You might be surprised to learn that there are several varieties of pork fat. While they all share the same basic characteristics, they’re not interchangeable. Let’s find out how to differentiate between pork fat vs lard vs bacon fat.
Pork Fat vs Lard vs Bacon Fat
Pork fat is the universal term for all types of pig fat. It can come from the back or the belly of the hog, or even the areas surrounding the vital organs. Lard is rendered pork fat, while bacon fat refers specifically to the grease that’s left behind after you cook off the bacon.
About Pork Fat
Of all the terms we’ll cover today, pork fat is the most general. Both lard and bacon fat fall under the category of pork fat, but it’s still important not to get them mixed up.
There are several different types of pork fat. The kind you’re most likely to find at the butcher’s counter is fatback, which is taken from the spinal region of the hog.
Then there’s caul fat, from the intestines. This product is often used to make the natural version of sausage casings. Caul fat is also one of the alternate terms for the membrane that coats the back of pork ribs.
You’ll also find a great deal of fat around the hog’s belly, as anyone who’s ever eaten bacon or spare ribs can attest. Since bacon is commonly cut from this area, most bacon fat would be classified as belly fat.
When pork fat is rendered—that is, melted—and then allowed to solidify, it becomes lard. Leaf fat, which comes from the area surrounding the hog’s kidneys, is a “clean” type of fat that’s used most often when it comes to making lard.
That said, you can make lard out of other types of pork fat. Assuming that you have enough of it, it’s even possible to make lard out of the rendered fat from spare ribs and large cuts like pork butt.
About Bacon Fat
Here’s where things get interesting. Bacon fat actually falls under the “lard” category, but it’s a specific type of rendered pork fat. That’s because bacon is cured and smoked before it’s packaged for sale, so the drippings will have a salty quality to them.
Because of the curing process, bacon fat contains higher levels of sodium than fatback and regular lard. When used sparingly, however, it contributes a welcome dose of flavor and richness to many dishes.
Pork Fat vs Lard vs Bacon Fat: Breaking It Down
To clarify: Lard and bacon fat are both types of pork fat, but not all pork fat is bacon fat or lard.
When you see a product labeled as “pork fat,” there’s a good chance that it will be in its solid form. Both lard and bacon fat, meanwhile, have been rendered beforehand. Though they’ll harden as they cool, they’ll never revert to the same texture as raw pork fat.
Pork fat has numerous uses. In addition to rendering the fat to make lard (see below), you can add it to homemade sausage and other ground pork products. When making a stew or casserole, try melting a cube of pork fat in the pot instead of using butter or oil.
Once the fat has been rendered to make lard or bacon grease, it’s still a versatile ingredient. However, the difference in texture makes it difficult to use pork fat and lard interchangeably.
How To Make Lard
You can buy ready-made lard at the supermarket. It’s usually kept with the baking products, near the shortening (for which it’s often substituted, with impressive results).
However, it’s also simple to make lard at home, assuming you have enough pork fat to make the project worthwhile. You can buy leaf fat or fatback for this specific purpose, or save and freeze your pork trimmings until you have a decent supply on hand.
For optimum results, freeze the fat for about an hour before attempting to make lard. While it won’t start to render until it hits 130 degrees or so, pork fat will soften when kept at room temperature.
Dice the fat into small cubes. You can also mince it in the food processor, as long as you don’t overdo it and wind up with a messy clump of fat.
To render the fat, put the cubes in a large pot, then heat them slowly over a burner set to low. If you’d prefer to use a slow cooker, use the lowest setting. Stir the fat from time to time to ensure that it doesn’t burn. The process should take 3 to 4 hours.
Because rendering lard can be a stinky process, we’ll take it outside from time to time. Set the diced fat in a disposable aluminum pan, then set the pan on the cooking grate of your grill or smoker. Use low heat, and keep an eye on the fat to prevent burning.
Once the fat has converted to a liquid state, let it cool briefly, then strain it into clean heatproof containers. Store in the fridge for up to 6 months.
Can You Substitute Bacon Fat For Lard?
It depends on the recipe. In many cases, it’s fine to use bacon fat when the recipe calls for lard.
However, for pie crusts and other recipes where the ingredients skew more sweet than savory, it would be better to seek out regular lard. Here’s why.
Regular lard has a fairly neutral flavor, whereas bacon fat will always have that smoky, salty edge to it. That can overwhelm your other ingredients.
Of course, if you’re making a savory pot pie, a hint of bacon flavor might be a welcome addition to the pie crust. The bottom line is that you should use your best judgment when substituting bacon fat for lard—or even vice versa.
How To Render Bacon Fat
It’s easy to render the fat from bacon. If you’ve ever cooked bacon before, you’ve already done the job, even if you didn’t save the drippings.
Cook the bacon over medium-low heat. The meat should shrink and crisp up as it cooks, leaving a generous deposit of liquid fat behind.
Once you’ve removed the bacon using a pair of heatproof tongs, let the fat cool slightly. You don’t want it to get cool enough to solidify, but you also don’t want to get burned by the hot grease.
You’ll need to strain the fat before you store it. Otherwise, the browned bits of bacon will attract bacteria, and the fat will turn rancid. Use cheesecloth, a coffee filter, a fine-meshed sieve, or even a paper towel to filter out the solids, then discard them.
Store bacon fat in a heatproof container. We usually use ramekins for this purpose, but a clean aluminum can will work fine.
Don’t use plastic to store the fat—even if you’ve allowed the drippings to cool, they might still be warm enough to melt the material. Similarly, if you pour hot grease into a glass container, the glass will shatter.
Keep bacon fat in the fridge to prolong its shelf life. Like lard, it should keep at room temperature, but we prefer to refrigerate it, just to be safe. You can also store it in the freezer if you think it will be a while before you have a chance to use it up.
Bear in mind that the fat should be white or beige in color. If it turns a darker brown shade, it’s turned rancid and should be discarded.
Now that you know the difference between pork fat, lard, and bacon fat, you’ll be able to make an informed decision the next time you go shopping. While each one has unique characteristics, all of these ingredients make valuable additions to a griller’s pantry.