If you are familiar with smoking meats, you will have heard the term tallow thrown around quite a bit, particularly with smoked brisket. So what is beef tallow? Our informative guide will walk you through the ins and outs of this coveted beef fat, how to source, prepare, store, and use it.
What is Beef Tallow?
Beef tallow is simply beef fat. This type of fat is not to be confused with beef suet, which originates around organ meats, specifically the kidney area. Tallow is a shelf-stable rendered beef fat taken from the hard soap-like fat surrounding beef cuts like steak, brisket, roasts, and ribs.
The first mention of tallow appears in the 15th century. This rendered beef fat became the main “oleo” ingredient in baking, roasting, making candles, and even soap making. While this ingredient and other animal fats were eventually supplanted by butter and vegetable shortening, it recently regained popularity in recent years.
Tallow is by no means the only form of animal fat used in food preparation. Pork fat, or lard, continues to appear in Southern US cooking and Latin-American cuisine. Game fats such as goose and duck fat are used by professional chefs, pitmasters, and home cooks worldwide.
What is rendering?
In the culinary world, rendering means to turn otherwise junk animal tissue into a shelf-stable, usable product. In this case, turning animal fat into cooking oil. Beef fat renders between 130-140 degrees F, so a low heat is best.
What does tallow taste like?
By now, you might be wondering what about the taste of beef tallow. Most of us have experienced that wonderful butter-flavored, caramelized fat from beef briskets, beef ribs, and a perfectly cooked picanha steak. Well, rendered beef fat is slightly different. The flavor is actually unassuming, mellow, and subtle. The process of liquifying beef fat is different from searing a marbled steak or low and slow-cooking a brisket. First, the fat is not seasoned, and second, it is not rendered in a smoker or live fire setting. Its mellowness, among other attributes, contributes to its versatility and popularity. Due to its high smoke point, tallow is a great oil for deep frying foods like French fries. This was a cheap and quick alternative for fast food giants like McDonald’s, whose fries always had distinct crispiness to them.
Why is beef tallow popular in BBQ-dominated spaces?
Pitmasters predominantly use tallow on smoked brisket. It also makes a great cooking oil, especially for cast-iron skillets steaks and sauteing vegetables. Pitmasters use this rendered beef fat in one of two ways.
- Injection: Tallow is used as a flavor, and moisture enhancement injected straight into the flat of a brisket. The flat is most prone to drying out during long cooking times.
- Wrapping: Pitmasters also coat the brisket or butcher paper with tallow before wrapping the brisket and again during the resting period. Some BBQ restauranteurs lightly coat their sliced brisket during service. This is mostly done for presentation, as it glosses the surface of the meat, making it looks shiny and juicy.
Where to source tallow:
You can source tallow in stores or online through multiple sources. It’s best to look for a good quality product such as 100% grass-fed beef or Wagyu tallow. Grain-fed beef fat is not the best to use, so be discerning when purchasing pre-made tallow.
Another option is to make your own. Remember that it can take some time to collect enough beef fat to make a few jars. You can start by placing the trimmings into an airtight container or a resealable plastic container. Once you’ve collected a good amount, you can make a batch or two. You might as well get the most out of your meat cuts. Beef prices being what they are, it’s just a good idea to make your own.
Collecting and storing (beef trimmings: steaks, roasts, briskets)
What you’ll need to make it:
- A Slow-cooker or stock pot: The slow-cooker is a better option, but a large stockpot will do if you do not own one.
- Food processor: This is extremely helpful but not required.
- Mason jars or any other glass jar
- Fine mesh strainer: The first step to remove impurities
- Cheesecloth or coffee filters: a second step to remove impurities and refine the tallow.
- Beef fat: Raw beef fat trimmings from whole packer briskets, steaks, roasts, etc.
Preparing and Storing Beef Tallow
- Trim off any meaty bits and gristle from the fat. We want pure beef fat for this recipe, as other tissue will corrupt the finished product.
- Freeze the fat for 30-60 minutes. Skip this step if you’ve pre-frozen the tallow fat.
- Chop into smaller chunks and add them to your food processor, pulse until it takes on the appearance of crumbled feta. Depending on where you’ve sourced the fat, the color might be bright yellow or milky white.
- Place the fat inside your slow cooker (crockpot), secure the lid, and set it on low. It should take roughly 4-5 hours to render fully, depending on the amount of fat used.
- During the end stage of the rendering process, the impurities will rise to the top. The liquid underneath will be clear and completely melted through.
- Strain the melted fat into a large bowl using a fine-mesh strainer. This will catch the larger impurities.
- Now, place the cheesecloth (or coffee filters) over your mason jar. Pour tallow into the jar. Repeat the process with subsequent jars.
- Use immediately, or allow the jars to cool. It will become a whitish-yellow color as it cools.
- Store on your countertop or pantry for several days, or place it into your refrigerator for 8-10 weeks.
Recipes to try it:
Beef Tallow Recipe
- Slow-cooker or stockpot
- coffee filter or cheesecloth
- fine mesh sieve
- mason jars
- 3 pounds beef fat trimmed
- Trim off the meaty bits and gristle from the fat.
- Freeze the fat for 30-60 minutes. If the fat has already been frozen, skip this step.
- Chop into smaller chunks and add them to your food processor, pulse until it takes on the appearance of crumbled feta.
- Place the fat inside your slow-cooker (crockpot), secure the lid, and set it on low. Cook for 4-5 hours.
- During the end stages, the impurities will rise to the top. Once liquid beneath the impurities looks clear, your tallow is done.
- Strain the melted fat into a large bowl using a fine-mesh strainer.
- Now, place a cheesecloth (or coffee filters) over your mason jar. Pour the tallow into the jar. Repeat process with subsequent jars.
- Use immediately, or allow the jars to cool. It will turn whitish-yellow color as it cools.
- Store at room temperature on your countertop or pantry for several days, or place it into your refrigerator for 8-10 weeks.