A black and white cow and a black pig in a boxing ring with the words "beef tallow vs lard, which traditional fat is healthier and tastier

Beef Tallow vs Lard: Which Traditional Cooking Fat Is Healthier and Tastier?

Are you looking to incorporate animal fats into your diet but confused about what fat is best to use. Well we’ll answer the burning question and see which wins between beef tallow vs lard.

For centuries, beef tallow and pork fat in the form of lard were kitchen staples. But thanks to modern health fears over saturated fats along with cheap vegetable oils flooding the market, many home cooks today overlook these traditional animal fats.

Yet there’s growing consumer interest in bringing tallow and lard back into our culinary rotation. Supporters argue moderate amounts of these natural fats not only taste better than vegetable oils, but can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Some even go as far as to say vegetable oil, seed oil, canola oil and corn oil are not fit for human consumption and are extremely bad for our health.

So when deciding what type of cooking fat to use for frying, searing, or baking, should you choose beef tallow or lard? Here’s a detailed comparison of these two old-fashioned yet increasingly popular options.

TL;DR

  • Tallow comes from rendered purified beef fat, often from the kidney fat, otherwise called suet
  • Lard is rendered and strained pork fat that can come from various parts of the pig
  • Moderate intake of saturated fats like those in tallow and lard may not be as bad as previously thought
  • Tallow is very high in saturated fat, while lard contains more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat
  • Tallow has a higher smoke point (400°F) than lard (374°F), making it better for high-heat frying
  • Lard delivers a flakiness that excels in baking delicate items like pie crusts or biscuits
  • Tallow has a subtle meaty, savory essence; lard has a neutral flavor
  • Paying a premium for quality tallow and lard can be worthwhile to avoid industrial seed oils
  • Incorporate beef tallow, pork lard, and other traditional fats in moderation to balance vegetable oil consumption

Where Do Tallow and Lard Come From?

First, a quick terminology recap.

Tallow refers to any form of rendered beef fat or purified beef fat. This hard fat usually comes from the suet around the kidneys of cattle, but tallow can be made from any beef fat trim or any other ruminant fat for that matter.

Lard is the term used for rendered pork fat. Lard can come from different parts of the pig including the pork belly, back, and fat around the kidneys.

To create tallow or lard for cooking, the raw fat goes through a rendering process. This involves gently heating the fat to separate it from any connective tissues or impurities. Once strained, you’re left with pure, shelf-stable liquid fat.

This age-old practice of rendering fat into cooking oils results in two products:

  • Cracklings – The crispy, fried remnants of tissue and meat left behind after rendering. These make a tasty snack that’s popular in my house!
  • Rendered fat (tallow or lard) – The liquid cooking fat derived from the melted and purified animal fat.

Nutritional Profile

For the past few decades, certain fats have been villainized as universally bad for your health. Saturated fats (saturated fatty acids) fall into this category.

However, the science linking saturated fat directly to heart disease and other health conditions has come under scrutiny. For example, this meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.

While nutrition research continues to evolve, the latest indicates that moderate, balanced intake of saturated fat as part of an overall healthy lifestyle poses little health risk for most people. Some even argue that rendered animal fats like tallow and lard provide more benefits than commercial vegetable and seed oils.

Here’s how the nutritional profiles of beef tallow and pork lard compare:

Tallow Nutrition

Beef tallow nutrition offers:

  • 902 calories per 100g
  • 50g saturated fat per 100g

Along with smaller amounts of:

  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E

Since tallow comes from cattle raised on grass, it provides more bioavailable forms of certain micronutrients like vitamins A and E compared to grain-fed animals.

Lard Nutrition

Lard nutrition contains:

  • 902 calories per 100g
  • 39g saturated fat per 100g

With additional:

  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Vitamin D

Lard’s high monounsaturated fat content offers potential metabolic benefits. And pasture-raised pork provides exceptionally abundant levels of vitamin D stored in the lard.

So while both cooking fats deliver calories and saturated fat, they each supply other advantageous vitamins and unsaturated fats. Used in moderation, neither tallow or lard posses significant health risks.

Smoke Points and High-Heat Uses

When cooking oil reaches its smoke point, the fats start to break down releasing free radicals and toxic compounds. So an oil’s smoke point matters for certain cooking methods.

The smoke point for:

  • Beef tallow – 400°F
  • Lard – 374°F

With its higher smoke point, beef tallow allows safer high-heat cooking. Deep frying and searing is better suited to tallow rather than lard.

In fact, McDonald’s famously used to fry its French fries in beef tallow to achieve that iconic flavor. Many chefs claim frying in tallow delivers superior texture and taste for fries or fried chicken compared to vegetable oils.

Lard’s slightly lower smoke point still permits sautéing veggies or browning meat. But for extended exposure to temperatures above 375°F, tallow works better than lard.

Flavor

When it comes to taste, lard, and tallow offer distinct flavor profiles.

Beef tallow has a pleasantly beefy flavor thanks to its natural flavors permeating the fat. Tallow’s strong meaty essence enhances savory foods like steaks, fried eggs, and roasted vegetables.

Lard’s flavor is typically more neutral than pork meat itself. Leaf lard from fat around the kidneys has an especially mild taste. The lack of porkiness allows lard to shine in both sweet and savory cooking.

So if you’re frying donuts or whipping up flaky biscuits, neutral lard lets sweet flavors shine through. But for beef stir-fries or venison steaks, that added meaty punch from tallow boosts savoriness.

It comes down to personal preference, but tallow’s flavor largely complements meat or savory foods better, while lard’s versatility suits it to more applications.

Baking Properties

When it comes to baking, lard especially excels. Lard’s higher unsaturated fat ratio gives it a spreadable softness at room temperature. Compared to the more saturated tallow, lard tends to bake into flakier, crisper items like pie crusts.

Many professional chefs swear by lard or leaf fat for the flakiest pie crusts and biscuits thanks to how it incorporates into dough. The same properties preventing tallow from shining in baked goods allow it to work wonderfully for deep frying.

So bakers should stick to lard or occasionally butter for the best texture. Though for frying Southern-style chicken or fish, beef tallow can’t be beaten.

Price and Sourcing Cooking Fat

One reason vegetable oils replaced animal fats like lard and tallow commercially is cost. In today’s supply chains, commodity soy or canola oils cost far less than small-batch artisanal lard or tallow.

Yet to avoid industrial seed oils, obtaining high-quality cooking fats like traditional lard or grass-fed tallow requires paying a bit of a premium. Economic realities make it tricky for many households to totally eliminate vegetable oils.

However, you can offset costs through practices like:

  • Saving bacon grease or beef drippings to render at home
  • Buying freshly rendered lard from local butchers
  • Checking Mexican markets for affordable options

While paying $10 for a pound of artisan leaf fat may not fit most budgets, little changes add up. Using lard from your last batch of bacon or tallow leftover from your cow share in place of some vegetable oil makes a difference.

Every bit of animal fat you Render into tallow or lard offsets the unhealthy oils in modern food supplies.

That said, I’m a big fan of sourcing high quality grass fed, grass finished or pasture raised animal products and my tallow and lard is no exception. In fact I’ve written an article on the best meat subscription box services to save time scouring the internet. Many of these companies do one-off deliveries too.

Nutrition & Smoke Points Comparison

Oil TypeCalories per 100gSaturated FatSmoke Point
Beef Tallow90250g400°F
Pork Lard89832g374°F

Tallow vs Lard: Which Is Healthier?

With more balanced recent research exonerating dietary saturated fats, tallow and lard can be part of healthy cooking routines when used properly.

Beef tallow’s higher smoke point makes it a bit better suited for high-heat frying and cooking. Nutritionally, tallow contains more omega-3 fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A and E—especially when sourced from grass-fed cattle.

Pasture-raised pork lard delivers plenty of vitamin D along with monounsaturated fats. Lard suits more versatile uses from frying to baking.

Both animal fats were staples in traditional diets for thousands of years. Overdependence on modern vegetable oils poses more risks than incorporating modest amounts of tallow or lard.

So rather than declaring one healthier overall, the healthiest approach focuses on re-balancing intake. Substitute a bit of lard or tallow to offset the overconsumption of industrial seed oils.

Tallow vs Lard: Smoke Points & Uses

Culinary UseBetter Suited Oil
High-heat fryingBeef Tallow
Baking pie crustsPork Lard
Sauteing veggiesPork Lard
Searing steaksBeef Tallow
Frying chickenBeef Tallow

Tallow vs Lard: Soap & Skincare

Both beef tallow and pork lard offer skincare benefits when used in products like soap and salves. They provide natural fatty acids that absorb well to hydrate and calm skin.

Tallow’s saturated and unsaturated fatty acid profile mimics skin’s natural oils closely. Stearic acid and oleic acid help reinforce the moisture barrier without risk of clogging pores. This allows better absorption of accompanying moisturizing compounds.

I write more about using beef tallow for skin covering all its advantages for skincare.

Lard’s balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats also nourishes skin effectively. The vitamin D content offers particular advantages for healing and therapeutic properties.

Home cooks can render clean tallow or lard to use in small batches of handmade soap or balms. When sourced from grass-fed beef or pasture-raised heritage hogs, these traditional fats impart superiority over modern vegetable oils. They bring ethical sustainability too.

While not vegan-friendly, both animal-derived cooking fats offer superiority for home skincare recipes when sourced conscientiously from small farms. Their fatty acid profiles have moisturized skin for generations before industrial seed oils dominated markets. Give your skin some heritage nourishment!

Alternative Animal Fats

While this post focuses on powerhouse cooking fats beef tallow and pork lard, there are a few other rendered animal fats that deserve a mention:

Duck fat – When rendered from tasty duck skin, this oil adds delicious richness to roasted potatoes or confit. Duck fat has a smoke point of 375°F.

Goose fat – Similar to duck fat, rendering goose skin produces a luscious fat for high-heat cooking and roasting. It has a high smoke point of 400°F.

Chicken fat or schmaltz – Rendered chicken fat suits Jewish staples like matzoh ball soup and chopped liver. It has a milder flavor with a smoke point of 350°F.

Bacon grease – This byproduct of cooking bacon cranks up savory flavor. Fry eggs in bacon fat or use it to season cast iron. With lower moisture and a smoke point ranging 325-375°F, it’s best for lower heats.

Adding these alternative animal fats into your cooking rotation further reduces dependence on flavorless seed oils. And you can render many at home after cooking poultry or other meats. They each offer their own nutritional and cooking benefits through their unique fat profiles.

So beyond central staples like tallow and lard, explore other traditional oils to unlock flavors and textures vegetable oils can’t match! Which heirloom cooking fat will you try next?

Conclusion

Well, the winner out of the tallow vs lard battle is clear… they both win!

Both types of rendered animal fat are unique in their own way resulting in each being more suitable for different uses. For example, lard is superior for producing a flaky pie crust. Whereas tallow is ideal for producing the perfect fries and adding extra meatiness when cooking beef.

Ultimately, beef tallow and lard, as well as other animal fats are ideal for cooking with, producing far superior tasting dishes compared to the industrially manufactured oils.

There’s a deep-rooted fear of animal fats, although it’s now becoming understood that they may have more nutritional value than first realized so they’re being considered healthy fats, albeit in moderation.

Personally, I steer well clear of man-made fats and stick with the fats we’ve been eating for millennia.

If you’re interested, I’ve written a load more about tallow and lard in the articles below for you to dig deeper:

That’s it! Have a nutritious Day!

FAQs: Tallow vs Lard

Which is healthier lard or tallow?

Both traditional animal fats are fine for occasional use when cooked properly. Nutritionally, grass-fed tallow contains more omega-3s and vitamins A and E, while pasture-raised lard boasts very high levels of vitamin D.

Is tallow the healthiest fat?

Calling anyone fat the “healthiest” fails to recognize that balance is key. But grass-fed beef tallow has some nutritional advantages over vegetable oils and is suitable for high-heat cooking.

Can I use tallow instead of lard?

In savory cooking, yes. Though for baking delicate pastries or pie crusts, lard’s flakiness and spreadability may work better.

Is tallow the same as lard in soap making?

No, the chemical properties of beef tallow and pork lard differ slightly, leading to subtle variations in lathering and moisturizing qualities when used in soaps.

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