9 June 2016 – Every week I get a bunch of sheep meat through work and I always find myself wondering what the heck to do with all the fat that gets trimmed off since I hate to see it go to waste. Well, I recently learned that you can make candles and cooking oil out of this fat by rendering it into what’s called tallow. Here’s how I did it!
Sovereign Hill Inspiration
The whole idea to make candles out of sheep fat came while visiting Sovereign Hill with the family. Sovereign Hill is a re-creation of an old 1850’s gold mining town in Victoria, Australia. Old style shops are attended by people dressed the part, horse-drawn carriages make their way through the unpaved streets, and fire pits stay lit along the streetside to keep passersby warm. You can attend school and learn to write using quill and ink, wander through the quaint homes of a bygone era, or visit the local candle shop to see how candles are made.
It turns out the candle shop is a legit operation, creating beeswax candles that get sold all throughout Australia. During a tour, the woman was explaining how candles were made and she made a quick reference to how you can actually make candles out of most any type of animal fat. In fact, during the depression-era and WWII years, she remembers her mother buttering her toast with the drippings of candles made with fat. The light bulb immediately went off in my head: I was going to make candles out of sheep fat!
What is Tallow
Tallow is essentially lard that has been rendered from the fat of an animal such as cattle or sheep. It is extremely stable at high temperatures and considered an old fashioned yet healthy alternative to many of the oils used in cooking today. It’s also said to be an excellent source of niacin, selenium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, ribuflavin, and vitamins B2, B12, and K2. 
Tallow is rendered by melting down the fat and removing all impurities such as bits of meat and other unwanted items that may be mixed in with the fat. Fat, on its own, supposedly doesn’t spoil. It may go rancid, but it doesn’t spoil. Therefore, by removing all the impurities you can end up with something that’s very stable and long-lasting. It can be used for a number of purposes:
- Candles – the tallow will provide the fuel needed to burn a candle.
- Cooking oil – because it is very tolerant of high heat, it can be used to grease up pans for frying
- Basic survival – because it does not spoil, if your life depended on it you could eat the tallow for survival and you woud be fine.
If you don’t do a good job of filtering out the impurities, it doesn’t mean that the candle won’t work. It will, however, put out dark smoke and smell like mutton.
How to Render Tallow
There are several techniques for rendering tallow. You can use a crock-pot, oven, or stove-top, and you can choose to add water or not. I scoured through several articles and YouTube videos, started off with a double-boiler method (pot inside a pot) but became impatient and switched to the final technique I settled on which seems to be working fine for me. [1-7]
- Separate the fat from meat as well as possible. It’s easiest to do this when the meat is cold, in which case the fat usually comes right off.
- Cut the fat into very small pieces, which will speed up the melting process (some people use graters or food processors).
- Place the fat into a frying pan and add just enough water to cover the bottom, which will prevent the fat from burning.
- Occasionally stirring the contents, allow the fat to slowly melt down. This will take a while.
- Once the mixture starts making crackling noises, you are getting close to being done. Once the crackling noises more or less stop, then the melting process is finished.
- Pour the liquid into a jar through a cheesecloth or other method of fine filtration (I used a nylon stocking since I did not have cheesecloth at the time).
- Allow the liquid to cool and harden. Although it looks yellow, if filtered well it should turn white when finished. If you are making a candle, be sure to suspend a cotton string or other form of wick in the center of the mixture. Dunk the wick deeper than it needs to go and then pull it back up so it gets coated with tallow. This will make the wick more stable.
The Process in Pictures
Making Salmon with Tallow
Shortly after making my first candle, I was asked to cook my “famous” crispy salmon dinner. I normally use grape seed oil for this (which is more tolerant to high heat as compared to olive oil), but figured I might as well give my new tallow a try. Since I’d already made my candles, I stuck a fork in one of the candles and took out a few clumps. Once the pan was good and hot, I added the tallow and seared my salmon over the high heat. I didn’t tell anybody I’d used the tallow and they told me it was the best salmon I’d made yet! So regarding whether or not it works, I guess the proof is in the salmon (dad joke, sorry).
Mission success! Not only did I make candles using fat that would have otherwise been thrown away, I inadvertently discovered a good grease for cooking food as well as something I could eat and survive off of for a short while if my life depended on it (let’s hope I don’t have to ever put that one to practice!).
This reaffirms for me how cool rediscovering some of these “lost arts” can be. I had a bunch of fun figuring it out, and once we establish our future homestead this will be another great way of minimizing our cost of living and level of waste.
Tallow! Who would’ve thought.
- “How to Render Beef Tallow.” The Prairie Homestead, Feb 2012. (Source)
- “Suggestion: Render your own tallow and make animal-fat candles. Survival candle doubles as emergency ration.” Reddit, as of 1 June 2016. (Source)
- “How to Make Tallow Emergency Candles.” The Prairie Homestead, Jan 2014. (Source)
- “How to Make Your Own Candles.” Survival-Manual.com, as of 1 June 2016. (Source)
- The Health Home Economist. “Beef Tallow.” YouTube, 22 Oct 2012. (Source)
- Wheaton, Paul. “How to Render Lard.” YouTube, 10 April 2012. (Source)
- HealthNutNation. “How to Render Lard: The Right Way.” YouTube, 17 May 2012. (Source)