How to Render Lard
Rendering pork fat into lard is a relatively easy process that will provide you with lots of high quality and tasty fat for cooking and baking. Lard has a high smoke point, making it an ideal fat to use for frying, pan-searing, roasting or grilling. It also keeps for a very long time in the fridge or the freezer.
There are two primary types of fat you'll get from the pig: Leaf Lard and Back Fat. Both are great to render and use in your cooking, and while they can be used interchangeably, leaf lard is known for its versatility--after its been rendered it retains almost none of its meaty aroma, making it a favorite of many cooks.
Leaf lard is the hard, neutral tasting fat found around the pigs kidneys. It's prized by bakers for its ability to produce light and rich pastries, biscuits, pie crusts, and even lends a nice softness to cookies. Leaf lard is one of the key ingredients that pastry chefs and pie enthusiasts turn to again and again to make those alluring and hard to achieve perfectly flaky, tender crusts.
Back Fat on the other hand retains a little bit of its pork-y flavor, even after rendering--but this makes it a great fat to fry up or scramble some eggs, to saute with onions, to roast potatoes and other veggies in, and it make for some darn good cornbread.
How to Render Fat
Rendering fat consists of three main steps: chopping the fat into small pieces, heating the fat over low while it renders into a liquid, and then straining out the impurities and bits of meat.
1. Chop the fat into 1-inch (or smaller) pieces. This is easiest with frozen fat--once it softens up it's much harder to chop. Cut off any bits of meat still remaining in the fat and chop your fat into small little bits (or run it through a meat grinder). The smaller you chop the fat, the faster it will render, but I aim for about the size of a sugar cube.
2. Place chopped fat, along with about 1/4 cup of water into a large, heavy bottomed pot. Cook the fat over low heat for 2-6 hours, stirring frequently at first, and then every 15 minutes or so to keep the fat from sticking to the pot or burning. Be sure to keep the temperature low--the key to pure, white lard is melting the fat without browning or boiling it. Over the next few hours, the cubes of fat will shrink into little lardons as the fat rendersinto a nice golden liquid. Eventually, those small little lardons will sink down into the liquid. When they eventually start to rise up to the surface, (and when the fat is all liquefied), you'll know you are done rendering: see the last picture in the series for a "finished" example.
This can also be done in a slow cooker, set the crock pot to low and check on it after about 3-4 hours (it may still need more time, but just let it keep going on low).
3. Strain the lard. With a slotted spoon, scoop out any large lardons or cracklins--I know many folks who love to save these for snacks or soup toppings (just pat off the extra fat with a towel and eat immediately or store in fridge). Then, pour the lard through a fine mesh strainer--either directly into a mason jar for storage, or into a large pyrex (easier to pour with) or large bowl. Sometimes I like to double strain my leaf lard, first through the mesh strainer and then with a few layers of cheesecloth to catch any extra impurities.
4. Let the lard cool. Once cooled, it should be creamy white and ready to use! We store ours in the fridge, where it will easily keep for 3-6 months, and up to a year. In the freezer it will keep for up to a year.