hours. A little more rendered. At this point I took a wooden spoon and mixed the beef tallow fat around a bit. Some people like to take a potato masher and squish it a bit too to help the process along. You don’t want to cook this fast because if it burns it will ruin it all.
Now its been 4 hours and my house is REALLY starting to smell bad like well..FAT and STINKY OIL. YUCK.
I opened up every window and turned on fans. I can’t stress to you enough how horrible this smelled. At this stage I was just wanting this whole process to be over. I am not kidding. I spent most of the day upstairs just so I couldn’t smell it as much. Then when I did have to go downstairs I actually gagged once from the smell. I am such a baby, aren’t I… 🙂
After about 6-7 hours it was all done. You can tell by all the little browned bits cooked till crispy. The Pioneers called these the cracklin’s. They are basically fried bits of meat and grisle. They would sprinkle a little salt on the cracklins and once cool eat them up. I shuddered at the thought after smelling the fat cooking in the air. I actually lost my appetite with the smell in the air.
Next is the time to drain all the liquid oil and strain out the cracklin’s. You can use a fine mesh strainer, a paper towel, cheese cloth or what I used: a flour sack towel. I lined the towel over a strainer, which sat over a large bowl.
Then I poured all the hot oil in and strained it. Use oven mitts here, and remember to be safe. This is REALLY HOT oil and can burn you if you are not careful.
Look at all that lovely yellow liquid tallow left behind after the straining.
It should be a nice yellow color.
I poured mine into wide mouth glass jars for storage. Then I let it cool all night.
And it turned hard and waxy and white. Isn’t it beautiful??
It was even more beautiful after I deep cleaned my whole kitchen, using vinegar to get the nasty smell out. 😉
Beef Tallow is wonderful because as long as you store it in an air-tight container to avoid oxidization it can be at room temperature for up to a year or longer. I have mine in my fridge as it will last even longer there. OR you can pour your tallow fat into ice cube trays and put the frozen cubes into a freezer bag to freeze.
Tallow Soap & Tallow Candles
As many of you might know I made my own homemade soap for the first time last month using a recipe of lye and a variety of store bought oils. I love the soap I made, but I wanted to make soap like the Pioneers and settlers did from long ago using beef tallow. I have heard that homemade tallow soap made from rendering beef tallow is the very best type of soap. It’s strong, its hard and it suds nicely. And I would like to use my own tallow soap instead of using Fels Naptha in my Homemade Laundry Soap recipe as well. So check back, I will be making tallow soap from scratch very soon! Plus I think it might be neat to try to make Tallow candles as well.
So what do you think? Do you have questions? Think this is weird? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!
- Beef Fat preferably from a grass-fed cow and try to get the fat that is from right around the kidneys
- Use food processor to grate it up or if you don’t have a food processor just use a knife and cut the fat into as small of chunks as you can.
- If there are any pieces of meat you can cut out do it at this stage too.
- Put beef fat into 5 qt. Dutch Oven, fill pan to the top.
- With the heat on low put the lid on the beef tallow fat and let it start slowly cooking.
- After 2 hours take a wooden spoon and mix the beef tallow fat around a bit. Some use a potato masher and squish it a bit too to help the process along.
- Don’t cook this fast because if it burns it will ruin it all.
- Stir again at about 4 hours.
- After about 6-7 hours it will be done. You can tell by all the little browned bits cooked till crispy.
- Next drain all the liquid oil and strain out the cracklin’s. (Cracklins are basically fried bits of meat and gristle)
- Use a fine mesh strainer, a paper towel, cheese cloth or a flour sack towel and line the towel over a strainer, which should sit over a large bowl.
- Pour all the hot oil in and strain it. It should be a nice yellow color.
- Pour into airtight containers and allow to cool overnight.
- Store it in an air-tight container to avoid oxidization it can be at room temperature for up to a year or longer. You can store it in the fridge as it will last even longer there. OR you can pour your tallow fat into ice cube trays and put the frozen cubes into a freezer bag to freeze.
Comments & Reviews
Gustavo de la Piedra says
I render lard and tallow in a pressure cooker; 35-40 minutes and it’s done. Love the scent, aroma. I also get fish heads and general fish detritus from the fishmonger for free or a tip, which I also pressure cook and is very healthy. All of this with sprouted rice or legumes, and egg. I also mix lard or tallow with unsweetened powdered chocolate with powdered cinnamon and sometimes instant coffee. I’m going to add a drop of a variety of essences next time. No sugar or sweetener, unless I have pure stevia or monk fruit. I don’t bother straining and separating the tallow from the solids, I just scoop from the tub of the two mixed together for cooking. Will keep small quantities of it out of the fridge from now on, it gets too hard in there, unlike lard, also unsifted, which is soft even in the fridge. Both make a great bread spread. Instant rolled oats soaked in fat with salt is delicious.
Pressure cooker is an awesome idea!!!
It’s a pleasure to find that there are others who are discovering or interested in tallow.
Just getting ready to process my third batch of tallow, waiting on the butcher’s call that my order of steak fat is ready. I used to process with the food processor, but I broke the rotor blade during the second batch. Warranty replacement was successful.
My usual method is a very large pot in the oven at around 220-250 degrees. A few cups of water with the chopped fat to help it get started evenly. The water boils off after a few hours and there’s enough liquid fat by then to carry on. At this lower temperature it takes 12 and more hours to get towards the crispy state. I turn it to 300 degrees towards the end.. just to hurry it up. I use large large-mouthed pickle or mayo jars. No odors, and my food tastes way better cooked with tallow plus I’ve lost some weight as well. Appetite more balanced with less cravings? That could be it. Also, it’s way more non-stick for prepping a baking pan for bread and such. Haven’t tried the soap thing yet, but interested.
I find it interesting, and a little bit ignorant, that these techniques are being presented as some some ancient technique that people 100 or 200 years ago used. While that is certainly true, these techniques- and the products they produced were very important to people all over this country into the 40’s, 50’s when, in the post-war boom, the farm population first began to dramatically decline. I live in the Midwest and have recipe books and Home Extension pamphlets that were published in the 60’s and 70’s that teach homemakers how to store and use fat. It is presented as a healthy, sustainable food staple. (For those of you not familiar with Home Extensions, they a federally funded are part of the agriculture community outreach provided by the land grant college in each state; they are a bridge between the state college & its educational resources and the local, sometimes underserved, rural communities.)
I would encourage anyone reading this recipe to shift perspective from some ancient chore and rather see it as an act of resourcefulness and independence practiced widely in the US until fairly recently.
Barbara Holum says
This was awesome!! I have only rendered pork fat…but now I remember my great aunt making candles with beef tallow… did not know it was healthier …but I know it makes the beef roasts taste soooo much better if you leave some on the roasts and in the hamburger!!! People don’t know the great taste of beef now days without the tallow!!
Dayna Litowski says
We are making tallow forbthe first time right now.
We haven’t noticed a bad smell, and everyone wgo has walked in has complimented the smell and asked what we are cooking. So i guess we are lucky?
We are hoping to make candles out of it, so we are going to boik it down a few times to hopefully purify it more.
We are learning about pioneers right now and are hoping to try a lot of recipes/ways of life from earlier times.
Great article i haven’t had to make soap since last January so i needed a refresher. Good luck with soap i also add evoo & coconut oil to my soaps.
I’ve not tried actually making soap yet, but I have every ingredient in mind. For tallow my plan is to do what I once did with some ground beef. I browned it for some and added water. Probably was about to make Hamburger Helper. I realized I had forgotten to drain off the beef fat before I added the water! Want really lean ground beef? Put the ground beef with water into the fridge. Be sure the water level is a couple of inches above the meat. All the fat will cake up on the surface. So, is that tallow?
We rendered a little over 100 pounds of beef fat yesterday from our home raised beef. He weighed 1,130 pounds hanging (he was a big guy.) We did some on the stove top and some in the oven. We cooked it on low on the stove top and at 200 degrees in the oven for about 8 hours, then strained it through flour sack dish towels and a strainer. Cooking at this temperature, with the stove fan going, gave hardly any smell through the house. Since the tallow is a little soft, we will process it a little longer today and restrain it. That will have to happen in between canning the 7 gallons of beef stock that we processed at the same time on a propane burner in a 16 gallon pot.
I’m impressed! I just cut up a 10lb strip steak and I trimmed away about 2 lbs of fat. I’d love to make tallow but I’m afraid of that horrid smell mentioned above. So do you think cooking at a super low temp will take care of that issue?
Some say there is a smell and some don’t… so maybe it depends on the beef fat.
Evelyn Jadlocki says
Very interesting. Not looking forward to the stinky house. Will have to wait till everyone is out for a day or two
Instead of rendering the fat in your kitchen, put it in a crock pot on low and plug it in outside and just leave it overnight.
Also you can have the butcher cut the fat in cubes for you so you don’t have to mince it up in your blender.
That’s pretty smart🤓 I am actually going to use my instapot AND plug it outside on my back porch. Thanks for the tip. 🙏
Stephen Kemp says
I have not experimented with purchased tallow but fat drained from hamburger produces a nice white product. I clean it by heating it in water and then removing the solid “cake” that forms. I do also remove some particles that mange to embed themselves in the fat. Last time I did this 3 times and it did not stink up my house. There was still a slight beef scent in the fat. I am pretty sure with a couple more cycles and maybe vinegar or baking soda I could eliminate it much more. This cake does need to be allowed to dry out…perhaps a week. Water beads on it when left in the sun. If the water is not removed it will become rancid and stink. Otherwise I have a jar that has not been refrigerated and has lasted a year. It still smells like my mom’s makeup from 40 years ago. Tells me what that was made from. It is not rancid and still white. Next time I cycle through this I will work at decreasing any remnant beef scent and naturally adding some other scent.
That’s pretty much what I just commented! I guess I made tallow without realizing it. I added water to cover some browned beef and stuck it in the fridge for later use. Fat floats! If you add enough water, you’ll have a nice bottom layer of super lean beef! The top layer is tallow, huh?
I read another recipe that uses a crock pot and water and wondering if the tallow you make smells after it’s made. In the water recipe it doesn’t smell apparently but I’m wondering that if you boil it in water whether you’d need a preservative for it.
Valerie Demerski says
maybe cook it outside?
Jan Greenwood says
I would love to buy of someone who is making tallow
Where are you located? We have quite a bit of rendered tallow and we might be able to part with some.
I’d buy some
Sara L Baldwin says
I asked for the tallow from our butchered cow. Yes, she’s natural grass-fed. I am familiar with rendering lard and wanted to double-check for any disparities in processes. Am looking forward to seeing the tallow in my jars, not my freezer. Thank you.
Sorry my comment should have read:
Silly autocorrect lol
Thank you for the interesting article. I have rendered my own tallow but in a very different way, one which you and your readers might prefer next time (no nasty smells!) I actually made my own bone broth (from pasture fed and pasture finished cows only) which does have a lengthy low heat cooking process 36-48hrs and I used the shin bones and some spices which smelt so lovely whilst cooking. Once I stored the broth into glass jars and have them set overnight in the fridge, the fat/tallow rises to the top which can be easily carved off the broth and rendered it in minutes, stored it in air tight containers on the fridge. Once in overnight the rendered tallow can be removed and you scrape the impurities off the top and there you have it! I found the process very interning and my tallow took the scent of the spices used to make the broth.
Kathy Thompson says
Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with those of us that are in the learning process. I have contacted local butchers, meat markets & slaughterhouses and no one sells beef fat. I am in Texas of all places where we live and breathe beef and can not find it. Any suggestions?
Thanks for all your helpful instructions.
Anne Scott says
Ask the butcher for suet. This is ground-up beef fat, sold in little packages. Some people use it to feed birds. I use it all the time to make tallow.
Around here (Ottawa, Canada), good butchers do their own meat trimming and just discard the fat. They will give it to you for free if you happen to be there while they have some.
However, there’s no guarantee that the fat you receive is from a grass fed animal or anything…unless the whole butchery only sells grass fed beef.
There’s no one that actually SELLS it.
Michelle Scrivner says
Very clear and infomative! Thanks!
Elisabeth Crha says
Thank you! Your recipe to make Tallow is so easy to follow. I will make it. Not looking forward to the smell though 🤢
I believe it just needs to look like the picture to be ready. Such wonderful explanation and pictures. Love it. I have plenty of grass fed beef fat from making bone broth for my GS dog. Ì use for frying. Yòurexplanation òf its goodness, lifespan and uses are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Glenna Klein says
I have just a very small amount of fat, do I need to cook for 7 hours as well?