If you've been reading this blog for a while, you've probably seen my first experience with rendering poultry fat. After that success, I figured I was ready to tackle the big leagues. Target number two – beef tallow from our quarter of grass fed beef. First off, the butcher was surprised we wanted it, then doubly surprised when I said I was going to eat it myself instead of feeding it to the birds. Not everyone has caught on to the benefits of beefy goodness. “How much do you want?” said they. “Quite a bit” said I. I ended up with two rather large bags of the stuff, probably roughly equivalent to two five gallon buckets full. Here's one of them, next to a quart jar of peaches for scale.
Tallow is a little different than poultry fat. Most of the references I found said it's best to process it frozen, because as it thaws it sticks to EVERYTHING. They were not kidding. It's rather strange stuff. When frozen and unrefined, the fat is very hard and the connective tissue crinkles like cellophane. As it melts, it becomes almost glue-like. I started hacking it into smaller chunks, planning to load the pieces into a hand-crank grinder like my mother had used when I was growing up.
There was a LOT of tallow, so the children were drafted to help.
“Mom, does this really count as “Domestic Arts”?”
I put the grinder together and was ready to roll, but dagnabbit! All the countertops and tables in the house were too wide to clamp the grinder on to them. What to do? I turned to my food processor, hoping it was up to the task. Alas, it made it through one pot of tallow, and then it turned no more. It was 15 years old and had been shedding strange black bits recently, so I suspected it was only a matter or time. Still, this left me with no easy way to cut the tallow into small bits. “Small bits” are recommended, because they will render faster and more evenly, so you're not getting some parts burning while other parts are only half-cooked.
Here's pot number one, all pink and fluffy looking.
Here it is after it's started to melt down.
I admit, this was a little gruesome, hot and gelatinous like some creepy critters innards.
When the food processor died, I was only about a third of the way through the tallow, and this was a mess I didn't want to make twice. Thankfully, a quick call to a friend and I was able to borrow their meat grinder – saved! (Said friend also asked foolish me why I hadn't had the butcher grind the tallow for me. I had asked if they would render it, and they said no, so I honestly didn't think to ask for grinding. Next time – absolutely!)
We chopped and we ground and we chopped and we ground, and I filled two 12 quart pots full plus a big roaster. I think rendering on the stove top and in the oven went equally well, although the pot from the stove top was easier to clean. Once I got the fat cooked down to clear liquid and brown bits, I strained it through a metal strainer and let it cool in glass or metal containers. This liquid is stunningly hot, so use something sturdy on a heat proof surface. Here we have the roaster with bits and the kettle with almost done bits.
After the tallow has cooled a bit, it can be poured into food grade buckets for long term storage in the freezer. I used two gallon buckets I had saved from coconut oil and a couple other freezer containers. Here's what I ended up with before repackaging.
The tallow gets REALLY hard as it cools – significantly harder than lard or coconut oil – and the clearer it is the harder it is. (We did some finger poking into different batches.) This was really a pain in the backside to do, to be honest. When the tallow was frozen, it was hard as a rock. As it started to melt, it gummed up every surface – knives, grinder, bowls – ugh! To clean it required either extremely hot water and lots of soap, or lots of elbow grease. I used a fair number of paper towels on clean up, as I was leery of clogging my pipes up with tallow fallout. The house smelled beef for around three days, even with running the stove vent. It was mid-winter so I couldn't easily air out the house. If I had started with ground tallow it would have be so much easier, but I guess one has to live and learn.
We did end up making fries, and they were pretty darn tasty, too.
I was going to take a prettier picture, but we were too busy eating them. 🙂
Beef tallow has a unrefrigerated shelf life of 2-6 months, depending on temperature and degree of impurities. I keep mine in the refrigerator (9-12 months) or freezer (1-2 years) for extended storage.