Working With Tallow

by Master Bedwyr Danwyn

(mka Ted Lazcano)

Tallow is nothing more than purified animal fat, and has been used since ancient times as a source of fuel for light. Fat from cattle and sheep are the traditional fats of choice for tallow, with sheep fat purported to be the better of the two, but very difficult to obtain today. Beef fat can be purchased in Wegman's or other grocery stores' pet section for 69 cents a pound already packaged and ready to go.

Rendering, or the purification of animal fat into tallow, isn't hard but will take a couple of hours. There is an economy of scale, with it being easier to make a lot of tallow than it is to make a small amount. It's a bit messy, too; so it's best to render a lot of fat into tallow all at once and store the surplus in your refrigerator for future use. It will keep for years.

How To Render Fat Into Tallow

Caution: Melting fat is dangerous and should not be done by children.

1. Buy some fat. If you're starting out, I suggest around 5 pounds. If you know of an old time butcher, buy it from him. Otherwise, go to your supermarket.

2. Buy an old metal pitcher from the Salvation Army. Larger strain holes are better than small ones. Also buy a strainer made with wire mesh, not punched holes. These items are inexpensive and reserving them for tallow is easier than cleaning them.

3. There are only two places to render tallow; outdoors or in someone else's kitchen! Outdoors with a single electric burner or propane stove is ideal.

4. Cut the fat into small pieces, and place as many as will fit into the pitcher.

5. Put the pitcher into a pot of hot water, and place on your stove. Bring the pot of water to a boil. As the fat melts you will be able to add more pieces to the pitcher. This is a slow process. Avoid the temptation to place the pitcher directly on the stove! The higher temperature will indeed melt the fat faster, but it will also fry it, creating thousands of little burnt pieces that will be difficult to remove and may result in the fat catching fire.

6. Stir your fat with a chopstick. When you can't add any more fat and it looks like the solid pieces have melted as much as they are going to, pour the liquid through the strainer into a large bowl about half full of hot water. Give the (cooled) greasy pieces to your neighbor's dog and send him home quick!

7. The molten tallow will form a layer on top of the water. Allow it to cool into solid, whitish tallow, and slice it free from the bowl. Don't forget about the water underneath it!

8. Examine your tallow. You will observe solid impurities stuck in the bottom of the tallow, as they are heavier than tallow but lighter than water, so they become trapped there as the tallow solidified. Scrap the bulk of these away with a knife.

9. Put your chunks back into the pitcher and repeat! Each time you do this, your tallow will become whiter, harder, and less smelly. As a rule, I render my tallow three times.

10. After your final rendering, melt the tallow in the pitcher again. You may either use the tallow for a project, or pour it into a muffin pan and allow to cool into ingots. To release the solid ingots from the muffin pan, run hot tap water onto a single ingot with the pan upside down over a bowl of cold water. The ingot will suddenly drop free and fall into the cold water. Dry with a paper towel and store in your refrigerator. They will last for years and can be remelted.

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