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Dry vs wet rendering

by (3690)
Updated about 16 hours ago
Created August 07, 2010 at 5:33 AM

Since everybody seem to be dry-rendering their animal fat, this is also the way I've been doing it until now. I usually do it in the slow-cooker at low temperature.

Today, I've picked-up an order for some pre-rendered lard from my butcher and I find the taste and smell to be much better than what I rendered in the past. The fat I got today is from the fatback and the one I usually render is leaf lard. I read leaf lard usually has no smell or taste, so this might be an explanation for I bought having a nicer taste.

The one I render myself though as a kind of "brown" smell and taste to it. Like if the cracklings changed the taste and smell of it. When I render tallow that taste is even more pronounced and I can even say I dislike tallow because of it.

I also read on Wikipedia that wet-rendering produces a fat that has a higher smoking point.

With all that said, I'm wondering if either:

  1. I let it render for too long
  2. My crock-pot is still too hot even at low temperature
  3. The "brown" taste and smell are completely normal and don't change the nutritional value
  4. I should give a try to wet-rendering and enjoy a better taste and a higher smoking point

If wet-rendering is the answer, what's to best way to go about doing that? Anybody had experiences similar to mine?

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5136 · May 07, 2011 at 3:50 AM

such a great book, i own it too.

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56616 · December 31, 2010 at 6:32 AM

Shanks, pork butt, spareribs...fatty cuts. Many of the animals I buy are kinda lean so the fat that's there is on those cuts. I am very unscientific, but I just put the cut in the crock pot, and then cover with a mixture of wine, broth, and whatever spices and herbs I feel like. If you want it to turn out well, you should search for wine braised recipes. To get the fat I just leave the braising liquid in the fridge and it rises to the top and solidifies.

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2633 · December 31, 2010 at 6:08 AM

Whole cuts of what? Whole cuts of meat or slabs of fat? Adding wine sounds really interesting though. How much wine?

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3690 · August 07, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Great info. What's the exact technique you use for wet-rendering?

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11 Answers

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15976 · August 07, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Ive done both wet and dry methods. Mostly i stick with wet nowadays because i am usually rendering a larger amount. When you have a pound or more of fat to render i find that the dry heat is not going to penetrate as evenly speedwise, and you may end up with burnt oil andor burnt cracklins as a byproduct. Theyll give you some off flavors I'd say. The water in the wet method just kinda slows everything down and mediates the process i find.

One thing that it might be (and this is wholly from my own experience) is a "dirty" pot. I had a couple burnt-tasting batches of lard a year ago and it turned out that it was the Creuset pot i was using. Wonderful pot but i had just used it soooo much, and hadnt i suppose cleaned it quite well enough. It was giving me off flavors.

ps. While I firmly believe tallow to be among the most healthy fats for us, i too have always found the flavor too aggressive. I stick with duck fat, lard, coconut oil, and butter. I do always kind of worry about the heavy load of omega6s in the duckfat and lard though:/ Oh and i render my duck fat with the dry method, however.

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3690 · August 07, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Great info. What's the exact technique you use for wet-rendering?

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1376 · December 31, 2010 at 5:06 AM

I rendered tallow from instructions from a 1930's french cookbook, La Bonne Cuisine. This procedure used a scant 1/2 c of water per 1 lb raw fat, chopped into 1-2 cm pieces. The water creates steam to help the fat liquify, once it evaporates the rendering begins. Turn the heat way down, and the smell will let you know when it is done. Then strain out the cracklins and you have pure, hot fat, ready to deep fry. This cookbook came out in an English translation published by Ten Speed in 2005 and is a treasure trove of meat and veg cookery.

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5136 · May 07, 2011 at 3:50 AM

such a great book, i own it too.

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56616 · December 31, 2010 at 5:43 AM

I use wet. I get most of mine from cooking whole cuts in wine in a crockpot on low, so the resulting fat is very high-quality. Low temps + antioxidants in wine= good stuff.

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2633 · December 31, 2010 at 6:08 AM

Whole cuts of what? Whole cuts of meat or slabs of fat? Adding wine sounds really interesting though. How much wine?

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56616 · December 31, 2010 at 6:32 AM

Shanks, pork butt, spareribs...fatty cuts. Many of the animals I buy are kinda lean so the fat that's there is on those cuts. I am very unscientific, but I just put the cut in the crock pot, and then cover with a mixture of wine, broth, and whatever spices and herbs I feel like. If you want it to turn out well, you should search for wine braised recipes. To get the fat I just leave the braising liquid in the fridge and it rises to the top and solidifies.

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18671 · August 07, 2010 at 2:11 PM

I haven't tried wet, but I have had a batch that overheated in the crockpot and developed a burned taste. Now I always monitor it closely throughout the process instead of just leaving it overnight. Mine is very mild tasting. I have my eye on a crockpot that has actual temperature settings, instead of just "low" and "high".

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0 · March 13, 2012 at 6:23 PM

[Phase One]

I've never rendered fat before, but I just ran out of freezer space so I had to do something about the two gallons of beef suet I've collected by trimming my own shoulder roasts. I decided that since I really don't know what I'm doing, I'll do some experiments so I have a better idea next time even if this is a complete failure. I went with two crock pot batches of wet-render method and so far I've got five quart-jars of product with probably two more to strain out of the solidifying mass of goop that remains.

I'm getting two different products here, though. There's the creamy white floaty goop I expected, and there's also a huge amount of transparent gelatin that looks like it'll make a decent stock once I run the whole product through a second simmer and strain, after I've completely separated all of the unwanted solids. Each jar has a different amount of each, depending on the amount of time spent boiling already.

I started with a very low heat render but three hours later I still couldn't separate a reasonable amount of liquified fat from the solids, so I turned it up to boil and used an immersion blender to liquefy it completely, and have been adding water to force the floating fat to the top of the crock so I can filter it off. I'm storing the filtrate in mason jars (turned upside down) in the fridge to solidify the product so I can separate the transparent gel from the creamy white floating portion for the second stage of processing.

One batch was completely free of red remnants, while the other one had a nice long strip of meat in it. I know that the meat being in there supposedly produces a heavy earthy flavor in the end product, but I wanted to be scientific about this two stage process. In both batches, there is a roughly equal amount of particulate, and because I went with very high heat and strain there appears to be no difference in the creamy product, but the gelatin in the meaty batch is definitely darker.

[Phase Two]

I've separated the gelatin product from the creamy white product and put each in a separate crock pot for reprocessing. I didn't get any more after the first five quarts of dual product but I did get a pound (roughly one quart) of solid substrate that instead of cracklins I'm going to affectionately label "hotdog batter" due to the results of the immersion wand, and the fact that it's the blandest meat-like product I've ever tasted. Might as well be wet cardboard. Maybe some spices and cheese will make it more food-like.

While mixing together the initial results I did notice that the first draw from the meatless batch of phase one was a much milder smelling and tasting result. Armed with that knowledge, I mixed it together with all the rest because it was only about 20% of the total tallow product anyway and already having the obvious results everyone already knew, I would like to see if this second processing nullifies the "prep mistake batch" impurities. Note, it doesn't matter to me what the results are anyway.

The gelatin product was of varying degrees of hardness depending on when I collected it from the previous phase of the process, earlier collections resulting in harder more solid gelatin. I've also combined all of these gelatin products together for reprocessing separately from the tallow. There were some tiny amounts of accidental contamination with the hotdog batter left over in the gelatin, which have immediately sunk to the bottom of the crockpot. I've decided to simply strain this gelatin and reduce it to a stock-base anyway so that doesn't really matter.

Now that it's separated from the tallow after a night in the fridge, there's not much left to do with it besides add it to a recipe. After straining the final few particles out of the tallow I've put it into mason jars and set it in the fridge to harden. The final results of the second stage of reduction are two pints of unfortunately strong-smelling earthy tallow. However clean the second boil and filter was didn't seem to make much difference in the end results, you absolutely cannot have any meaty or bloody product in the original batch and still get a result that's mild and flavorless. That said, the top layer is milder than the lower one, and the second half of this strain still resulted in some very thick gelatin byproduct, about 10% of the total result, harder than the previous strains by far... as gelatin goes.

[Conclusions]

I think I have pretty well covered what NOT to do (and why) with this experiment, but that said I would stand behind the statement that a double simmer and filtration is likely the most effective means of reducing the tallow into the mildest possible product when you start with a thoroughly cleaned high quality fat source. I started with a very low quality fat source, and intentionally lowered that quality even further by leaving meat and blood behind in the sample, and I still ended up with results that could be easily served because of the two stage wet-rendered process. It's not an ideal result, obviously, but I did everything I could to mess it up, including boiling the solution for about two hours with meat still in it. Under better circumstances (you'd have to be trying pretty hard to do worse) I have no doubt the end-product would be high enough quality for use in perfumes and soaps with no worries about the beefy scent and flavoring, which makes it ideal for food as well.

The resulting hotdog batter, I'm told by an alaskan friend, makes an excellent home-therapy food for mild arthritis, but there is obviously some danger in eating large amounts of possibly concentrated contaminants from the animal's diet and this would be something I'd need to spend more time looking into the science before I'd commit to a statement about it. I tried a fingernail sized sample of this stuff and it tasted like wet carbdboard, then resulted in some pretty severe heartburn... I don't think I'd reccommend it without more information and probably further preparation (it's nasty.)

I'm still reducing the gelatin at the time of this post, with the intent of making it into a honey-vinegar-citrus barbeque sauce once it's thick enough. Apparently the gelatin is a result of the dissolved proteins of the connective tissue fiber, which is where gelatin already comes from anyway and likely the reason I got so much of it is because of the terrible quality of the fat sample I started with (mostly shoulder trimmings.)

Next time I will be following the advice of those who posted greater success by using a purer less membranous fat source to start with, and cooking at a lower temperature. I think, however, I'll still be using a wet render method with two phases of filtering and cooling because I'm simply amazed at how well the product turned out even though I tried everything to ruin it. I hope this was helpful. :)

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2936 · November 01, 2011 at 5:03 PM

I'm doing my first batch of wet rendering right now. I've done it before as a side-result of slow cooking tripe and stuff, but this is my first dedicated batch, nothing intended for direct consumtion.

Anyway, if I understand right, I'm going to have some suety bodily tissue in the bottom of the pot, the stuff that would have become cracklin's in a dry-render. Can I strain out this stuff and fry it up and enjoy the cracklin's that way? I don't wanna miss out just because I'm not set up for big batch of dry frying.

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1310 · May 07, 2011 at 1:14 AM

I cut the beef fat into pieces, put them in a large stainless steel bowl and place that on a steamer in a large pot and steam it for at least a couple of hours. I then push the fat through a sieve or strainer...produces great tallow.

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974 · December 31, 2010 at 7:17 AM

In general, I dislike rendering suet into tallow. I've done both wet and dry. It is time consuming and messy and the taste isn't great. I think overcooking is a problem. The reason why I would render was to increase the fat content of my meals. 85/15 ground beef is 40% protein by calories which is on the protein ceiling. Beef heart is 35 % fat and 65% protein by calories and needs an added fat source. I tried cutting off chunks of suet and cooking those chunks with the meal, but the suet has membranes within it which prevents the fat from oozing out.
The solution I discovered was to use a carrot peeler on the suet. The action of making thin slivers of suet destroyed the membranes and allows the suet to spread out when cooked. I haven't tried using a cheese grater. I cook the suet slivers with the beef heart.

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2633 · December 31, 2010 at 5:37 AM

I suspect they were getting the fat too hot.

Recently I got the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen-Aide mixer. I sent a lb of cubed lamb fat (I believe from the belly) through it before rendering it in a 2 qt pot with enough water to cover the bottom and it was both the fastest and "cleanest" rendering I've ever done. Interestingly, I didn't measure the amount of water, but it probably was a scant 1/2 cup. And I did seem like the steam coming up through the fat helped to melt it all at once.

I think the increased surface area from grinding let the fat cook down much, much faster and at a lower temperature. I rendered on a low flame until just a little after the pot had stopped steaming/boiling. The fat came out perfectly white, and with a much milder flavor than ever before. When I was done I didn't even have cracklin's, it was actually meat approaching stewed hamburger. I saved it in the fridge and fried it the next morning before adding scrambled eggs to the skillet.

Previously, when I rendered using hand-cubed fat the fat came out just a touch brown, and the "meat" left behind was true craklin'. I think the difference was the cubed fat took longer and got hotter on the outsides before the center was able to render.

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1688 · August 07, 2010 at 6:35 PM

I use a combination - I start the fat in a stainless steel pan on the stove. When it is hot, has developed a bit of a crust, and I have at least 1/2c of fat I transfer it to my crockpot. I have an old one from the 80s that is just off-low-high. I set it to low, put on the cover and walk away.

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2004 · August 07, 2010 at 2:40 PM

For dry rendering I use my wok at a low temperature, stiring frequently while doing my housework. I use minced fat (goose or porc), which renders much faster than pieces of fat and you get more lard from 1 pound of fat... The only thing is: you don't get those nice cracklings...

Perhaps next time I try the wet rendering method...

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