What can you do with the fat that’s left behind after trimming a rack of ribs? It would be a shame to let all that flavor go to waste.
One option would be to render the fat into lard, so you can use it as a substitute for butter or oil. Let’s find out how.
How To Render Fat From Pork Ribs
You can render the fat from pork ribs in the same manner you would render any type of pork fat: by heating it slowly to remove the water and solids. Fat begins to render at around 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but the process takes time in addition to heat.
Can You Save The Fat From All Rib Types?
Although it’s a good idea to trim any excess fat or sinew that hangs off the side of any rib rack, you’re more likely to wind up with usable fat from spare ribs as opposed to baby backs.
When you trim spare ribs, on the other hand, you remove the cartilage and rib tips, along with a good supply of fat. Prepping more than one rack should give you enough fat to work with.
Should You Boil Ribs Before Smoking Them?
Some home chefs—usually amateurs—will parboil their ribs before adding them to the smoker. Although this will cut down on the time you’ll spend waiting for dinner to be ready, it’s not a good idea.
When you boil ribs, you’re robbing yourself of some delicious pork flavor. Some of the fat will leach out into the boiling water, which can be appealing to people who want to make “healthier” ribs. But since fat equals flavor, this isn’t an approach we would take.
Besides, the boiling process won’t remove all of the fat. There will still be fat deposits lodged inside the rib rack, even if you boil or steam it. The fat rendering process takes time as well as heat, which is what we’re here to discuss.
What’s more, the meat will take on some of the water from the pot. Waterlogged ribs are the last thing you want—they’ll be tender, all right, but that tenderness will cross the line into mushiness in a hurry.
About The Fat Rendering Process
Rendering is the term used for melting and purifying animal fat. It separates any meat solids, water, connective tissue, and blood from the fat, leaving you with a product that can be used in everything from cooking to candles to beauty products.
Rendered pork fat becomes lard. If you were to render beef fat, you would wind up with tallow, while rendered chicken fat is transformed into schmaltz. You can even render and clarify butter fat to make ghee, an ingredient that’s popular in Indian cuisine.
When fat is cooked over high heat, it will crisp up and even burn. In order to render properly, it needs to be exposed to low temperatures for long periods of time.
Fat begins to render at around 130 to 140 degrees. At a slightly higher temperature—about 160 degrees—the collagen in the meat will start to break down. Both processes are essential to success when smoking large, fatty cuts of meat.
Although you should trim away any large pockets of fat when prepping a rack of ribs for the smoker, the fat that’s left behind should render as the meat cooks, imbuing it with moisture and flavor.
How To Render Fat From Pork Ribs
One of the unsung pleasures of trimming your own meat is the ability to make homemade lard and tallow. You can have the butcher do the trimming for you, but if you do, ask them if they’ll sell you the scraps separately.
Whenever possible, freeze the fat before you attempt to render it. This will make the product easier to handle.
When you’re ready to begin, trim off any scraps of meat that are still clinging to the fat. It’s fine if you don’t get them all—any meat left behind will fall away as the fat renders—but you want to make the fat as clean as possible.
Next, dice the fat into small cubes. You can speed up this chore by using a food processor to mince the fat, but if you do, make sure it’s frozen. Otherwise, the fat will turn to mush and clog the machine.
Place the diced fat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Set the pot over a burner set to low. You can also use a slow cooker to render the fat, as long as you keep an eye on it.
Heat the fat slowly, stirring occasionally, until you’re left with a pot of clear fat along with some crisp brown cracklings. This should take 3 to 4 hours. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Once the fat has cooled sufficiently, it’s time to filter out the solids. Strain the fat into a container, using cheesecloth to catch the cracklings. You can save the cracklings for another use, or simply discard them.
The rendered fat should turn a creamy white color as it cools to room temperature. It will also solidify, giving it a texture that’s similar to butter.
It’s considered safe to keep rendered fat at room temperature, but we prefer to store it in the fridge, just to be on the safe side. If you want it to keep indefinitely, set the container in the freezer and thaw as needed.
Uses For Lard
Once you have a supply of homemade lard, try using it as a substitute for butter or shortening the next time you make a pie crust. It will give the crust a tender, flaky quality that’s hard to replicate with other fats.
Lard is also an essential ingredient when making homemade flour tortillas. If you have any meat left over from the ribs you smoked, try shredding it and wrapping it in a tortilla along with cheese and refried beans to make a pork burrito.
We like to use lard to season our cast-iron skillets. It has moisturizing properties that can enrich homemade soaps and skin creams, although we seldom use it for those purposes.
Once you’ve begun saving your fat scraps to make homemade lard, you might never ask your butcher to trim a rack of ribs again. Although the trimming process can be tedious, it allows you to get your money’s worth out of every cut of meat you buy.