Tallow is to beef what lard is to pork. Many are familiar with lard, but unless you've looked into whole natural fats, you've likely not heard of tallow. Tallow is rendered from suet. Suet is the solid raw fat surrounding the heart and kidneys in animals like beef and mutton. Tallow is not only used for high-heat cooking like frying, but also in pastries, candles, lotions, and soaps. The word "rendering" means a slow melting process to extract the pure fat from any connective tissue. Saving drippings, while a great idea, isn't the same at rendering tallow or lard. Pure tallow is shelf-stable and will keep tightly covered at room-temperature without becoming rancid. If you won't be using it up within a couple of months, it's a good idea to put it in the refrigerator. Tallow will keep indefinitely in the freezer.
Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap throughout the last century. They've been falsely blamed for causing cardiovascular and heart diseases. The result of these accusations are market shelves filled with industrially produced vegetable oils made through complex chemical processing. These oils are often oxidized, even prior to high-heat exposure, releasing free-radicals into the body. Free-radicals damage cells... you can see where this is heading. Industrially produced vegetable oils are BAD for your body!
The war against saturated animal fats like tallow and lard began in the early 1900's when then candle makers, Proctor & Gamble, faced competition from the newly invented light bulb. They owned growingly less-profitable cottonseed oil factories. The discovery of hydrogenation allowed them to turn that oil into a product that looked and behaved like lard. The company launched a savvy marketing campaign for their new product, Crisco, effectively killing the lard industry in America and altering perceptions of what's healthy. In 1955, doctors began blaming all saturated animal fats for clogged arteries and heart disease based solely on the lipid theory of researcher Ancel Keys and his flawed Seven Countries Study.
In 1990, due to pressures from both misinformed health care communities and oil producers, McDonald's switched from beef tallow to vegetable oil in their fryers. If only they would switch back! Natural tallow, along with lard, are by far the healthier options for high-heat cooking. As the tides begin to turn regarding saturated fats, more and more people are learning about the many benefits like improved cellular structure, stronger bones, protection against heart disease, and enhanced immune system among several others.
Now that you know more about the truth and importance of natural saturated fats, let's make some tallow! I bought my suet from the farm store at Tyner Pond Farm, and it's now being offered in their online shop. I was impressed with the quality of their suet. It was nice and clean with very little meat, arteries, and connective tissue. This made for a cleaner smelling tallow that only needed a single processing. Tallow rendered from poor quality suet, as found in factory farmed animals, or still with lots of non-fat tissue, can have a distinctive smell that some find unpleasant. Subsequent heating and filtering help to reduce that odor.
The only ingredient is high-quality suet from grass-fed or pasture-raised cows. I've found that roughly two pounds of suet renders approximately 22 ounces of tallow
1. Clean your suet. Using a knife, cut away any meat or arteries that may still be attached. Then, with your hands, pull any connective tissue away from the suet. Taking just a few minutes to do this makes chopping a bit easier and will keep your tallow cleaner during rendering. The thin membranes to pull away will be obvious. Remember, you're not looking for perfection here. The membranes that hold the suet together are all throughout, so it's impossible to remove all of it by hand. The majority of it will be released during processing.
**Don't throw these trimmings away. Seal them up and keep in the fridge. If you're planning to brown a roast or pan-fry something, toss your trimmings into a skillet on medium-low heat and render the remaining fat. Remove and discard any connective tissue (my dog loves it!) and use the remaining melted fat.
2. Cut your suet into small pieces. The more surface area, the faster and more efficiently the tallow will render. The first time I made tallow, I cut it up by hand with a knife. Ouch! Suet is hard and that was a lot of work. My little hands were throbbing! Now, I use the large shredder blade on my food processor. Cut suet into sections just small enough to feed through the processor. This step takes some patience. As you go, you'll be pulling out more rubbery connective tissue that doesn't want to go through the shredder (add this to the pile you cut away in step one). You'll want to occasionally remove the lid and scrape away the creamed suet that builds up. You can also cut into large cubes and pulse it in the food processor.
**Remember - you are working with raw beef product. Wash hands and surfaces well after working with the suet.
3. A slow-cooker on low is the set-and-forget method I prefer. Add diced/shredded suet and melt about 2-3 hours until fully rendered. More or less time depending on how fine your suet is chopped and how big your batch. You can also render tallow on the stove top set to low heat, stirring every 20-30 minutes for several hours. The oven set at 250° is the longest method, but also works well. If you're concerned about the odor that comes with rendering tallow, the oven works best to contain the aroma.
4. Once the tallow is fully rendered, you'll be left with "cracklins" sitting atop the melted fat. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to skim off the top.
5. Using a cheesecloth to line a mesh strainer, filter your tallow to remove any particles. Pour into a clean glass jar and store in a cool dark place or in the refrigerator.
It's that easy! Cost-wise, a 16 oz. jar of home rendered beef tallow comes out to the exact same price as a 16 oz. can of Crisco! That's a HUGE nutritional increase without paying more.
Check out the links below for some other great DIY projects for using beef tallow.
Candles - http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/01/tallow-emergency-candles.html
Soaps - http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/01/tallow-emergency-candles.html
Skin Balm - http://www.humblebeeandme.com/tallow-balm-for-mature-skin/