Making beef tallow is a simple but time consuming process. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of different fat rendering methods.
What is tallow?
Tallow is rendered beef fat. Once rendered the beef fat is called tallow and can be used for many types of cooking like deep frying, pan frying, sautéing and even baking. That same rendered beef fat can be used for making soap, body balms and lotions and even healing salves.
What does it mean to render fat?
Rendering fat is the act of melting animal fat and slowly maintaining a heat to evaporate any water and impurities, then straining it to remove any solids. This allows the fat to be shelf stable, but not indefinitely. Rendering can be done with beef, pork, chicken, duck, bison or even deer fat.
The solids strained off after rendering animal fats are called cracklings. They can be eaten or used in recipes. Pork rinds are cracklings left from rendering pork fat into lard.
How to make beef tallow?
- Chop fat into small pieces or use a meat grinder.
- Place fat into cooking vessel like a pot or crock pot (more below).
- Warm fat on a low heat until completely melted and any water is simmered out.
- Strain well through cheese cloth to remove any solids
- Store in jar or other container. Freeze if not using in the next month or two.
How is making tallow preserving the beef fat?
When making beef tallow with rendering, you are cooking out the water in the fat and separating any meat as well. By doing this, you should be left with only fat. When warm, it will be a liquid oil. Animal fats will solidify at room temperature.
If you are certain to cook off any water and strain of every bit of solids you will be left with a shelf stable fat. I keep my rendered fats in glass mason jars with tight lids on my canning shelf in a cool dark place. You can also freeze your rendered fats if you want to.
Some people swear that even well rendered fats are not shelf stable and need to be kept in the fridge or freezer. I think they can be shelf stable, to a point. Fats will eventually go rancid. If you don’t plan to use your tallow in the next couple months, freezing it might be a better idea.
What is the process of making beef tallow for soap, balms or salves?
Rendering tallow for food or body products are the same. The same jar of rendered fat you’re cooking dinner with can be used to make a luxurious body balm or a nice bar of soap. I love versatile items that can be made in big batches.
Rendering beef tallow for cooking
Like I mention above, rendering beef tallow for cooking and for making body products are the same process. There are a few ways people render animal fats and any of those methods will yield a rendered tallow that would be great for cooking or for making balm, salve or soap.
What type of fat do you need for making beef tallow?
You’ll need beef fat of course. Suet is best. Suet is the fat surround the animals kidneys. It’s a different type of fat than the fat you find under the skin and on muscles. That fat is sometimes called trim fat.
Grass fed beef is also important. The makeup of grass fed beef fat may be much different from grain fed beef raised with industrial practices. When cattle are eating their natural diet, beef fat is very nourishing.
Grass fed suet makes the best tallow for cooking, soap or balms.
Different rendering methods for making beef tallow
Many people will insist that there is only one right way to render animal fat, I disagree. There are always at least a few ways to get things done, but there are pros and cons to each. Let me tell you some of the different ways you can render beef tallow for soap and cooking. Then I will tell you how and why I do it the way I do.
Dry rendering method
The dry rendering method seems to be the most agreed upon method of rendering animal fat. It is done without water. This can be in a pot on the stove, in a crock pot or in a pot in the oven. I have this big 10 quart crock pot just for big batch from scratch projects like this one.
With this method it’s extremely important that a low heat is maintained so that the fat is not scorched. A temperature of 220 degrees F is pretty perfect. This will allow any water to evaporate (water boils at 220F) and will not allow the fat to burn.
This method is done by trimming the fat into small pieces, placing it into a pot or crock pot while maintaining a low heat, stirring occasionally until the fat melts completely and can be strained from any solids left.
Some dry rendering fans will insist on even leaving the lid off the pot when rendering so as not to build up any condensation and to let any water evaporate off. This makes a lot of sense.
Pros of Dry Rendering
- Less chance for spoilage do to leaving water in the fat.
- Less mess and cleanup than with the wet rendering method.
- May maintain more of the natural vitamins and fats present in the beef fat. (More here)
cons of dry rendering
- Higher chance of scorching the fat
- Need to watch your pot a bit more carefully
- May have more of a slight ‘beefy’ smell than with other rendering methods.
wet rendering method
The wet rendering method is done by placing chopped up animal fat into a pot or crock pot with a quart or two of water. Depending on the amount of water, it needs to either be cooked or strained off. It’s important when rendering that we remove all the water from the fat before using or storing.
Pros of Wet Rendering
- It’s easy to do this method in the crockpot with no worry of scorching or burning the fat.
Cons of Wet Rendering
- Simmering out all the water can take a really long time and it’s hard to be sure that it’s actually done.
- Separating the water by skimming off the melted fat is messy and time consuming and it’s also hard to be sure you didn’t leave any water with the fat.
- Removing water after wet rendering tallow is easier. You can do this by placing it in the fridge after straining. Once cold the solid tallow will be on top. Remove chunk and pour off the water. This is still a con, because it’s an extra step that takes more time and makes for more dishes to do.
wet salt method for purifying
This is a controversial subject like just about everything these days. Some people believe that rendering tallow with salt and water helps to remove impurities from the fat. They say that it will help the finished beef tallow have more of a neutral smell and a white appearance.
That all sounds great, right? Some folks say that by following this purification step you are actually removing some of the beneficial vitamins and nutrients from the finished tallow. When tallow is cooked at too high a heat, it can even damage the Omega-3 fatty acids that we so badly want in this product.
I wish I had known this before I had rendered as much beef fat as I have. I have been using the wet salt method the last 3 times I rendered beef fat. The end product is good, and does still smell a little of tallow. It’s also not white. I never heat it too high and watch is carefully. That being said, if I could have a better product and save my time (and dishes!) by skipping the extra steps of wet rendering with salt, I would!
pros of wet salt rendering
- An attempt to have a scent free final product which people may find more appealing when making soap or balm. (My wet rendered fat still has a bit of a smell.)
- Supposed to come out more white.
- Claims to have removed impurities.
cons of wet salt rendering
- It may change the structure of the beneficial fats preset in the natural fat.
- It may remove beneficial vitamins and minerals from the fat.
- It takes longer and has more steps.
- It makes more dishes to do.
My YouTube video showing how I render beef tallow
Disclaimer: This is one of many ways to rendering beef tallow. In this video I show how I rendered my grass fed beef tallow using the wet salt method. After rendering this tallow and filming for this video, I have learned more about how to make the best tallow. I am excited about the new information that I have come across and looking forward to experimenting with different rendering methods and comparing it with my finished tallow, soaps and balms.
This isn’t a “how to” video. This is a “how you could” video. No matter how you end up rendering your fat, just jump in! We all learn best from doing.
How to make sure your tallow doesn’t smell when making beef tallow for soap and balms?
- Don’t add meat or blood to your rendering pot
- Don’t cook fat at too high a temp
- Don’t let fat burn or scorch
- Adjust your expectations and priorities. A slight smell of tallow for your lotion or soap isn’t a bad thing, it means your using a natural nutrient dense product!
- Use essential oils in your soap or balm to give your products a smell you enjoy.
can you use rendered lard for soap making?
Rendered pork fat is called lard. I use my lard for making biscuits, pie crusts and frying. I have heard that people do use lard for soap making, but I haven’t tried it.
How to make tallow soap?
Tallow soap is similar to making any fat based lye soap. Once you understand how saponification works using different fats is easy to experiment with. There are many great recipes and soap calculators available online.
I am just starting out, this is the first year of making soup in my home. I will report back with more info on soap when I have experimented and done more hands on studying.
How to make tallow balm?
I love making tallow balm. Tallow balm has been my only lotion for about 3 years now. I first bought my tallow balm from Toup’s and Co. Shortly after I started making it. If you can make frosting, you can make a great whipped tallow balm.
All I use to make my tallow balm is grass fed beef tallow, olive oil and sometimes essential oils. I promise I’ll be back with another post soon to share how I make tallow balm at home.
Why use tallow in skin care products?
- Tallow is natural
- Using tallow allows you to use the whole animal and not make waste.
- Tallow is nourishing for your skin (more here)
- Tallow is gentle on sensitive skin.
controversy with tallow as skin care
For some reason there has been some kind of media campaign against using tallow as skin care. Dermatologist interviewed in news pieces saying this “TikTok Trend” is bad or even dangerous! (See this article)
This is laughable, because regardless of if tallow is trending on TikTok, it has been used in cooking, soap making and body care since before recorded human history. It’s concerning to think someone who questions it’s safety because there hasn’t been official studies done, but recommend using chemicals that have been tested and are shown to have bad effects.
My recommendation? You do you, buddy. Do a little research and experiment for yourself and decide what you want to put on your skin. Don’t let me or any “expert” tell you what’s right, figure it out for yourself.
More great sources for tips on rendering animal fats”
- This article on The Weston A. Price Foundation’s blog
- This blog has a ton of great info on rendering and has a strong opinion on the topic of purifying.
- This blog has spent a lot of time sharing recipes for different tallow body products and is a great resource when getting started.