Okay, so I use tallow. I’m sure that this firmly puts me in some sort of weird crunchy granola category that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. I can’t read your aura, I don’t churn my own butter (yet…), and I don’t just happen to have a special tea brewing that will heal that wart on your foot. I still live firmly in this modern world: I drive a car, I binge watch random Netflix programming, and I shave my legs, well, not in the winter so much, but in the summer, definitely. I also occasionally enjoy a Big Mac (please don’t tell anyone that…). But that’s the cool thing about tallow. It sounds gross and old fashioned and probably weird, but it really isn’t. Tallow is just a victim of twentieth century propaganda: it became passé and shared a similar fate to butter, and eggs, only so much worse.
So, what exactly is tallow? Simply put, tallow is beef fat that has been rendered, or slowly broken down, to separate impurities (meat and bones) from the desired fat result. After rendering beef fat for a long, long time, you are left with a whitish-to-yellowish creamy fat that can be used in many recipes and is chock full of nutrients and other goodies. Lard, like tallow, is rendered fat, but from pigs instead of beef. While vegetable shortening, in contrast, is a highly processed product made in a lab, with chemists, and math, and secrets. I hate secrets.
Now I could explain to you the scientific reasons that tallow, which is a saturated fat (I know, I just said saturated fat and that part of your brain that has been told for years that saturated fat is akin to devil worship is probably recoiling and screaming and there’s alarm bells and flashing lights…), is still probably better for you than the ultra-refined unsaturated fats of vegetable oil and shortenings. But I won’t. I won’t because I’m not an expert. I hold no degrees in science or biochemistry or whatever it is you need in order to have a valid opinion on why tallow kicks hydrogenated vegetable oil’s butt. I will tell you this: I use it. It’s in my kitchen as a supplemental fat. Here’s why (and how):
Beef Tallow has cool properties:
- It’s great in high heat situations. Say you want to fry something. Like fries. Toss a little tallow in the pan and you’ve got a great alternative to vegetable oil that has a really high smoke point (which means it can handle high temperatures, like the ones used for frying, without scorching and smoking like crazy). Let me also say this: you want some amazing fish tacos? Try a little tallow to pan fry it in. You won’t be disappointed.
- Tallow has a high amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is apparently good for combating high cholesterol (I know, I know, seems totally backward, but it’s true), has anti-cancer properties, and helps to retain omega-3 in tissues. Check this stuff out on your own though. Knowledge is power.
- It’s a great hardening agent for soap. If you make your own soap, then you know how awesome it is to have the end result be a nice, hard, bar of soap that lathers well. Tallow helps soap do that.
- Tallow has great moisturizing and skin-softening capapbilities. What it lacks in its cleansing profile it more than makes up for in its ability to make skin feel soft and supple. A huge plus in the drying winter months.
- It has a great shelf life, which is probably why those olden day folks treasured it so much. No refrigeration+need for oils=tallow superstar.
- It literally costs nothing to make.
So, as you may have guessed, I use beef tallow in most of my soaps, and in some of my skin products. It doesn’t smell like meat or have a greasy texture when all is said and done. As a matter of fact, if you have been to my house, and have used my soap, then you have definitely rubbed beef fat on you. Sorry.
I always keep some tallow in the fridge at the ready for impromptu fish and chips nights. It really does an amazing job handling high heat situations. And it doesn’t make what is fried taste like meat. Promise.
You can also use tallow to make some emergency candles, and keep them stored in your basement for, well, an emergency. Or you can make them, put them in your basement and when the power goes out be unable to find them because you put them in the smartest place possible. In fact, it was so smart, it would take a team of MIT grads to figure out where they were.
If you like birds and feel inclined, tallow makes an awesome additive for winter bird cakes.
Tallow is a great supplemental fat to have on hand. It doesn’t have to replace your olive oil or sunflower oil, nor would you really want it to. These unsaturated oils have important jobs in your kitchen that tallow just couldn’t do. Like tallow vinaigrette? Pass.
It really is just about the easiest thing to make. You don’t have to know how to cook, I swear! You just need some beef fat, preferably grass fed, hormone and antibiotic-free, a big deep pot and a stove.
Okay, so here’s how I do it:
How To Render Beef Tallow (the dry method)
Beef fat (at least 2 lbs)
a deep pot
cheesecloth and strainer
mason jars or parchment paper-lined baking pan
Chop your beef fat into small chunks. Put the fat into the bottom of a deep pot. Melt the fat slowly. I do mine on medium-low, to low, and stir it occasionally to make sure nothings getting overcooked or not cooked enough. Keep the pot warm, but the fat shouldn’t be bubbling. It is a slow process and can take up to 8 hours. It’s done when the top is littered with crispy bits of meat and the remainder of the fat has liquified. Pour the fat through a cheesecloth lined strainer into jars. Alternatively, you can pour it onto a baking pan and allow to harden, then cut into chunks for storage.
I keep a jar in the fridge and have more in the freezer. The stuff in the freezer has been there for almost a year, and it’s still going strong.