Tallow vs Lard: Chewing the Fat Over these Cooking Fats

August 26, 2022

The main differences between tallow and lard are their sources, taste, smoking points, how they are used, and more!

Growing up in the South, I learned all about tallow and lard and how to use these ingredients in cooking. Now that they are becoming popular once more, I found that people are quite curious about these components.

In this post, I will discuss the differences between tallow vs. lard and show you how to make each type of cooking fat. Let's begin!

Tallow vs Lard

What is Tallow?

Tallow is a rendered fat that is prepared from animal fats. It is often used as a cooking oil or fat.

It has a waxy texture that is similar to that of butter or even coconut oil. Due to this, it can be used as a substitute for these ingredients.

pork fat and vegetables

What is Lard?

If you have ever seen a recipe for old fashioned pie crusts or biscuits, it is quite likely that you have heard of lard.

It is a cooking fat that is made from melted animal fats. Now, there are different types of lard - rendered lard, leaf lard, and processed lard.

With rendered lard, the only processing that this animal fat has gone through is melting and filtering. It is white and quite creamy. Rendered fat may have a mild or neutral taste to it.

Leaf lard is considered to be a high quality lard. It is taken from the fat around the kidneys. This fat has a leaf shape, hence why it is called leaf lard. This fat has virtually no taste or odor and has a creamy texture.

As the name might suggest, processed lard is the most heavily processed type. It has been melted, filtered, and then hydrogenated. As a result, it is quite shelf stable which is why you are likely to find it in grocery stores.

What are the Differences Between Tallow and Lard?

Let's take a look at tallow vs. lard to discover how they differ from one another:

The Sources

Perhaps the main difference between tallow and lard is that they are typically derived from different animals.

Lard is made from pig fat or pork fat. Tallow, on the other hand, can be made from a few different animals but it is typically made from beef fat.

The Flavor

One of the reasons that lard is so commonly used for pie crusts and other foods is because it has virtually no flavor of its own. As I mentioned, this does depend on the type of rendered pork fat.

On average, though, rendered pig fat will add very little flavor to the dish that it is used in. This allows you to use it in a wider variety of food.

Tallow, however, does have more of a flavor to it. The flavor isn't necessarily overly strong but there is a notable beef taste to it. Due to this, you will almost always know when beef tallow is used.

The Smoke Points

It is important to understand the smoking points of both beef fat and lard. These points refer to the temperature at which the oil starts burning or smoking.

Understanding these numbers will give you a better idea of how each type of fat can be used for cooking.

Beef tallow has the higher smoking point at 400°F, which is similar to vegetable oil, while lard has a smoke point of 370°F, closer to that of duck fat.

On the surface, it may not seem as there is all that much difference between tallow vs. lard smoke points.

However, in terms of real world cooking uses, these smoke points do change how each type of fat can be used.

sandwiches with lard

The Uses

Technically, you can use lard, tallow, and butter in similar ways. That is to say that both lard and tallow can be used for sautéing and frying foods due to their smoke points.

You are most likely to use lard for baked goods. As it has a higher melting point than butter, lard is able to ensure that various baked goods end up crispier, flakier, and even fluffier.

Beef fat or tallow, though, is most likely to be used for frying. This has to do with the fact that this fat has a rather strong flavor to it. Therefore, you would typically used beef fat in dishes that already contain beef.

Due to its higher smoke point you can technically use tallow for deep frying. Its strong flavoring makes it unlikely that you will use it for anything outside of deep fried beef dishes.

What is interesting about tallow, though, is that it isn't just used for food. It can be used for candles, soap making, bio fuel, lubricant, and even skincare.

Popularity

In terms of popularity, is there a winner between tallow vs. lard?

At one point, both tallow and lard were quite popular. These two fats have been used in kitchens for centuries.

Once vegetable oil and olive oil were introduced, however, tallow became less popular. Lard continued to be rather popular, particularly when it came to baking.

For a while there, lard was largely discontinued due to health concerns. It does appear to be making a comeback in many places nonetheless.

Lard is a lot easier to find as well - you can usually find it in a grocery store. Beef fat, on the other hand, isn't as readily available. You will most likely need to get it from a local or specialized butcher.

Health

The main thing to keep in mind about both tallow and lard is that they are forms of saturated fat. Due to this, it is important to limit your intake of either type or risk various heart issues.

When it comes to health in general, though, do either tallow or lard have any health benefits? Is one better than the other or are they both equally unhealthy?

The main benefit of lard is that it is pure fat - that is to say, there are no other ingredients or components. It is completely natural and contains no trans fat at all.

It is, however, very high in cholesterol and calories. As long as you use it in moderation, it can be a good substitute for butter.

pork fat areas

Now, there hasn't been quite as much research done on tallow. That being said, it does appear that tallow can improve the potency of a component known as conjugated linoleic acid.

Research has shown that conjugated linoleic acid can help to reduce the presence and metastasis of tumors. Thus, increasing the abilities of this compound can help you to stay healthier.

When used as a cooking fat, beef tallow can make it easier for your body to absorb fat soluble vitamins.

As it is an animal fat, though, it is important for you to limit how much tallow you add to your food.

You should typically use vegetable oils for most dishes and use lard and tallow only occasionally.

Can I Substitute Lard for Tallow?

Technically, you can use lard instead of tallow.

Lard will work well if you use it as a cooking oil instead of tallow. However, you will not be able to use it for deep frying as the smoke point is lower.

On the upside, using lard instead of tallow means that your food will have little to no added taste.

How to Make Lard?

Here is how to make lard from raw fat from pigs:

Quality of Fat

The first piece of advice that I want to give you here is to always choose fat from pasture raised pigs. This makes all the difference when it comes to nutrition, taste, and texture.

See, the fat in the pigs tends to store all sorts of things like chemicals and by products. In turn, when you render the fat and use it in your food, you will be consuming such components.

On average, commercial pigs tend to have a higher quantity of these components. Thus, choose pasture raised pigs to stay on the safe side.

Type of Fat

If you want a fat that is tasteless, odorless, and is as healthy as possible then go with leaf fat. This kind of fat is also great if you are looking for fat to use in pie crust and pastries.

If you would prefer cooking fats for frying or sautéing and don't mind some pork flavor then go with fatback.

Making Lard

Chop the solid fat into tiny pieces - the finer they are, the better.

Place the fat in a heavy pot and set on the stove. Set the heat to low heat and let the pork cook.

Make sure to leave the lid off as you want any moisture in the meat to evaporate. This prevents the lard from going bad later on.

The cooking portion of this process is going to take several hours but keep a close eye on the fat all the same.

Initially, the fat pieces will be at the top of the liquid but it will then sink and rise again. Once it has risen again, it is ready.

Another sign that it is time to take the fat off the heat is when the pork pieces begin to crackle.

Be very careful when taking the next steps as you are dealing with hot oil.

sliced meat on a chopping board

Place a sieve over a large, glass bowl. Then, slowly pour the pork and the oil through the sieve.

You don't have to throw the pork pieces away - you can fry them until golden and then eat as a snack.

As for the liquid, layer three sections of cheesecloth and place this in a bowl. Pour the oil through the cheesecloth.

Give the liquid time to pass through. Discard any sediment that remains.

Pour this liquid into an airtight glass container and let it cool and set. When it is ready, it will be firm and a solid white color.

Despite being quite shelf stable, it is best to keep the lard refrigerated. This almost completely removes the possibility of the lard going rancid. In turn, you will be able to store the lard for up to 6 months at a time.

How to Make Tallow?

Here is a guide on making beef tallow:

Finding the Fat

If you are only making a small amount of tallow, then you can use beef trimmings from the cuts that you bring home.

Otherwise, go to your local butcher and ask for a sufficient quantity of trimmings. It is best to get trimmings from grass fed beef so that you get a healthier tallow.

Making Tallow

Check the beef trimmings to ensure that there isn't any meat stuck to it. If there is, use a sharp knife to slice these sections away.

Then, chop up the trimmings into fine pieces. You can also put the trimmings in a food processor but make sure not to pulverize them too much.

Place the fat in a large stove and turn the heat onto low. Let the meat cook for 4 hours on low heat. Stir the pot every 30 minutes.

While there will be bubbles as the fat is rendering, the fat and the liquid should not boil. If you notice it starting to boil, lower the heat even further.

The fat will be completely rendered when all the white pieces of fat have liquified and only brown pieces of crackling remain.

First pass the tallow through a sieve placed over a glass bowl.

Then place three layers of cheesecloth in another glass bowl and strain the liquid again. Throw away any sediment.

Transfer the liquid to an airtight glass container and let cool. Then, refrigerate so that it will keep for up to a year.

Wrapping It Up

If you have ever been curious about tallow vs. lard, you can find all of your answers here! Now you will know exactly how to use each kind of fat in your cooking.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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