Chances are, making lard at home is not something your mother did growing up. Well, at least if you’re my age.
Nor do I think my grandparents cooked with it much either. In fact, I asked my father recently if my grandmother used lard when he was growing up and he said, “You mean Crisco? Yeah, she used a lot of that.”
Lard was quickly disappearing from most American households following World War II due to many reasons – the increasing reliance on supermarkets as our primary food source, competition from other fats and oils, clever marketing from the vegetable oil industry, and increasing health concerns over the use of traditional animal fats.
By the time my generation was growing up in the 1980s and 90s, lard had become an almost unspeakable four-letter word. To this day, just uttering the word lard evokes thoughts of obesity and clogged arteries.
However, as the dust settles on our massive industrial food experiment, the truth is slowly revealing itself. And what we are learning is that the true cause of heart disease and obesity has nothing to do with traditional fats and everything to do with processed foods and processed fats like corn, cottonseed, canola oil, and soybean oil.
I refer to those four fats as the “quadruple bypass” not only due to their association with heart disease but also because anytime you see them on a label, bypass them!
Crisco, by the way, is a vegetable shortening made from hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oils contain trans fats which have been proven to raise LDL, the bad cholesterol associated with heart disease.
If you are new to this perspective, I’d recommend checking out The Oiling of America which details why traditional fats like lard went out of fashion and why the vegetable oil industry took over.
However, the good news is that slowly but surely, traditional fats are coming back into fashion. Margarine sales are rapidly declining. The FDA has finally banned trans fats. Butter is back. Coconut oil sales have skyrocketed.
Lard? Well, not so much.
In fact, lard has so thoroughly disappeared from our kitchens and supermarkets that you may not even know it is! That’s OK. I didn’t know until several years ago either.
And now I make it myself. Go figure.
Lard is pork fat. There are two types you can get for making lard. Leaf lard and back fat. Leaf lard is the fat around the kidneys and is considered the best type of fat for making lard. It has a very neutral flavor and is ideal for baking purposes. The back fat is also acceptable though some say it renders a stronger pork flavor.
Though I’ve seen some duck fat and some strange hydrogenated lard (don’t buy that!) products, I’ve never seen a truly good quality source in stores… yet. I say “yet” because, with the resurgence in traditional fats like butter and coconut oil, I think it’s only a matter of time.
2023 Update: After many years, I have recently updated this post. And sure enough, there is now a really great product in stores.
Fatworks, a company that produces outstanding quality traditional animal fats, has two types of lard available. I’ve seen both in my local health food stores, including Whole Foods. You can also find them on Amazon.
Fatworks Pork Lard comes from pasture-raised sources. It’s an excellent cooking oil as it’s heat stable and non-hydrogenated.
Fatworks Leaf Lard also comes from pasture-raised sources. It can also be used as a cooking oil but is also excellent for baking purposes.
There may also be some artisanal, locally-made lard products in stores near you.
Another option is, of course, to make it yourself!
Local farmers who are raising pastured pigs will likely have pig fat available. You can check out the website www.eatwild.com to find farmers in your area that are raising their animals on pasture. You might even just ask your local butcher too.
I paid five dollars for a pound of pig fat from a local farm and rendered that into about twelve ounces. Before I show you how to do it, let’s just consider some additional reasons WHY you should make it.
This is perhaps its biggest health benefit. In fact, it’s one of the best food sources of vitamin D. Lard from pastured pigs contains anywhere from 500 – 1000 IU of vitamin D per tablespoon based on the pig’s diet and exposure to sunlight. This is why finding lard from pastured pigs is essential (see #5 below).
The conventional viewpoint says to emphasize monounsaturated fats for heart health. “But isn’t lard an animal fat and thus saturated?” you say. Nope. Lard is actually classified as monounsaturated fat. Yes, it’s true. It’s about 48% monounsaturated fat, 40% saturated fat, and 12% polyunsaturated fat. This is probably the least-known health benefit of lard.
As you can see from the ratios above, lard also contains saturated fat. And cholesterol. Gasp! This is probably the biggest reason everyone says not to eat lard.
Well, contrary to popular belief, heart disease is NOT caused by saturated fat and cholesterol. In fact, saturated fat and cholesterol from healthy sources can PREVENT heart disease. If you want a simple understanding of the underlying cause of heart disease, this heart surgeon explains it well.
Before we were all conditioned to believe lard is unhealthy, it was used for centuries as a cooking fat because it’s very stable at high heat. Your grandmother probably used it liberally.
Unlike more saturated fats like tallow and coconut oil, lard’s combination of monounsaturated and saturated fats makes it a perfect fat for baking as it gives things like pie crusts, cookies, biscuits, and pastries a very light, flaky, and soft texture.
But lard also has a high smoke point too (about 370 degrees Fahrenheit) and is thus excellent for frying as well.
This is perhaps its most important health benefit because it impacts environmental health too. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get good quality lard in stores. You have to seek out a good source of pig fat and render it yourself. Before you roll your eyes about that (though you probably did already), consider #6 and #7 below.
And because you have to source it from local farms, lard leaves less of a carbon footprint than more popular cooking fats like coconut oil and olive oil. I don’t know about you but there are no coconut or olive trees where I live. Lots of farmers raising pigs though.
I paid $5 for about a pound or two of leaf lard at my local farmers’ market and rendered that into about 12 ounces.
Compare that to a bottle of good quality, first-pressed extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil at your local health food store.
All you need is some pig fat and a pot. Really, that’s it.
Here’s my piece of back fat that I got from my local farmers’ market.
About one inch by one inch, like so…
The baking soda will ensure the lard turns a nice white color.
Stir every 30 minutes or so. The fat will slowly start to melt.
This is about 10 to 15 minutes later…
If you’re working with a larger batch, this will take more like 3 to 4 hours. Be careful not to boil or cook at too high a heat otherwise, the fat will burn.
You could also use a crockpot if your stove’s lowest setting is too high to ensure a very slow simmer. Put a lid on but leave it slightly ajar to allow water to escape.
The fat will then start to turn brown and browned bits of fat (cracklings) will rise to the surface. This is your signal that it’s done. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes
Transfer to mason jars. The cracklings can be salted and saved as a tasty treat!
The liquid lard will appear golden brown in color, like so…
The golden brown color will fade to white and the liquid to a solid but creamy texture…
Of course, once you make lard you’ll need to use it! If you want some cool ideas, check out Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.
It is the only book I’ve ever found devoted just to cooking with lard!
Have you ever made lard before? Any tips or suggestions you’d like to add? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Making lard is as simple as cooking pig fat over low heat, straining it, and cooling it. That's it!
Cut the fat into small cubes
Place cubes into a stockpot and mix in a half tablespoon of baking soda
Turn heat to the lowest setting and simmer gently for 1-2 hours. Stir every 30 minutes or so. The fat will slowly start to melt. The fat will then start to turn brown and browned bits of fat (cracklings) will rise to the surface. This is your signal that it’s done. Remove from heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes.
Cover a strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and strain out the lard into a glass bowl or container.
Let the lard cool for 10-15 minutes and transfer to the fridge. The golden brown color will fade to white and the liquid to a solid but creamy texture.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.