What is Tallow?
The first time we bought a share in a cow that was being butchered I was asked if I wanted any of the fat. I was a little taken aback by this question, I will admit, but was advised that because my husband is a deer hunter, we could use the fat to grind in with our venison to make it a little less lean. (It is a bit difficult to not burn such lean meat.) So I accepted.
Then I got into soap making and realized the gold mine I had in my freezer in the way of soaping oils. But how do you take beef fat and turn it into soap?
I began to research rendering the fat and realized it is quite a simple process!
TIP: I have since also been able to obtain amounts of fat from a local butcher at no charge. They were quite happy to give me bags of fat left over from the butchering process. I just needed to ask!
Tallow for Soap Making
Don’t be scared away by the thought of using beef tallow in your soap recipes. Beef tallow is a great oil for soaping and makes a nice hard bar with a rich lather. In fact, most soap bought commercially is made with tallow. Check the ingredients for sodium tallowate, which is a fancy way of saying saponified tallow.
The “sodium” comes from sodium hydroxide (lye) and the “tallowate” is the tallow. There is also no need to worry about your soap smelling like a pot roast! The chemical reaction that takes place completely changes the scent and you will be left with a normal smelling bar of homemade soap. 🙂
In home soap making, tallow is commonly used in laundry bars and can be used in the place of palm oil in soap recipes, as the properties of the two oils give the same results in a soap bar.
I use it for my solid shampoo recipe. It is best to use the “leaf fat” with is located around the kidneys. It has a milder taste and smell than other fat. I used what I was given so it came from all parts of the cow, however, I did learn that the “drier” fat was much better than the more gelatinous looking fat. That may not make sense now but it will when you start working with it.
Next time I will only use the drier, stiffer fat. Tallow can also be used in the place of shortening or vegetable oil as a healthier alternative in cooking or frying. In this case, I would be sure to use leaf fat. Because I was just making soap, I wasn’t picky.
How to Render Tallow
Rendering tallow isn’t difficult, as long as you have a few supplies on hand to expedite the process.
Tallow Rendering Supplies Needed:
- Beef fat (ask a local farmer or butcher for any extra or buy from a reputable source)
- Slow cooker
- Meat grinder or food processor
- Molds or jars to store it in
It is much easier to work with cold fat, so make sure yours has been in the refrigerator before beginning. Determine how much can fit in your slow-cooker and trim off any remaining meat and gristle. You don’t have to get every last bit of meat but get as much as you can. The rest will cook out later.
Now you can run it through your meat grinder. If you don’t have one, you can cut it into smaller hunks and pulse it in your food processor until it resembles ground beef. It will heat faster and more evenly like this.
Once you have done this, put the ground fat in your slow-cooker and turn it on low. You want it to heat slowly so it will not burn. Now, the first time I did this, I did it inside. The second time, (with fat from a different cow) I had to do it outside because it was stinky. I was also pregnant so I am sure that didn’t help! 🙂
I think it will depend on the cow and the type of fat you use, whether it is the leaf fat or just any beef fat. Don’t be afraid of the smell, but be prepared to move it outside if it isn’t appealing to you 🙂 And remember, the smell will NOT affect the smell of your soap bar.
Now you wait 🙂
It will slowly start to melt and this is where the leftover “extras” you weren’t able to cut out will begin to float to the top. When the floating bits become crispy and all the fat is liquid, it is finished. This takes about 6 hours, more or less depending on how much you are doing.
When it is finished you can scoop out the crispy floaties and then pour the tallow through your cheesecloth. There are a few ways you can store it. I store mine in clean glass jars leftover from pasta sauce, salsa, etc and then store it in the freezer.
You can also line a baking sheet or dish like a 9” x 13” glass pan with parchment or wax paper, pour the tallow in that and let it solidify in the refrigerator. Once it has hardened lift it out and break it up a bit like brittle. Now you can put it in a freezer bag and store it in the freezer. This is definitely helpful if you are going to cook with it because you can pull out smaller amounts at a time.
I store mine in the deep freezer because I may go months without making soap. Then I am able to pull it out as I need it. I have stored small amounts in the fridge for frying as well and this has lasted several months. If you do a good job straining all the crispies out it should last quite a while.
If you aren’t sure if it is still good, use your nose and your eyes. When mine finally did go bad it had a small spot of mold and an “off” smell. But this was easily 6 months after the rendering process.
See how simple the process is? I have never rendered lard (fat from a pig) but I can imagine the process would be the same.
Now you are ready to begin soaping or cooking with your homemade tallow.
Have you ever tried to rendered tallow before? How did it go?
Discussion (47 Comments)
What do you do with the suet right after you get it from the butcher? I’m looking at getting 1/4 beef and need to know how quickly I have to “make the tallow” after I get my stuff from the butcher. Thanks! 🙂
You can freeze it until you are ready. I do the roaster oven rendering outside right away, ladle the fat into peanut butter jars or yogurt containers (if it is not too hot) and it will keep for a long time. My jars are in the gagrage.
Wow, that was really interesting, the article and the posts – thank you to all. I am glued to this site, I wish i had found it earlier.
I have tallow candles in those pint canning jar mugs and I just keep a lid on them until the power goes out and I have large, contained and drip-less candles for emergencies.
The backpack idea is a great one too!
I have never rendered Tallow but I have rendered lard.
The way I learned was on the stove top, stirring & sifting for hours on end….
At the time, That was all I knew…before that, I had never rendered anything…
fast forward to the Present.
Because of how I was taught to render Lard, today I am still a wee bit tired(?) of anything having to do with a hog.
I’ll raise them, but I refuse to butcher them, render them, etc…
back then pork was the ONLY meat we had, & the ONLY meat we ate…maybe that’s why I became a vegetarian….
I think your blog/article was very interesting, very informative, & I must confess, I never ever thought about Tallow candles…
TY Ladies for sharing this.
GOD bless you all.
The easiest way I have done beef tallow left over from butchering, is in a roaster oven, out on the deck or patio, so you don’t smell up the house. I just let it go for several days and ladle out the liquid to weigh before adding it to the pot for soap making.
Hi. Is tallow also the fat that comes from bone broth? We made a ton of bone broth and scooped out all the fat and put it in a mason jar in the fridge. Now i don’t know how long it is good for or if I could use it for soap. Please give me some guidance.
I wrote here previously about how I collect and clean the fat on top of broths to use for soap. Let me know if you need any more details Caroline!
Thanks Leslie. Do you know how long it keeps for in the fridge?
I think it will keep forever. Sometimes it molds so it must still have something besides just the fat in it. I just clean it again with the boiling water, maybe filter to get mold other stuff out. When combined with the lye, everything is chemically changed. Lye is a very “strong” or reactive substance that radically changes what it touches, one of the reasons you need to use stainless steel when soap making.
My recent batch had soy oil, bacon grease, olive oil, lots of chicken fat and beef tallow. The only purchased fat was coconut. Each batch of my “recycled” soap is different.
Also works well for candle-making.
A candle in the backpack as a backup light source and (in a dire situation) emergency food if need be.
I have rendered tallow many times. I like to use it as a moisturizer. After I render the tallow & add olive oil and Frankincense. It is amazing on my face. I passed it out to friends for Christmas, and they basically began stalking me for more when it ran out!
Sounds awesome. I am going to try that Sarah. Thanks for sharing!
Can you post your recipe for the moisturizer? It sounds wonderful!
Where does the lye come into play?
Also I have Rosacea. Will this type of soap help with this condition?
That would probably be an internal issue. I know there is something natural you can do about it but I can’t remember off the top of my head.I am riding in the car and could look it up later if you want to know more!
Homemade soap would probably be excellent for rosacea as it is very gentle and healing but would not address the internal issues.
The lye combines with the fats to make a completely different composition…soap! One of the reasons it works so well, and I may have said this above, weeks ago, is the new molecule has one end that has an affinity for water and the other end, an affinity for fat, thereby being able to emulsify the fat (i.e. grease stain in clothes) that can then be washed away in water!
This came at the PERFECT time! Picking up our first 1/4 cow today 🙂
So we are basically bathing with fat? Will that leave our skin slimy and smelling strange? How does that clean my skin? And it seems it would not rinse off.
I have rendered tallow. I like to do it in a roaster oven outside, since I always make soap outside. So i render right before I am going to use it and just stoe the fat in the freezer.
I also collect fat from meat I cook, like chicken, turkey, beef, venison, lamb or mutton and pork would work but I never buy it.. I heat it with water and everything unwanted goes into the water layer. I cool it in the refrigerator and remove the fat layer. I usually do this twice and then store that fat for future soap making. Nothing goes to waste!
The chemical reaction between the lye and fat creates a completely new substance Ann. No greasiness left whatsoever!!
We discovered that my soap heals chapped hands like what you get in the winter in Wisconsin! Probably because the glycerine is still in it, whereas commercial soap has it removed so they can sell it for hand lotion, cosmetics, etc.. Such a great discovery, homemade soap is very healing and helps the skin, the opposite of the drying commercial stuff!
It also removes stains from clothes better than anything else we have ever used! Especially grease stains!
Hi Ann, I responded to your concerns below. Good questions!
All natural soap is saponified fats, whether vegetable oils or animal in origin. So if you’ve ever used a natural soap (and by that, I mean not a bar of solidified sls or other detergent). The saponifcation process is the process of turning fat into soap by using lye.
So, if you’ve ever used soap, you already know the answer. It cleans just fine and smells just fine. Sometimes natural soap leaves a slight residue in hard water. But it’s not “slimy” or oily like just rubbing fat or oil all over.
All soap is made with fats, whether they are animal or plant-based. Two of the most popular fats used in soap are palm oil (plant based) and tallow. Palm oil is cheap, but it is not sustainably harvested and thus is a concern for environmentalists. Tallow does not add an unpleasant smell (or any noticeable smell really) to your soap. As for rinsing it off, as I said, all soaps are made with fats–every single one. There is no such thing as a soap without fat in it, so you tell me. Does soap rinse off? Some “face washes” and the like are oil-free, but these are not “soaps” in the strict definition of the word. They are soap alternatives.
I don’t really know the chemistry on why soap gets you clean, but oil is a cleansing agent on its own. I personally wash my face with oil using the oil cleansing method. There is a lot of fear-mongering in the cosmetic industry about oil, but it’s mostly nonsense. The oil cleansing method (OCM) works based on the chemistry concept that “like dissolves like.” So when I rub oil all over my face, it goes into my pores and dissolves all of the oil in my pores. Then I steam it off my face with a very warm washcloth–boom! clean. This can actually be a bit drying for your face depending on what oil you use–talk about counter-intuitive. Now, soap is a more thorough “cleanser” and is the best thing for your whole body (though maybe a bit harsh for your face). Soap is great, and homemade soap is awesome! Give it a try! Just don’t get hung up on the animal fat. All soap uses some kind of fat.
One lady said my tallow soap was the best thing she had ever used on her face. Like my previous comment said, I think it is the glycerin that is in our soap which is removed in commercial soaps and why they are drying.
I have a degree in Chemistry and make a lot of my own salves, oils, tinctures, diaper crème, deodorant, fire cider, etc..
The most basic chemical explanation of soap’s action, is that since it has a fat molecule combined with a water based molecule, it has dissolving properties that work well for cleaning, and I have noticed my soap is the premier grease remover of all my cleaning resources.
When we go on trips, my daughters insist that we always have a bar along for skin and laundry needs! My youngest daughter finds it the only hand cleaner that keeps her hands from getting chapped!
Can you share your soap recipe? I’d be very interested in trying it.
I use the cold process recipe from the Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. It is long and detailed, too much to type out here. .Some hints though, make sure your fat and lye solution are the same temp when mixing together or it will curdle, Keep vinegar in a bowl for neutralizing splashes or if the lye gets on you or something, so it doesn’t burn, and cover your table well with paper bags or heavy plastic. I always stir together outside, even in the winter. Don’t breathe the fumes and make sure pets and children are not around, for safety. I wear a heavy plastic apron and something over my eyes and I always use a lye calculator online to plug my weights of the assorted fats in, so the correct amount of lye gets used. This is the one I have used a number of times: https://www.brambleberry.com/calculator?calcType=lye There are lots of other soap recipes available and if you lived near Eugene, OR I would say come over and watch! Good luck!
You need fat to make soap, whether it is from plants or animals. The soap making process creates a chemical reaction that changes the fat to soap. Most commercial soaps are made with beef tallow. It isn’t likely or stinky when the process is done. Just “normal” handmade soap with a “normal” smell and feel and a lovely lather.
Ann, tallow and lard have been used to make soap for thousands of years. It’s just relatively recently that people have had alternative fats to use to make soap. In the post it even mentions tallow being used to make the majority of store bought soap. I’d wager you’ve used soap made from tallow and never noticed.