Beef tallow is a form of rendered fat that is shelf-stable and has a high smoke point. Tallow was once an important product to households all over the Western world. It was used to make shaving cream, candles, and it was easily accessible to all but the poorest people for cooking oil. Since World War II, tallow has fallen out of favor, being replaced by vegetable oils and synthetic compounds in many of its traditional uses.
Today, the increasing movement of average people seeking clean, pure, and natural ingredients has lead to a resurgence in the popularity of tallow. Making tallow at home is easy and it's a great way to use parts of an animal that otherwise would go to waste. We are going to tell you everything you need to know about using tallow in your cooking, how to make and store tallow at home, and whether tallow is a healthy alternative for your family.
The Benefits of Beef Tallow
Tallow fell out of favor in large part due to its over-use by the U.S. Navy during World War II. The Navy used tallow to lubricate the massive steam engines powering virtually all ships of the era, and they eventually depleted the stock. Tallow became more rare and expensive at about the same time that vegetable oils made from rapeseed hit the market. Scientific understanding of healthy foods led many researchers in the 1970s to conclude that saturated fats (i.e. tallow) were unhealthy, and led to the popularity of cooking with vegetable oils.
These days, we have a much better understanding of how various oils affect our health. As it turns out, many of the vegetable oils we rely on are high in polyunsaturated fats, which break down into free radicals when used for cooking. Free radicals can lead to inflammation and a whole host of other health problems. Our scientific understanding of cooking oils today indicates that beef tallow may be far healthier and safer to use in cooking over vegetable oils.
Some of the benefits of cooking with beef tallow include:
- Beef tallow is high in vitamins including A, D, K, E, and B1.
- Nutrients in tallow are easily absorbed by your body.
- Tallow is high in the natural anti-oxidant conjugated linoleic acid that can reduce inflammation.
- Tallow contains palmitoleic acid which can aid in fighting off infections.
- It's a good source of choline which supports healthy nervous system function.
- Unsaturated fats like tallow can increase the body's fat-burning reaction to aid in weight loss.
- Beef tallow adds a savory and delicious flavor to the foods you cook with it.
Why You Should Be Cooking with Tallow Fat
Now that you know some of the main health benefits of using tallow in your kitchen, let's get into a couple of reasons you really should be cooking with tallow. Rendered beef tallow has a very high smoke point of around 400 degrees. That makes tallow an ideal fat to fry just about anything in. Since you can get the oil really hot, you'll get better crispiness and you won't have to worry about gross burnt oil flavors ruining your meal. You'll even end up with healthier fried foods than if you were to use vegetable oil for frying.
Speaking of flavor, beef tallow provides the most intoxicatingly delicious savory flavor to fried foods and baked goods. We love to fry stuff, and beef tallow is the go-to for chicken fried steak, beer-batter onion rings, wings, and any other fried meat or vegetables we have on hand. It's a particularly great way to make sautéed leafy greens with garlic, and it adds depth and dimension to biscuits that'll take you back to the old days.
Beef tallow is also shelf-stable and will keep for a very long time as long as it's kept in an air-tight container. At room temperature, tallow is a little harder than butter, so it's easy to work with, measure, and keep on hand. Many grocery stores are carrying tallow these days as people look for healthier ways to prepare foods and eliminate unnecessary ingredients from their diet.
The Difference Between Tallow and Lard
The basic difference is that tallow comes from beef and other ruminants, while lard is produced from rendered pork fat. Lard and tallow are both rendered fats and they can largely be used interchangeably. Lard has a slightly lower smoke point of around 374 degrees, compared to tallows 400-degree smoke point. But the biggest difference is in flavor. Lard has a neutral flavor that works well in baked goods that have a sweet flavor, while beef tallow provides a savory, meaty flavor.
How to Make Beef Tallow at Home
Just like back in the day, making beef tallow at home is really easy. The process requires only a few tools–all of which you may already have on hand. If not, the tools you need are inexpensive and easy to find in stores or online.
- The first thing you need is a large stockpot. You probably already have one, but if not, any 16 quart or larger stockpot will work perfectly for rendering beef fat into tallow.
- A fine mesh strainer. This can be stainless steel, plastic, or whatever you prefer. We like to use a stainless strainer that sits well on our stacking stainless steel mixing bowls.
- At least two large bowls. You'll need to strain the bits and chunks from the rendering into something, and we like to use stainless steel bowls for the process because they are easy to clean and don't hold flavors.
- A strong, long-handled spoon for stirring the pot without burning yourself.
- Fine mesh cheesecloth. In a pinch, you can use a coffee filter, but it's just so much easier to pick up cheesecloth on Amazon or at your local store.
- A sturdy funnel for transferring to jars.
- Wide mouth canning jars large enough or numerous enough to hold all of your tallow.
That's about all the tools you will need to make beef tallow at home. The next thing is to source high-quality beef fat. We're lucky because we trim tons of fat from grass-fed beef carcasses that makes delicious beef tallow. At home, you can save the trimmings from briskets, steaks, and tri-tips in your freezer until you are ready. The absolute best fat for making tallow is called beef suet. Suet is the hard fat found around the kidneys and loins of cattle and other ruminant mammals. Ask your butcher for suet, there is a good chance you'll get a great deal.
Make Tallow in Your Kitchen
Making tallow is a simple process but you'll need to follow certain steps to avoid ruining the final product. The best advice you'll ever get is to take your time. Rushing the process will give you off-flavors and an impure final product. Low and slow is going to be the way to go. Plan ahead and make sure you have plenty of time to finish the job without rushing it.
Place all of your fat trimmings in the stockpot and set the burner to very low. Monitor the fat closely as the temperature increases. The fat will begin to liquefy as the heat builds, but you don't want it to boil. If you start to see signs of boiling, stir the fat carefully. As the fat renders, it will separate from bits of meat and bone. When all of the fat is liquid, it's time to strain the tallow.
Place a strainer over a large bowl and carefully pour the tallow through the mesh. This takes out the larger chunks of meat and bone, and any parts that didn't render. You can simply discard the waste in the strainer.
You'll need to do a final straining step to get your tallow clean and free of contaminants. Our favorite way to do this is to place fine cheesecloth over the top of a wide funnel. We get our canning jars ready, then pass the tallow through the cheesecloth. You'll want to do this while the rendered fat is hot. As it cools, it'll thicken, making it much more difficult to pass through the filter. If your tallow starts to cool, just slowly heat it up again on low heat. Don't rush this step, it's where a lot of failures can happen. Low and slow is the way to go when you are making tallow.
Finishing Your Tallow
Once your liquid tallow is in the jars, you can put lids on them and let the jars cool on the counter. Tallow will turn white and become solid when it cools. The cooling tallow will also seal the lid of the canning jar, ensuring the long-term stability of the tallow. You can use the tallow at this point for cooking or baking, and it will keep for at least three months on the shelf.
Level Up Your Frying and Cooking with Beef Tallow
Making tallow at home is a fantastic way to limit the amount of waste from a butchered animal and it makes a wonderful cooking medium. We always try and find ways to use every part of an animal and waste as little as possible. You already know we like to make bone broth, but making tallow is one of the best ways to also gain delicious oil for frying and cooking. We love to use tallow in recipes, and we also use it to season cast-iron pans, griddles, and BBQ grates.
You'll find that making tallow at home from high-quality grass fed beef fat will give you and your family a healthier and more nutritious oil for your family meals.
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