When I was growing up there was always either bacon fat or lard being used in some form or fashion.We also used "crisco",but there was always a container of lard in the refrigerator.I have very strong memories of visiting my grandmother,seeing her grab the lard container,and with a deft hand,toss it into a cast iron skillet,and prepare the best pork chops I ever had.I have never achieved the greatness of her pork chops,but I persist in trying. Good lard is the key.
Lard is pork fat that has been rendered (melted) down into a liquid,then strained and cooled. It imparts an amazing flavor to foods it's cooked with.The best type of pork fat to get and render down is "leaf"fat,however,any pork fat will do and make a good tasting lard. Lard has a good smoke point (370°F/185°C),so you can do quite a lot with it.
I now live in Estonia,where pork fat is .05€ (about .05cents) a kilo – less than 2.5 Cents a pound!!We just bought 3.6 kilos for .18€.!!!!!It simply makes zero sense to me to buy lard,when I can render it in the oven on a slow Saturday.
Finding pork fat in the USA may be hard,depending upon the area you live in.When I was living in New York,I had a very hard time finding it. Check with your butcher to see if you can get it. Here in Estonia,it's available at the farmer's market in various shops.
Rendering lard is really simple:
3.5 Kilos of Pork fat,chopped
The smaller the pieces of lard,the faster it'll render. I have done it as whole pieces (see the first picture below),but that is messy and takes much longer. Chop it into pieces,or,alternatively,chill it in the freezer for about 30 minutes until almost frozen,and put it into a food processor to break it down even more.
You can render the fat on the stovetop or in the oven.I find the oven is the easiest method,as it doesn't need to be continually watched.
Place chopped lard into a large high sided baking pan,and then into the oven set at 300F/150C. As the fat renders out,carefully remove the pan and tip the rendered fat into a heat-safe bowl.Continue to do this until no more fat is rendering out. Allow to cool to the touch,strain with cheesecloth,if needed,and pour into your containers for storage.I have used mason jars,or food safe bpa free containers.
Store lard in your refrigerator for 6 months to a year,making sure it is covered at all times.Lard will absorb other flavors if left uncovered.You can also freeze lard for use later.The 3.5 kilos we rendered will last us 6-8 months.
This process is the same if you are doing Tallow (rendered beef fat).