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What Is Lard? A Guide to This Traditional Cooking Fat

I’m all in on animal fats personally – see my other post on tallow. We’ve been eating them for millennia so I take the advise of increasing man-made vegetable and seed oils and fat with a pinch of salt… and not literally – I mean, I steer well clear. It’s seemed to serve me well for the past 7 years. I’m thriving more than ever.

However, vegetable oils like vegetable shortening have largely replaced lard and other animal fats over the past century, but many classic cooks are bringing this traditional rendered pig fat back into style.

Lard brings a distinctive richness perfect for delicate pastries, flaky pie crusts, flavorful sautéed dishes, and more. With its mild flavor and high-heat cooking abilities, lard performs brilliantly where you need a neutral taste and high-temperature cooking versatility.

From baking biscuits to frying and more, lard deserves a revived spot in your kitchen. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this classic rendered fat, from the process called rendering to types of lard, taste, nutrition, and best uses.

Let’s rediscover the wonders of this traditional cooking fat and answer the question ‘What is lard?’.


  • Lard is rendered pork fat that was once commonly used for cooking and baking.
  • Types include leaf lard (highest quality), rendered lard, and processed lard.
  • It has a high smoke point so great for frying. Neutral flavor good for baking.
  • Rendering lard involves slowly melting and straining pork fat. DIY at home.
  • Buy from butchers, farmers markets, and specialty stores. Look for leaf lard.
  • Store lard refrigerated or frozen in airtight containers. Lasts over 1 year chilled.
  • Nutrition-wise, it’s high in saturated fat but also has some benefits like vitamin D.
  • Compared to oils, butter, and shortening, lard makes flakier baked goods with a milder taste.
  • Can also use lard for DIY bodycare and as a leather conditioner, lubricant, or candle wax.
  • Overall, lard is a versatile traditional fat that still has culinary uses today.

What is Lard?

Lard is pure rendered pork fat, an animal fat made from the fatty tissues of pigs. It is created by rendering – melting down and clarifying – the fatty portions of pig bodies. Lard has been used in cooking for centuries, prized for its high smoke point, neutral flavor, and versatility.

It brings a distinctive richness perfect for delicate pastries, flaky biscuits and pie crusts, and flavorful sautéed dishes. Lard contains both saturated and monounsaturated fats and was once a staple fat for frying, baking, and cooking.

Lard delivers excellence in baking applications where you need a neutral taste and flaky layers. When buying lard, look for pure rendered leaf lard from the pig’s kidneys for the mildest flavor and highest quality.

Types of Lard

When it comes to pure pork fat, not all lard is created equal. There are a few different types of this rendered animal fat, each with their own characteristics, flavors, and best uses.

The highest quality lard comes from the leaf-shaped fat around the pig’s kidneys, which renders into a creamy, mild-tasting fat perfect for baking. Other types come from fattier parts of the pig or undergo processing, resulting in different flavors, textures, and qualities.

As you explore cooking with this traditional fat, it helps to understand the range of options available. In the next section, we’ll dive into the details of the main types of lard you’ll encounter.

Leaf Lard

Leaf lard comes from the leaf-shaped fatty deposits around the kidneys and loin of the pig. This is the highest quality type of lard. Leaf lard renders into a creamy, semi-soft fat with a mild flavor and light aroma.

It has a high smoke point which makes it excellent for frying. Leaf lard makes the flakiest pie crusts and baked goods because of its ability to create flaky layers.

When baking, leaf lard is perfect for achieving a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Look for pure rendered leaf lard when buying lard for the best results.

Rendered Lard

Rendered lard comes from fattier parts of the pig like the belly, back, and fat trimmings. Through the rendering process, the fatty tissues are melted down to extract and clarify the liquid fat.

Rendered lard has a stronger pork flavor than leaf lard. It works well for sautéing vegetables, cooking eggs, roasting potatoes, and other cooking applications.

Rendered lard provides rich flavor and crispy textures. Opt for pure rendered lard without extra processing or hydrogenation.

Unrendered Lard

Unrendered lard refers to raw pork fat before it has gone through the rendering process. Butchers sell unrendered pork fat in large blocks. Unrendered lard is solid at room temperature and challenging to cook with.

I use unrendered lard in my stews to add depth. It gets broken-down and rendered during the long cooling process.

Processed Lard

Processed lard has been hydrogenated and treated to make it more shelf-stable. This involves adding hydrogen to the monounsaturated fats, converting them into trans fats. Processed lard is sold in paper-wrapped blocks and tubs for extended shelf life at room temperature.

However, the hydrogenation process strips away some of the flavor. Processed lard also contains concerning trans fats. When possible, opt for pure rendered lard without this extra processing. Check the label for additives and hydrogenated oils.

Cooking With Lard

Lard is highly versatile in cooking. It can be used for baking, frying, sautéing, roasting, and more. This animal fat has a high smoke point reaching 370°F for refined lard.

Thanks to this high heat tolerance, lard performs excellently for frying and deep frying foods like fried chicken, french fries, and empanadas with a crispy texture.

Lard’s neutral flavor also makes it ideal for baked goods like flaky biscuits, pie crusts, and pastries that need a buttery taste without competing flavors. When sautéing veggies or potatoes, lard provides a nice crispiness.

What Does Lard Taste Like?

The flavor of lard depends on the type. Leaf lard has a neutral, mild flavor with a creamy mouthfeel. There is a barely detectable pork essence, making it perfect for pie crusts and pastries.

Rendered lard has a more pronounced porky taste. While leaf lard tastes nearly neutral, rendered lard provides savory pork notes that complement vegetables, eggs, and potatoes nicely when sautéed.

Quality-rendered lard also has a pleasant nuttiness. The pork flavor comes through more in cooking applications. Lard provides richness without a strong competing flavor.

How is Lard Made?

Lard is made through a process called rendering. Pork fat, often from the belly, back, and kidneys, is chopped into small pieces. The fat chunks are then melted down slowly over low heat. This allows the fat to liquefy and any water to evaporate.

Impurities separate out leaving pure liquid lard. The liquid is strained through a cheesecloth. Rendering lard takes 2-3 hours. The hot liquid lard is then poured into containers and allowed to cool and solidify into white lard. Rendering concentrates the fatty acids and flavors, resulting in pure lard.

How to Make Lard Yourself

Rendering your own lard at home is surprisingly easy to do. Just follow these 6 simple steps:

  1. Start with high-quality pork fat. Look for fresh pork fatback, leaf lard, or fatty trimmings from your local butcher.
  2. Chop the pork fat into 1-inch cubes. This gives more surface area for rendering.
  3. Add the cubed fat to a heavy pot or dutch oven. Throw in a few tablespoons of water to help render the fat.
  4. Cook the fat over low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Keep the heat low and slow.
  5. Strain the liquid fat through a cheesecloth to remove any impurities.
  6. Pour the strained lard into containers and refrigerate until firm. Scrape off any sediment before using.

Now you have fresh homemade lard ready for all your cooking needs! Store lard in the fridge for months or freezer for over a year.

Where to Buy Lard

There are a few places to buy quality lard:

  • Butcher Shops – Local butchers often sell fresh rendered leaf lard or let you request it. This is the best option for freshness.
  • Farmer’s Markets – Look for local farmers selling pasture-raised pork products. They may have lard for sale.
  • Specialty Stores – Some health food stores like Whole Foods or co-ops sell lard in the refrigerated section.
  • Online – You can order quality lard online and delivered to your door. See some options below:
  • Latin Markets – Lard is popular in Latin cuisine. Check Mexican markets.
  • Baking Aisle – Lower-quality processed lard is sometimes sold on the baking aisle shelf-stable.

Look for pure rendered leaf lard without hydrogenation or industrial processing for the best quality and flavor.

How to Store Lard

Lard can be stored in a few ways:

  • Refrigerated – Keeps for up to a year in a sealed container in the fridge. Ideal for regular use.
  • Frozen – For maximum shelf life, store lard in the freezer for up to 3 years. Thaw before using.
  • Room Temperature – For short-term storage, lard keeps for 1-2 months in a cool area in sealed containers.
  • Heat-Sealed Packaging – Commercially packaged lard is specially formulated to be shelf-stable for months without refrigeration.

No matter how you store it, keep lard in an airtight container away from light and heat for maximum freshness. Refrigeration is best for regular use within a year.

Lard vs Other Fats

When it comes to cooking fats, lard stands apart from many alternatives. As a pure rendered animal fat, lard has some unique properties that differentiate it from other common fats like butter, oils, and shortenings.

From tallow to vegetable shortening, we’ll explore how rendered pig fat contrasts with butter, oils, and various fats in the sections below.

Lard vs Tallow

Lard and tallow are both rendered animal fats but from different sources. Lard comes from pig fat while tallow comes from beef or mutton fat. When it comes to uses, lard, and tallow work similarly in cooking applications like frying, baking, and roasting. However, lard tends to have a sweeter, more delicate flavor compared to the stronger flavor of beef tallow.

Lard has a slightly lower smoke point at 365°F vs 400°F for tallow. Both animal fats are shelf-stable and suitable for room-temperature storage. Nutritionally, lard and tallow are high in saturated fat but also provide vitamins D, E, K, and A. For baking flaky crusts or frying, lard and beef tallow can often be used interchangeably.

Lard vs Butter

Lard and butter have some major differences. Butter is made from churned cow’s milk, while lard is pure rendered pork fat. When it comes to nutrition, butter has more saturated fat while lard contains healthy monounsaturated fats.

For cooking, lard has a higher smoke point around 370°F vs 350°F for butter, making it better for high-heat frying. Lard and butter both bake beautifully, but lard makes flakier crusts with distinct layers. Butter provides richer flavor, where lard has a more neutral taste.

When baking cookies or pie crusts, lard makes a flakier texture. For the best flaky biscuits or crusts, use a mix of lard and butter.

Lard vs Vegetable Shortening (Crisco)

Lard and vegetable shortening like Crisco provide similar cooking properties, but there are some differences. Vegetable shortening is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils while lard is pure rendered pork fat.

Nutritionally, lard contains vitamins A, D, and E not found in vegetable shortening. Lard also has less saturated fat. For cooking, lard has a higher smoke point around 370°F compared to 325°F for shortening.

Both create flaky baked goods, but lard provides a richer flavor. Lard performs similarly to shortening, but with the benefits of a natural animal fat. However, vegetable shortening avoids pork for dietary restrictions.

Lard vs Vegetable Oil

Lard and vegetable oils provide very different cooking properties and nutrition profiles. Vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and corn oil come from plant sources, while lard is pure rendered pork fat.

In terms of nutrition, lard contains vitamins D and E, while vegetable oils provide omega-3s and omega-6s. For cooking, lard typically has a higher smoke point around 370°F vs 225-450°F for vegetable oils. This makes lard excellent for frying and high-heat cooking.

The neutral taste of lard also lets food flavors shine. Vegetable oils work for low or medium-heat cooking, impart a plant-based flavor, and avoid animal products. When choosing between lard vs vegetable oils, consider the cooking application, nutrition, and flavor you desire.

Other Uses For Lard

Besides cooking, lard has some additional uses around the home and for body care. Here are some creative ways to use lard:

  • Moisturizer – The vitamin D in lard makes it an effective skin moisturizer and balm for hands, feet, and elbows.
  • Conditioner – Mix lard with essential oils and apply to dry hair as a conditioning hair mask.
  • Lip balm & gloss – Whip lard with beeswax and essential oils for a soothing lip balm.
  • Soap – Lard’s fatty acids make it a key ingredient in lard soap bars.
  • Candles – For a long-burning candle, use lard as the base wax.
  • Bird feeders – Coat pine cones with lard and birdseed to make energy-rich bird feeders.
  • Lubricant – Use lard as a machine lubricant and rust prevention, like on tools.
  • Seasoning – Rub a thin layer of lard on new cast iron cookware to jumpstart the seasoning.
  • Leather – Mix lard with beeswax to make a leather protector and conditioner.

Get creative with lard’s versatility not only in the kitchen but around the homestead!

Lard is not the only versatile animal fat, see my post about the surprising uses of beef tallow that go beyond cooking and beef tallow for skin.


Lard is making a deserved comeback in modern kitchens. This rendered pork fat was once a beloved staple fat prized for its neutral flavor, high smoke point, and flaky textures. Lard delivers excellence when cooking biscuits, pie crusts, fried foods, and more.

Look for quality leaf lard rendered from the kidneys and loin for the mildest taste and baking performance. Lard’s versatility for frying, baking, sautéing, roasting, and more proves why chefs are rediscovering this traditional animal fat.

With proper storage, lard keeps for over a year refrigerated. Next time a recipe calls for a neutral-flavored baking or cooking fat, consider bringing home some lard from your local butcher to rediscover timeless flavors and cooking performance.

If you interested in digging deeper into animal fats for cooking, skin care or it multitude of other uses, check out my other posts about tallow.

And, if you’re into nose-to-tail philosophy as I am, then find out more about organ meats and offal and how to make use of the whole beast – minimising waste and optimizing health.

FAQ: What Is Lard?

Is lard just pig fat?

Yes, lard is pure rendered pig fat. It is made by rendering the fatty tissues of pigs, mainly from the belly, back, and leaf-shaped fat around the kidneys. Lard is pig fat that has been melted down and clarified into a cooking fat.

Is lard better for you than butter?

In some ways, yes. Lard has a higher smoke point than butter, making it better for high heat cooking. It also contains monounsaturated fats while butter is higher in saturated fat. However, butter provides more vitamins A, E, and K. When baking, lard makes flakier crusts. For the best nutrition, consume both lard and butter in moderation.

Is lard a healthy fat?

While high in saturated fat, lard also contains monounsaturated fats and fat-soluble vitamins D, E, and K. Compared to trans fat, lard may be a healthier choice. But more research is still needed on its nutritional profile.

Why is lard no longer used?

Concerns over saturated fat and heart health in the mid 20th century made vegetable oils and shortening gain popularity over animal fats like lard. Public perception of lard as unhealthy led to decreased use. However, classic techniques are bringing lard back into style.

Does lard clog arteries?

Lard is high in saturated fat which can raise LDL cholesterol levels which has been associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis when consumed in excess. While monounsaturated fats may provide some heart benefits. Overall, lard in moderation as part of a healthy lifestyle is unlikely to clog arteries or cause heart disease on its own.

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