If you are an avid foodie, baker, or cook, you have likely come across recipes calling for tallow or lard. But here’s the kicker: no one stops to explain what these ingredients are, how to use them, and their effect on food.
So, why bother getting them? Are they really necessary? What even are they?
What is the difference between tallow and lard? Tallow is rendered fat from beef and mutton suet, while lard is made from pork fat. These two fats, while largely interchangeable, have different characteristics and unique properties that make them beneficial in both baking and cooking.
So, if a recipe calls for tallow or lard, don’t skip over them. Instead, read this article to learn exactly what tallow and lard are!
That includes how to make these two fats, their physical qualities and characteristics, nutritional build, and uses. This way, you can easily see the difference between the two plus when (and where) to best use them.
What Is Tallow?
While lard and tallow may seem to be the same ingredient (they certainly look alike), they mainly differ in where they come from.
Tallow is a product that is mainly obtained from beef or mutton fat. While occasionally you will get “tallow” products that come from lamb or deer, it isn’t common or traditional.
That being said, many experts claim that an ingredient becomes tallow when it reaches specific characteristics. In their opinion, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
Okay, so it comes from beef and mutton, but what is it? Tallow is a type of fat product that is specifically made from the fat that surrounds the organs of beef or mutton, such as the kidneys, and from the animal’s loins.
That is important to know because this type of fat (called suet) differs from muscle fat found in the meat of these animals. Suet is much higher in a kind of triglyceride called stearin. That, in turn, affects how the fat melts and congeals.
How Is Tallow Made?
Tallow is obtained through rendering suet (fat surrounding organs). During this process, suet is heated over very low and slow heat. That helps separate the fat from any muscles or connective tissue in the organs.
When the ingredients are heated, the fat will eventually start to melt. As it melts, it drips into a separate container, where it is allowed to cool and congeal again.
In case you’ve got any brisket trimmings on hand and are dying to try making tallow, check out this video from allthingsbbq on YouTube:
Characteristics Of Tallow
At room temperature, tallow is a solid ingredient. This temperature range is between 68-77ºF (20-25ºC). Anything higher or lower and the consistency of the fat will start changing.
As the tallow is heated, it starts to get soft. Eventually, it completely liquefies as it’s melted. That usually occurs between 113-122ºF (45-50ºC). Below this and the fat starts to congeal again.
Beef tallow also has an average smoking point of 400ºF (205ºC), making it perfect for medium-high cooking techniques.
There is some range in this temperature, with some experts claiming it only starts smoking around 480ºF (249ºC). But, we would rather always work on the safe side of things.
Physical Properties Of Tallow
Tallow is an easily recognizable ingredient. It is waxy white in color and looks glossy. It is very hard and solid at room temperature.
Surprisingly, this fat is almost flavorless. Even for people who are very sensitive to taste, this ingredient almost tastes like nothing. At most, they describe it as subtle richness.
However, once the fat starts smelling like fat (as we have learned from personal experience), it is starting to go off. And once it starts smelling sour, it has already spoiled.
Nutritional Value Of Tallow
Tallow is a type of fat. So there is no beating around the bush — it isn’t healthy. It is very high in calories and fat.
A single tablespoon of tallow contains roughly 13 grams of fat and more than 110 calories. It consists of roughly 50% saturated fat, 45% monounsaturated fats, and 5% polyunsaturated fats.
If you don’t already know, unsaturated fat is the healthy one that helps lower your risk for diseases.
Tallow does have some benefits over other types of fats. It doesn’t contain any carbs and is very high in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2.
Uses For Tallow
Tallow is a multi-functional ingredient that can be used inside and out of the kitchen. Naturally, it is a fantastic lubricating ingredient. It can also function as a tenderizer and flavoring.
While it won’t be adding umami, salty, or smoky flavor (like bacon fat would), it will add richness to your food — similar to how marbled meats taste better.
Aside from cooking, tallow can be used to make candles, skin lotions, and soaps. It has also been used traditionally as a lubricating balm for leather, wood, and metal crafts.
What Is Lard?
As we have mentioned, lard is similar to tallow, but it is only obtained from the fatty parts of pigs. There’s no other animal lard can be obtained from, so there isn’t any room for interpretation for this ingredient.
The fat used for making lard is made from pork belly and some other organs.
This fat differs from suet, as suet makes a hard white fat that only comes from cows and mutton. Lard, on the other hand, only comes from pigs and is semi-solid at room temperature.
How Is Lard Made?
There’s more than one way to make lard: you can collect raw fat from pork (unrendered), or you can purify that raw fat into a shelf-stable fat (rendered). Unrendered lard can be used for cooking, but you’ll need rendered lard for baking.
Leaf lard is considered to be the highest level of lard, with a creamier consistency and more mild flavor. This type of lard is exclusively obtained from the fat around the kidneys and abdomen of the pig.
Rendered lard is made in two ways — wet rendering or dry rendering. The verdict’s out on which technique is better, as you can tell from the videos below.
In the wet-rendering method, the fat is rendered in boiling water. The high temperature causes the fat to melt and rise to the top. Once the liquid cools, the fat solidifies and is removed.
Check out this video from HealthNutNation on YouTube to watch the wet-rendering technique in action:
Dry rendering is done by heating the fat without any liquid in an oven or pan (or even a slow-cooker, like in the below video from Melissa K. Norris on YouTube). The meat or organs are then removed, and the fat is allowed to cool and solidify.
Characteristics Of Lard
Lard is an extremely unique fat. At room temperature, it is solid but still pliable. The exact melting point of lard depends on the type of lard product you have.
Lard made from back fat has a melting point of 86-104ºF (30-40ºC).
If you have a generic lard product made from a mix of fats, the melting point is usually between 97-113ºF (36-45ºC).
Leaf fat (kidney fat) lard has a higher melting point of 109-118ºF (43-48ºC).
Lard also has a relatively high smoking point of around 380ºF (190ºC). That makes it a good choice for medium-temperature cooking techniques.
Physical Properties Of Lard
Lard has a distinctive taste, but it is still very subtle. Another way to put it is that you will taste something, even if you don’t know or realize what that may be.
But again, the different types of lard will have different flavors. Lard made from back fat will have a pork-like flavor to it, whereas leaf lard is very mild in that regard — one reason it’s so highly regarded.
Lard, as we have mentioned, is solid at room temperature but still very pliable and spreadable. It has a creamy white color that almost looks foggy.
Nutritional Value Of Lard
Lard always surprises people with its nutritional profile. Again, it is fat, so it is still unhealthy. But, compared to other fats, it has its advantages.
Lard is a very good source of vitamin D. The best way to obtain the most from lard is to choose a product that is made from pasture-raised pigs. Other than that, lard doesn’t contain many nutrients.
A tablespoon of lard contains about 115 calories and 13 grams of fat. It is said that lard only holds 40% saturated fat (bad fat), which is lower than other options out there (even butter).
Uses For Lard
Lard is used in almost exactly the same way as tallow is for cooking. It acts as a lubricant, flavor enhancer, tenderizer, and flavoring ingredient.
Furthermore, it is used to make a wide range of sausages, cured meats, pates, and fillings. Rendered lard also has some baking uses to make pastries and cakes.
Besides cooking and baking, lard is popular as a moisturizer for skin and hair products. It can also be used as a soap!
Tallow Versus Lard — What Are The Differences?
Okay, so that was an overload of information. Stick with us; we’ll break down the differences and similarities for you. This way, you can easily compare the specific qualities of each of these products.
How Is Lard Made?
Tallow and lard are made in basically the same way — by rendering the fat. Sure, when making rendered lard, there are two main methods by which it can be made. But in principle, the technique remains the same.
The key difference is where the fat comes from. Lard is made from back fat, fat around the belly, and organ fat of pork (and only pork). Tallow is made from suet, the organ fat found in beef and mutton.
For lard, there is also a wide range of products available to choose from. You can buy leaf lard (which is higher quality), back fat lard, and mixed lard. Furthermore, you often have unrendered options like pasture-raised pig lard or regular pig lard.
Tallow is hard in texture. It’s a waxy product that has a very pure white color. It isn’t pliable at room temperature and has to be melted to be re-shaped.
Lard is a pliable solid ingredient at room temperature, much like margarine. It has more of an off-white color and is very foggy. When melted, it appears more golden, albeit light.
Both have a very mild flavor. Tallow is often said to be tasteless, but lard has hints of pork. Leaf lard has a less porky flavor than lard made from back fat.
And finally, both of these fats are odorless, so they won’t affect the smell of your baked goods, cooked foods, soaps, and lotions.
Lard and tallow both have relatively high melting and smoking points. Tallow has a higher melting point than most types of lard, as it melts at 113-122ºF (45-50ºC).
Mixed lard only melts at 97-113ºF (36-45ºC). The back fat lard will liquefy at a low temperature of 86-104ºF (30-40ºC), while leaf lard has the highest melting point of them all at 109-118ºF (43-48ºC).
Lard is best suited for medium-heat cooking, but tallow can go more into the medium-high temperature range.
The smoking point of tallow is also higher than that of lard. So, while we could find any definitive answer on their flash points, it is also safe to assume that tallow is more stable.
Tallow and lard are both animal fats. So, they will be high in fat and calories. Lard is slightly higher in both but lower in saturated fat (the bad fat).
Then again, tallow contains more nutrients than lard (which only contains vitamin D).
Ultimately, you can research what you are looking for in animal fat. But don’t expect a bomb of health benefits from either of these.
While both of these fats can be used in cooking, lard seems to be more popular. It is used in the savory and sweet kitchen and has a wider range of uses than tallow. That may also just be because lard is easier to find in most places and more affordable.
That being said, tallow is more often used for out-of-kitchen purposes. It is an extremely popular ingredient in beauty products, soaps, lotions, and a ton of other hobbies, such as metal-making, leather works, and even wood workshops.
Are Tallow And Lard Interchangeable?
It depends on a lot of things. At first glance, yes, these two animal fats are interchangeable. The differences they will make in the food (or other products) are minimal.
But, you have to also consider some dietary or religious reasons. For someone who cannot consume pork or beef, these two products are not interchangeable.
If you do end up using the two as alternatives for each other, you can substitute them in equal parts.
Which is better, tallow or lard?
It depends on what you’re looking for! Let’s look at, for example, their flavor.
If you want to use animal fat in your baked cake, you will probably choose the option that contains less flavor and has a more neutral color, which is tallow. But, if you need an option that is high in unsaturated fats, then lard is a better choice.
It is all relevant. So, first, decide on what you need before deciding which is best for you and your purpose.
Are these healthy fats?
Both tallow and lard are considered to be a type of healthy fat since they contain high amounts of unsaturated fats (also known as healthy fats).
These don’t contribute to clogging up your veins and increasing your cholesterol levels. In fact, they help prevent it!
What’s the difference between tallow, lard, and ghee?
We’ve covered the difference between lard and tallow, but ghee is a completely different animal-based fat. Ghee is obtained from butter, which is made from animal milk.
When clarifying butter to make ghee, the fat is separated from the water and milk solids, and you are left with 100% fat.
Is bacon grease considered to be lard?
Technically, bacon grease could be considered to be a type of lard, but lard traditionally isn’t obtained from rendered bacon grease.
The biggest difference between these two products is the flavor. Bacon grease has a very prominent pork flavor with notes of smokiness and salt.