What’s So Bad About lard?

rendering lard

For most of the twentieth century, people believed that lard was indigestible and unhealthy. They mistakenly believed that eating foods that contained cholesterol would raise your cholesterol, which would lead to heart disease. We now know that all the above is incorrect. Lard is actually good for you because it is a monounsaturated fat like olive oil. It contains about 50 percent monounsaturated fat. Only olive oil at 73 percent and canola oil at 60 percent have more monounsaturated fat. However, lard is a better option than canola oil because canola has 24 percent omega-6, and most Americans are eating five to ten times more omega-6 fats than they need. In fact, omega-6 fats are one of the real culprits in inflammatory conditions, which are at the root of just about every illness from heart disease to cancer and autoimmune diseases. Lard and olive oil both contain only 10 percent omega-6. I can’t grow olive trees in Illinois, but I can raise pigs and have my own homegrown cooking fat.

Why did lard get such a bad reputation? Part of it was because the new shortening companies wanted to sell their product, so they made bogus claims, such as stating their product was more “digestible” than lard. Current science tells us that the exact opposite is true. Shortening is made with hydrogenated oils, and because they’re made in a lab, rather than in nature, our bodies have no idea what to do with them. Hydrogenated oils contain trans-fats, which are responsible for negative health outcomes, such as causing our blood sugar to go up, our LDL cholesterol to increase, and our HDL cholesterol to decrease.

The process of hydrogenation was another reason that lard, which had been eaten for millennia, was suddenly unhealthy. Because hydrogenation makes fats shelf-stable for many months, industry started hydrogenating lard, as well as vegetable oils and coconut oil. In fact, most of the lard you find in the grocery store today is hydrogenated, which is why you usually must render your own lard, if you want the healthy version.

Lard also became less healthy as pigs were moved into buildings. When pigs live outdoors, they are vitamin D machines, and their fat contains this vitamin, in which many Americans are now deficient. If pigs and other animals are raised indoors without sunlight, they will be deficient in vitamin D. This means you either need to raise your own hogs outdoors or buy from a farm where the hogs are raised outdoors.

render lard

Rendering Lard

The concept of rendering lard is about as foreign to most Americans as making their own cheese or soap. But like most of those old skills, it is easily learned. There are many ways to render lard, which simply means melting the fat, but they all fall into the category of either dry rendering or wet rendering. I started out dry rendering and never looked back because it’s so easy.

To dry render lard, you simply put it into a pot and melt it. You can put it in a slow cooker on low heat or in a Dutch oven, covered, that is placed in a 250-degree oven. In either case, it will probably take between two to four hours to melt. I had woefully inadequate instructions the first time I did it, and I was expecting everything to melt, so I kept checking the fat every hour or two and sticking it back in the oven because there were still some fat chunks floating in the melted fat. This is when I discovered that my oven turns off automatically after 12 hours. Yes, I kept going for that long! Most lard instructions don’t give exact rendering times because it depends on the size of the fat pieces, as well as how much you have. However, it will probably take at least two hours, so you can start checking then. Take note of how much solid fat is left, although it will be more translucent than when you started. When it looks like little has changed between two or three checks, you can assume that no additional fat will be melting.

Most rendering recipes call for straining the fat through cheesecloth. However, that sounds like a nightmare to clean, and you know I’m always looking for an easier way to do everything, so we use a metal sieve. I also wait until the lard has cooled down enough that I can touch the pot comfortably. It sounds like a bad idea to pour 250-degree liquid if you don’t have to. We use wide-mouth, pint canning jars for storage because it’s a pain to try and get the last bit of lard from a quart jar. Rather than sealing with canning lids, we use plastic lids. Because the jars are not sealed, I store one jar in the refrigerator and the others in the freezer.

If you want to store them in the pantry, you can pour the fat when it’s 250 degrees, then put canning lids on the jars, and they will seal as the fat cools down to room temperature. I’ve heard some people say that you must use a water bath canner to can lard, but that’s unnecessary if you pour when the lard is above 212 degrees, which is the boiling temperature of water. Our locker gives us our pig fat frozen in five-pound bags, and I only render one bag at a time, which gives me three to four pints of lard.

This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living, second edition.

Curious about creating oil from seeds and nuts? Check out episode #18 – How to Make Nut and Seed Oil on my Sustainability Book Chat podcast where I interviewed Bevin Cohen who dispels the myth that making oils at home is too challenging or even impossible for your average person.

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17 thoughts on “What’s So Bad About lard?”

  1. We recently purchased picked up our butchered pastured pig from a neighbors farm. This is such a timely post because I asked for the fat but had no idea how to prepare it!

    Do you render all the lard together or do you do something special with the “leaf” fat to be used for baked goods? Thanks,

  2. I will have lots of pork fat to render very soon as my pig is at the slaughter house now. Since not doing this myself, is there a way to tell the “leaf” fat from other fats?

        • The leaf fat is supposedly whiter, but I’ve never paid attention to it. It’s famous for using in pie crusts, which I don’t make. There’s nothing wrong with rendering all of the fat together. That’s what I do. You can always ask them to separate it out next time if you can’t figure out which part is the leaf fat now.

    • Oils are actually a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats, but most get their reputation from whichever is in the greatest percentage. Lard is about 50% monounsaturated, 10% polyunsaturated, and 40% saturated. Lard really got a bad reputation when they started hydrogenating it, which means they turned it into a transfat, which is the one that is really bad for you. So, do NOT buy the lard in the store because it’s been hydrogenated like shortening. No one should be eating any transfats at all.

  3. I do not raise pigs but would love to use lard that is non hydrogenated and from pasture raised pigs. Is there any place/website/brand of lard that you would consider buying? thanks!

    • Epic is a brand that sells meat, as well as lard and even duck fat, from pasture raised animals. You can find them at Whole Foods and other health food stores. It’s expensive. You might also check LocalHarvest.org to see if there is a farmer near you that raises pastured pork, so you could buy a whole hog or half hog. Be sure to ask the processor for the fat, and tell them you want to render your own lard. Some will put all of the fat together and send it to a rendering plant, so if they give you lard back, it’s not going to be from your pig.

  4. We just butchered a steer and I asked for his liver fat. I have 3 big bags in the freezer! Is the procedure for rendering tallow the same? Also, do you happen to know the %’s of fat in tallow? I intend to mainly use it in my homemade goat milk soap, instead of lard.

    • Congratulations! That’s awesome! Yes, you render the tallow just like lard. I have not seen a breakdown of different fats in tallow, probably because it’s not commonly eaten by Americans. If you are going to use it in your soap instead of lard, you can use the lye calculator at Majestic Mountain Sage. It includes tallow, so you can be sure to use the correct amount of lye.

  5. Another reason lard got a bad rap was vegetarian/vegan movements in the 80s and 90s. Many restaurants used lard and beef tallow in their fryers, but vegans began pushing for a switch to plant based oils which are less healthy, adding fuel to the already roaring dumpster fire that is fast foods impact on our health.

    • I haven’t heard that but it makes sense. The first time I made lard, I put in huge chunks, and I still had a lot of chunks after many hours in the oven. In fact, I left it in the oven way too long because I kept expecting them to melt, and they never did. In the future, I cut it up into smaller pieces, and there was a lot less fat left over.

  6. Hi Carie
    For rendered lard, most sources consistently recommend a max of 6-12 months of storage in the fridge or freezer to keep the best consistency.


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