You scratch my back, I’ll render yours

This weekend at the Memphis Farmers Market, we bought a bunch of pork from Mark and Rita Newman of Newman Farm. I was telling Mark we were planning to make a recipe that uses lard. Mark’s eyes lit up. Then he said the magic words, “Would you like some back fat?”

One minute I’m standing there with a bag so full of pork that I might as well have been holding an entire pig. The next minute I also have a bag filled with 15 pounds of back fat.

back fat

15 pounds of back fatWe made lard once before, using the scraps from our bacon-making experiment. That was on a much smaller scale, though, so this time we decided to consult an expert. We went seeking advice from our friend Lisa, the Homesick Texan.

It turns out that everything ain’t bigger in Texas — or New York City, either. Our Texan only rendered a pound of fat. One measly pound. Still, differences in scope aside, her technique is spot on. If you decide to make your own lard, you can’t do better than Lisa’s method.

Not strawberry ice cream
Not strawberry ice cream
A few things from our point of view. First, you can scale her method up. Add 1/2 cup of water for each pound of lard. Second, a normal-sized stockpot will hold about eight pounds of fat. Third, as Lisa says, a pound of fat renders down to about a pint of lard, meaning that our 15 pounds gave us about two gallons.

Finally, and most interesting to us, is the smell of rendering lard. We don’t get the complaints. To us, the smell is pretty much just like cooking a pork chop. If anything, intensity is going to be the issue. You’re going to be cooking that “pork chop” for a few hours. The smell will fill the entire house. We don’t mind it though — redneck potpourri I suppose.

rendered lard

Freshly rendered lardLard has an undeservedly bad reputation. It isn’t nearly as unhealthy as you might think. For certain recipes, lard is the only way to go. And making your own lard is both easy and satisfying.

In addition to the normal caveats like “Don’t burn yourself.”, I would add, “Know where your fat comes from.” These days, there are great options for pork raised in a healthy and humane way, including the Newmans. Next time they are in town, just ask them. Or drop them a line. The difference good pork can make is tremendous.

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