Homemade Beef Tallow: Rendering Suet

Check out my slabs of fat.

Luckily, they didn't come from my thighs.  This is suet, the fat from a cow usually found around the loins and kidneys. 

Why would you want big slabs of cow fat?  Where do you get them?  How do I turn that ugly slab of fat into something usable?

Woah, woah, woah.  Let's take it a question at a time.

What is suet used for?

Suet is normally used to make tallow.  Tallow is rendered beef fat.  Tallow will remain solid at room temperature (similar to shortening, but a bit harder) and can be stored for long periods of time.  Tallow can be used for cooking, to make candles and soap, and even as a leather conditioner.

Suet is also commonly used as bird food (see my post on Homemade Bird Treats).  Also, if you have chickens, they will thank your for sharing some of your suet with them.

Where can I get suet?

If you purchase beef from local cattle farms, you can probably find some suet there, or check with a local butcher.  Many times you can get it for free.  Your grocery store may also carry suet.  Generally, it is very inexpensive; I believe our local grocery store carries it for around $1.50 for a couple pounds.  It is in the frozen meats section at our store, but try looking in the fresh meat department as well.

How is suet rendered?

Rendering suet into beef tallow is very simple.  You simply heat it, melting the fat, as in the following recipe.

Homemade Beef Tallow


Beef Suet

1.  Cut off any pieces of meat still clinging to the fat.  

2.  Chop or grind the suet.  The smaller the pieces, the more quickly it will render.

3.  Place the suet in a crock pot, cover, and set to high.  Alternatively, place the suet in a pot, cover, and cook on the stove over medium-low heat.

4.  As the suet heats, the fat will start melting off.  This can be ladled off through a strainer into a heat-proof container as you are cooking it.  At some point, you will be left with only brown, crispy bits.  These are known as "cracklins."  I have heard of people eating them, but I normally just save them for the chickens.

5.  Store your beef tallow in a cool, dark place inside an air-tight container.

You will notice that cooking beef suet doesn't smell the greatest.  Now, it's not like this horrible, gut-wrenching smell or anything, so don't be scared; it just has a smell.  There really is no getting around that.  I've tried rendering on the stove top, in the oven, and in a crock pot, and no method seems to smell less than the other.  One way to get around the smell in your kitchen however, is to use your crock pot in a seldom used room and shut the door.  If you have a way of doing it outdoors, that could be another option.

Most commonly I use beef tallow for making soap.  If you use tallow in a soap recipe, just be sure no more than a quarter of your fats is made up of the tallow, otherwise, you'll wind up with crumbly bars of soap.

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