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The liquid gold that most people are neglecting
One of the best reasons to buy a side of beef is the bounty of fat you can render into tallow, possibly the best cooking fat in the world. The effort is worthwhile when you run the numbers: fancy grass-fed tallow in 12-16 ounce retail containers will cost between $1.50-$2 per ounce. Compare that with the fat on a share of beef - you’ve already paid for that fat whether you take it or not, so you could easily consider it to be free.1
If you haven’t purchased a side of beef (which you absolutely should), you’ll need another way to source your beef fat. You could befriend a local butcher and ask if they have any extra fat they would otherwise be throwing away. The best fat to use is the leaf fat (also know as suet) which surrounds the kidneys, but any of the fat will be useful for rendering down.
1. Prepare the fat for rendering
Once thawed, beef fat will be quite slippery so keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to start this process. Depending on current state of your beef fat, you’ll likely need to break it down into smaller pieces to improve the efficiency of heat transfer and subsequent rendering.
My advice: you should ask the butcher to run the tallow through their grinder - this will instantly make the whole process way easier. That said, if you can’t get the butcher to do it for you, it’s a great excuse to acquire a meat grinder!2
2. Transfer to heat and render
The best method for rendering fat is with a slow cooker, otherwise a pot on the stove over low heat will also work. If using the stove, just be mindful of temperature - above 284F will start to break down the fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, which you want to preserve until cooking. The ideal temperature range is at or under 200F.
After coming up to temperature, stir occasionally to ensure fat hasn’t clumped together, as it will slow down the rendering process. The length of time required to render out the fat ultimately depends on the size of each chunk of fat, but usually 3-5 hours will be sufficient for ground fat or small chopped pieces.
You can optionally add water and salt for the rendering phase. While this is a bit more time consuming, it can result in a more neutral flavor which is great for cooking without tons of beefy flavor. As you begin rendering, cover the fat with water and add about 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of fat.
3. Strain and store
If you opted for the dry method, you can use a strainer with cheesecloth to pour the rendered fat right into your storage vessel. I prefer 16 oz wide-mouth mason jars, but any glass container will work.
If you opted for the wet method, strain into a metal bowl and place in the fridge overnight. The next day, separate the solid chunk of tallow from the water and scrape the bottom to remove any remaining sediment. You can store the chunk of rendered tallow in the freezer wrapped in butcher paper, or melt it down and transfer it to jars right away, the choice is yours.
Congratulations, you now have incredible high-heat cooking fat at a fraction of the retail price.
Author’s note: While I could easily write an extensive article about saturated fats and how wrong modern medicine has been about the purported dangers, I’m more keen to get my guide on rendering/using tallow out the door first. For now, this 30 minute video titled “The $100 Billion Dollar Ingredient making your Food Toxic” is a great introduction to the topic.
The Purpose of the Primal Cut Sheet
This is part of an ongoing monthly series that aims to provide you with all of the information you will need to start buying high-quality beef in bulk directly from a local producer. Future topics will include how to connect with your local producers, deciding between grain and grass-finished beef, and, finally, a full breakdown of a butcher’s cut sheet to help you get the most value from your purchase.
If you’re looking to buy in bulk right away and would like some personalized assistance, I also offer 1:1 consultations to help you navigate cut sheets or answer any other questions you might have:
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Yes, there is still costs in terms of the heat energy to render it and the human effort, but those are negligible.
Grinding fat at home is a bit more effort and requires cleanup, but it can be a great activity for the kids to join.