Given my obsession with tallow-based skincare, it kinda feels like a huge oversight not to have talked about rendering tallow yet.
It’s a surprisingly simple process that can be done at home with just a few basic tools.
What's so great about tallow?
Regular readers of my blog already know the answer to this question! Quality pastured tallow is simply the best. thing. evah. It’s my most commonly used cooking oil and I use it as a base for all sorts of personal hygiene, skincare and wellness products.
“Tallow” refers to the rendered fat of a ruminant animal — usually a cow, deer, sheep or goat. It’s a super nourishing fat and a great source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This is particularly true of grass-fed/finished cows, which produce fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and CLA in higher concentrations (all of which are excellent for your skin, inside and out!)
Tallow is a highly stable fat composed of a mix of saturated, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids (approximately 50% monounsaturated, 43% saturated, 4% unsaturated, 3% “others”). Its high smoke point makes it a safe choice for frying and cooking at higher temperatures.
Why render your own tallow?
You can buy tallow at just about any grocery store, so why would you want to go to the trouble of rendering your own at home?
For starters, quality. Many brands of store-bought tallow are made from “conventionally” raised cows who spent their short lives in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and are typically pumped full of hormones and antibiotics.
But even if you find an ethical, high-quality source of rendered tallow, increasing costs are making it harder and harder to justify the convenience. For years, I’ve faithfully purchased a 5-gallon bucket of tallow from US Wellness every Black Friday when it was 20% off.
Not so many years ago, 5 gallons of high quality tallow used to cost me around $99 delivered — $80 during a good Black Friday sale. Since then, the price has increased about 200% and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify.
Fortunately, we have options! Rendering your own tallow from beef fat is far more cost-effective. I can get a 10# bag of pastured beef fat from my local rancher for around $2-3 a pound.
It’s also a great way to make use of an often-overlooked resource. Saving the fat from an overly fatty roast costs nothing. I used to avoid buying those enormous untrimmed briskets because of the hassle of removing all that fat myself — now I see it as an excellent value add!
Wet vs dry rendering
There are a couple of different ways to render beef tallow. “Rendering” in this context refers to the process of melting down the raw fat to separate the oil from the meat and connective tissues.
For this tutorial, we’re going to focus on the ‘wet’ rendering method, because it seems to produce a cleaner, more neutral smelling tallow. The dry rendering method, which (as the name suggests) involves melting the fat in a dry pot, is fine for tallow you’re going to cook with, but for tallow you’re going to use in skincare products, I believe the wet method is the way to go.
Ingredients & equipment
The equipment is super basic: A large stainless stock pot or slow cooker, a fine mesh strainer, some cheesecloth, cutting board and a sharp knife is all you really need.
You’ll need to source some beef fat from your local farmer or butcher. High quality tallow can only come from high quality fat, so for best results, try to find a source from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows that have not been contaminated with hormones and antibiotics. The quantity is up to you, but expect to end up with roughly half as much tallow (by weight) as the fat you started with.
You’ll also need a clean source of water (preferably filtered) and salt.
Salt and baking soda are used in the rendering process to assist in drawing out impurities and moisture from the fat, resulting in a cleaner tallow. I prefer salt over baking soda primarily because If you heat fat in water long enough, some of the fat can undergo hydrolysis and break down into free fatty acids. Throw in an alkali — even a weak one like baking soda — and some of the fatty acids may saponify. Whoops! Now you have soap instead of tallow. (Although the superfat may be a smidge higher than you’d normally like, lol)
So I use salt. Choose a non-iodized salt since iodine can discolor the fat and give it an off-flavor. Plain sea salt is a good choice and is less likely to affect the color or flavor of the finished tallow.
Place your fat into a large pot or bucket and cover with ice water and let everything soak for an hour or two. This step is optional, but a pre-rendering ice bath helps to remove impurities, blood or other debris from the fat. It also reduces the temperature of the fat, firming it up to make it easier to chop or grind.
Discard the soaking water.
Cut the heat and carefully strain everything through a fine-mesh strainer to separate the solid bits from the liquid. (Remember, this isn’t just hot water — it’s mostly oil and it will not be a good day if you spill or splash some of it on you.)
Strain the liquid once more through a cheesecloth-lined strainer to catch the smallest particles. A coffee filter or even a paper towel will work too. When it’s had a chance to cool off a bit, cover the pot of liquid fat and transfer it to the fridge or other cool storage location to harden. When completely cooled, you should have a solidified disk of white tallow formed on top of the water.
Let your finished tallow air dry before transferring to an airtight container for longterm storage. My 5 lbs of beef fat yielded approximately 2 quarts of purified tallow.
There you have it! The whole process is actually quite simple, isn’t it?
Let me know if you try rendering your own tallow, and what you use it for! My latest “thing” is making tallow-beeswax candles, which will likely end up as a future post… Stay tuned!