Archive for the ‘Butchering’ Category

If you’ve followed me here on Not Dabbling, you may recall my experience last winter with “harvesting” a pig (vivid butchering photos). Our intent was to get as much product out of the animal, but being our first adventure in such a large butchering job we lost a lot of said product. One of the things I was really looking forward to from our harvest was lard. Animal fats are becoming recognized more and more as a healthier fat than some vegetable, nut, or seed oils that quickly go rancid, oxidize, or contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately while we were busy butchering, the rendering lard got forgotten about and we lost the entire pot.

Pork and Duck lards

Since we moved, I’ve lost my local source for fresh rendered fat and have begun to make my own. It’s really a simple process and supports the nose-to-tail way of eating. Most butchers will carry pork fat for lard or beef suet for tallow, and generally it’s pretty inexpensive – especially compared to gourmet nut oils. You can also save fat from trimming meat and store it in your freezer for up to three months before rendering it. Rendered mutton and deer fat is also called tallow, and then there is duck and goose fat which comes from rendering the skin and underlying fat on a bird. We’ve recently had duck, and from just the trimmings I averaged about 3/4 cup of rendered fat from one bird. If I hadn’t seasoned the breasts and legs so heavily, I would have been able to save much more fat. Plus there’s the tasty chicharones or fried (traditionally pork) fat and skin that are the result of rendering.

rendering fat

Whether you’re making soap, salves, candles, schmaltz, confit, or using it in place of hydrogenated shortening, rendering fat is a pretty simple process.

  • Cut the fat or bird skin into 1 inch cubes, removing as much meat as possible.
  • Use a heavy bottom pan and add about 1 cup water. The fat doesn’t need to be covered with water as long as you stir it often. I like my dutch oven for this process, but if you have a small amount of fat an iron skillet or heavy pan works just as well.
  • Start at medium high. This gets the water nice an hot which starts the rendering process. If you didn’t have the water at the beginning you’d likely begin frying the fat too soon, and the fond stuck to the pan would probably burn before you could extract all the lard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the fat doesn’t brown prematurely.
  • As soon as you see oil on the top of the water, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to stir every ten minutes or so. You can use a lid at this point, especially if you have a lot of product. After about 30 minutes the water you added will have cooked off and the cubes will begin bubbling.
  • The cubes should begin to brown within an hour or two depending on the amount of water inside the product. When they are completely browned and the bubbling slows down, you can remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a plate to drain. I like to use a platter and fold a towel underneath so the plate rests at an angle. I give them a little squeeze with the back of my spoon to get as much extra oil out of them, then use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the precious oil into my pan.
  • The lard or tallow gets strained through cheesecloth or a paper towel and poured into a glass jar. The cracklings or chicharones get returned to the warm pan and are allowed to get nice and crispy. You may want to use a splatter screen for this part since any skin left on the fat will “POP” right out of the pan! It’s finally time to let these drain on a cloth and sprinkle them with salt or crushed red pepper. The remaining fat in the pan will be more like bacon drippings and can be used to flavor foods like beans or greens or to be used like schmaltz.
  • Store your lard in an airtight container and it should keep for a few months at room temperature without spoiling or oxidizing. You can also keep it in the refrigerator, which is what I like to do just for baking convenience.
  • An optional method is to cover the cubes completely with water an allow all the fat to render out over medium to medium high. Remove the cracklings and brown in a separate pan if you like. You can then skim the fat off the top of the water, an easier process done once it’s cooled completely and solidified. The resulting product may have a higher smoke point and a slightly more neutral flavor.


A few little factoids about rendered fats:

McDonald’s previously to use 93% beef tallow to fry their french fries until they switched to 100% vegetable oil.
Tallow can be used to make candles.
Lard and suet have a higher smoking point than vegetable shortening (which you shouldn’t be eating anyway thanks to the hydrogenation process) and are better for frying. Lard begins smoking at approximately 190 °C (374 °F), suet/tallow at approximately 200°C (400°F), while hydrogenated vegetable shortening smokes at 165 °C (329 °F).
Coconut oil is a great substitute for animal fats in general cooking and baking, but high heats require a refined coconut oil which is no where near as healthy as the unrefined stuff. Unless it’s unrefined, you should probably skip it.
Using fat was one of the first ways to preserve food. It’s now a delicacy that we refer to as “Confit”, and it can be sealed and stored for months.
Most commercial lard is hydrogenated.
Lard gives pastries a better, flakier texture than butter.


Do you use rendered fat in any form as a regular part of your diet?


I can also be found at Unearthing this Life where I blarg about food, motherhood, and dream of one day returning to rural living. I’m also on Twitter, and Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.

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Warning: To all my vegetarian and vegan friends and otherwise sensitive viewers, this post is probably not for you. There are vivid photos of our experience “harvesting” a hog last November. Please know that I do respect you equally and hold you just as reverently as I do meat eaters!

mise en place

Completely inspired by authors like Pollan and Kingsolver, films like Food Inc., my limited studies and complete awe of the Cherokee and other Native Americans, and chefs and foodies like Bourdain and the restaurants that cook nose to tail, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at slaughtering our own hog last year. It took a little convincing to get my husband to agree with me.

He knew it would be a big job, me … not so much. I totally idealized the situation, dreaming of our own bacon and hams, sausages, and bean soups; thinking about how noble of an eater I was being and the lessons I was teaching my daughter. Once I started looking online at the process, though, I began to realize exactly what I’d gotten ourselves into. Me? Start small? Never.

We’re lucky that one of our close friends is the daughter of a pig farmer and so we had easy access to our goal. Her husband helped us with the entire ordeal by planning practically all of it, and giving us the workspace to do the job. For a little bit of money and two and half days work, we got half a hog for our little family. Now, that’s not enough to get us through the year the way we eat. Perhaps we could make an entire hog last a year, but that would require either dry curing or a larger freezer.


What we did get out of our half of a hog was impressive. We weren’t as brave as we thought and we didn’t get as much du cochon as I’d hoped. There was more waste than I imagined simply because we were exhausted and hadn’t planned well enough. And then there was the mistake we made early on thanks to my suggestion. Because we didn’t have a tub of hot water to remove the hair and clean the hog, I suggested to burn it off. Bad idea. Reeeeeally bad idea. It ruined the skin because the smell soaked into it, so we had no chicharrones. If the lard hadn’t accidentally burned in the next mishap, it would’ve tasted like burned hair as well. So, we learned a very important lesson. Boiling water is a good thing. We also learned that 10 bags of ice is the very minimum you need if winter weather does not cooperate. In the South, weather rarely cooperates.

Most of the information you can find on youtube or elsewhere on the internet. I’ll give you some suggestions here of things to keep in mind, and the things I actually recall from our experience.

Most handy equipment:


  • Chain
  • Ropes
  • Sawzall
  • Hack saw
  • Cleaver
  • Boning knives
  • Paring knife
  • Chefs knives (be sure all of your blades are freshly sharpened and honed)
  • Lots of old towels
  • At least one change of clothes
  • KitchenAid (Pro is preferential because of the motor and bowl sizes)
  • Meat grinder or attachment for KitchenAid
  • Food processor
  • Lots of large and medium mixing bowls
  • Kitchen scale
  • Freezer paper and tape
  • Containers/Lexans or Ziplocks to cure bacon and ham
  • At least three large coolers and an empty freezer
  • Terrines for pate
  • 4 5-gallon buckets for collecting blood, 2 for organs, and one for head. Keep all on ice.
  • Bleach and soap for cleaning
  • Scrub brush to wash exterior of hog
  • A smoker
  • Fruit, mesquite, oak, or hickory woods for smoking.
  • Sausage stuffer

Ingredients you’ll be interested in:

  • Pink salt or substitute for curing bacon
  • Proper size casings for sausages
  • Bread crumbs, crackers, or other binders
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Pepper
  • Two boxes of kosher salt
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic
  • Mace
  • Paprika
  • Fennel seed
  • Chili powders
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Brandy or port
  • Good drinking wine
  • apples
  • onions

ribs and bacon

Now I’m not going to teach how to butcher a pig. That wasn’t my job, and one experience does not an expert make, but I will point out a few head scratchers we did or almost did encounter.

  1. Have all of your recipes planned for in advance. Thumb wrestling at the last-minute over whether or not to make maple syrup or brown sugar bacon allows the rest of your meat to warm up if it’s not in a cooler.
  2. How to remove the intestines and reproductive organs from the exterior of the body without cutting them. The last thing you want to do is to penetrate the intestines! Have a second person use a sharp knife to cut carefully around the anus and exterior reproductive organs.You may find inserting something to strengthen the walls makes it easier to cut around. I know, it sounds really wrong, but it helped a lot.
  3. Be prepared to trim a lot of fat. That was my special job. It actually would’ve been much easier to skin the hog first and remove the fat later, but the weather really didn’t account for all of the meat exposed to the warm air while we worked on butchering. Much of the fat will go into ground meat or sausages, the rest can make lard.
  4. Try to get your animal to urinate and defecate prior to the butchering process, especially if you plan on saving the blood, intestines, or bladder.
  5. Plan for a backup date if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
  6. Definitely have mise en place – or all of your equipment ready, including your ingredients. It doesn’t hurt to have someone designated as an errand runner “just in case” or to have extras of anything.
  7. Look through several different videos, websites, recipe books, and butchering books to get as much advice and as many ideas as possible.

So, just how much bacon did we bring home from a half hog?

  • Liver (for pate)smoking sausage
  • Bacon (about 10 pounds)
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Ham (back leg)
  • Picnic ham and shoulder (front leg)
  • 4 Trotters for soup
  • Ribs
  • Loin/tenderloins (about 8 pounds)
  • Tons of sausage: breakfast, garlic, Italian, and “bloodless” blood sausage (see above)

What we didn’t bring home:

  • The head
  • Caul fat
  • Half of the sausages, ribs, bacon, pate,
  • Lungs, et al (trash)
  • Stomach (trash)
  • Intestines (trash)
  • Reproductive organs (trash)
  • Skin (trash)
  • Lard (trash)
  • A few bones (trash)
  • I’m still kicking myself about the waste. We just weren’t prepared for the amount that we lost. Next time we’ll be in the know and ready for anything


Great resources for recipes and butchering:


Au Pied de Cochon

The River Cottage Meat Book

Ad Hoc At Home

The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making




Last but not least, don’t forget a good helper.


You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about life in rural Tennessee. She’s also been featured at Rhythm of the Home. Mostly she’s just a mom, a homeschooler, and keeper of critters.

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