Tallow vs lard vs suet… All fats, but which fat comes from which animal, and what do we use it for? This is a complete overview of the differences between tallow and lard and why they’re useful. I’ve included a table of contents below so you can skip straight to a section of interest if you want to.
- Different Animals, Different Fats
- Tallow vs Lard vs Suet vs Schmaltz
- Lard In Detail
- Tallow In Detail
- Schmaltz In Detail
- Suet In Detail
- Tallow vs Lard Summary
Different Animals, Different Fats
When thinking about animal products we use, the parts of the animal we think of most are the meat for eating, honey for sweetening, or eggs for baking and eating. There are animal products that we don’t think of as often but are still used.
We can tan hides for rugs or clothes, use the bones in composting or to make stock, and use other parts such as intestines for sausage casing. We can eat some of the organ meat such as kidneys or liver, which have a high vitamin and mineral content.
People often don’t think of using one part of the animal: the fat. All animals contain fat. The names for the fat depend on which animal it comes from.
Tallow vs Lard vs Suet vs Schmaltz
- Schmaltz is the rendered fat from a chicken or a goose.
- Duck fat (also referred to as ‘lard’) is the rendered fat from a duck.
- The most common fat product that we hear of, though, is lard. Lard normally comes from the belly of a pig. It is rendered and clarified to make it shelf stable for later use in cooking.
- Chicken – Schmaltz
- Goose – Schmaltz
- Duck – Lard or duck fat
- Pig – Lard
- Cow – Tallow (rendered) or suet (non-rendered)
- Ruminants (multi-stomach animals) – Tallow (rendered) or suet (non-rendered)
The other types of animal products that we use are tallow and suet. When you look at tallow vs lard, tallow is a hard, fatty substance. It is usually made from the fat found around the kidney area of a cow or other ruminant (multi-stomached) animal. It is shelf-stable for later use in cooking or making other products such as soap and candles.
Suet is the hard, white fat found around the kidneys and loins of cows and other animals, and this is what tallow is rendered from. This type of fat can be used for baking or cooking requiring higher temperatures, but may not be shelf-stable for as long as lard or tallow. You can also use suet to feed birds. There are special bird suet feeders, like this one:
- Vinyl-coated metal cage is weather-resistant
- Holds one standard-sized suet or seed cake
- Front panel opens for easy filling
- Birds are able to feed from all surfaces
- Hanging chain attached
Animal fat has gotten a bad rap recently, but is now coming back in fashion due to its versatility and reputed health benefits. Have a look at these tallow vs lard facts.
- Comes from cows or other ruminants.
- Usually made from the fat around the kidneys.
- Cooking, soap, candles, skincare
- Most commonly used animal fat
- Found in pigs, most commonly in the belly area and around internal organs
- Found also in ducks and other animals.
- Rendered and clarified to make it shelf-stable
- Soft and malleable at room temperature
- Best lard: leaf lard
- Rendered chicken or goose fat
- Suet is the hard, white fat around the kidneys and loins of cows and other animals.
- Tallow is made from suet.
- Cooking and baking at high temperatures
- Not as shelf-stable as tallow or lard
- Used in suet bird feeders.
Lard In Detail
First, let’s look at lard. This is the most commonly known animal fat, and also the most commonly used.
What Is Lard?
Lard is fat from a pig. It is most commonly found in the belly and around some internal organs. It can also come from other animals such as ducks, but the term most commonly refers to the fat rendered from pigs.
Lard is a solid fat that is soft and malleable at room temperature. The best portion of lard to get is the leaf lard. Leaf lard is considered top shelf because it is softer and creamier than lard from other parts of the pig, and has a milder taste. It is called leaf lard because it is shaped like a leaf, and is located around the kidney area.
How to Use Lard
- Pie crusts, biscuits, pastries
- Frying eggs and other foods
- Grease pans
- Season cast-iron cookware
- Soap and candles
- Grease squeaky items
- Protect and condition leather and wood (best combined with beeswax)
- Skincare, balms, and soap for its moisturizing properties
Lard has many uses in the kitchen and around the house. Now that it is back in fashion, high-quality lard is easier than ever to find. The most well-known traditional uses for lard are in cooking and baking. You can use it in the kitchen as a healthier alternative to hydrogenated oils such as some vegetable oils.
The tool above is a larding needle. You can fill the tube with lard and inject meat with it. When you inject meat with a larding needle, it creates juicier, more tender meat, which is especially useful for wild game and tougher meats.
Kitchen Uses for Lard
In the kitchen, the main uses for lard have traditionally been in making pie crusts, biscuits, and other pastries due to the fact that it makes them flakier. Use it to fry foods such as eggs and also to confit foods such as chickens, ducks, and other meat. To confit something means to cook food in its own fat.
Another good kitchen use for lard is to grease pans such as pie plates and also to season cast iron cookware. There are other ways to use lard that aren’t as commonly thought about. When it comes to tallow vs lard, you can use lard to make soaps and candles, two items more commonly made with tallow. It’s best to make them with leaf lard since this type of lard has a minimal smell.
In a pinch, you can use lard to grease squeaky items. You can use it to protect and condition some leather or wood surfaces when you combine it with beeswax. Since lard is moisturizing, you can use it in balms or soaps to moisturize and calm chapped areas like lips, elbows, feet, and cuticles.
You can harvest your own lard too, by saving bacon grease. Use a sturdy container or the Fryer’s Friend Bacon Grease Saver you can see below. You can reuse the bacon grease in baking and cooking. The Fryer’s Friend holds 6 cups of fat.
Tallow In Detail
The next animal fat we’ll look at is tallow. Tallow, like lard, is a solid fat at room temperature but is also soft and malleable.
What Is Tallow?
Tallow most commonly comes from cows, although it can come from other ruminants, or multi-stomached animals, such as sheep or deer.
How to Render Tallow vs Lard
You can make tallow by slowly cooking the beef suet (or fat from another animal) on low heat until the fat is melted. Once the fat is melted, remove any pieces of meat that were in the fat. Cool it and store it in an airtight container.
How to Use Tallow
- Frying (great for high-temperature cooking)
- Balms and moisturizers
- Grease squeaky items
- Protect and condition leather and wood (best combined with beeswax)
Tallow has historically been abundant and cheap, making it the fat best known for being used to make soap and candles, as well as for cooking and frying. Since tallow has a fairly high smoke point at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a good fat to use for high-temperature cooking, such as frying chicken.
Another use, aside from soap, is in skincare. Since tallow is a fat, it is a good moisturizer. You can use it as a base in balms used on the body and is great for nourishing and repairing cracked skin on places such as hands, feet, and lips.
Schmaltz In Detail
Let’s take a look at schmaltz and how it compares with tallow, lard, and suet. We’ll look at how to render it and how to use it on a day-by-day basis.
What Is Schmaltz?
Schmaltz is rendered poultry fat. Usually, it’s made from chicken but it may refer to rendered goose fat, too. It is a popular fat used in Jewish and Eastern European recipes. The taste is often described as ‘buttery’ and ‘rich’, which makes it a fantastic addition to things like sauces, bread, and baked potatoes.
Recently, schmaltz has made a real comeback, with the NYtimes describing the flavor as:
Imagine the gentlest of butters infused with the taste of fried chicken, but with a fluffy lightness that melts in the mouth. When it’s properly made, schmaltz has a brawny, roasted character that comes from the bits of poultry skin that brown in the pan.
Schmaltz’s usefulness and goodness inspired author Michael Ruhlman to write his well-reviewed book ‘The Book of Schmaltz; a Love Song to a Forgotten Fat’:
For culinary expert Michael Ruhlman, the ultimate goal in cooking is flavor, and for certain dishes, nothing introduces it half as well as schmaltz. A staple ingredient in traditional Jewish cuisine, schmaltz (or rendered chicken fat), is at risk of disappearing from use due to modern dietary trends and misperceptions about this versatile and flavor-packed ingredient.
The Book of Schmaltz takes a fresh look at traditional dishes like kugel, kishke, and kreplach, and also ventures into contemporary recipes that take advantage of the versatility of this marvelous fat. Potatoes cooked with schmaltz take on a crispness and satisfying flavor that vegetable oil can't produce. Meats and starches have a depth and complexity that set them apart from the same dishes prepared with olive oil or butter.
How to Make Schmaltz
The traditional way to make schmaltz is to cook the chicken skin and fat (usually an onion is added, too) with water for about 90 minutes. Strain it through a cheesecloth to remove any impurities and store it in the fridge or freezer.
You can also save leftover bits from chicken in the freezer and cook them all up in one big batch to make it more efficient.
Taste of Home has a great tip for collecting schmaltz. They suggest making a batch of chicken stock, then storing it in the fridge. Once it is cool enough, the fat solidifies and you can simply scoop it off the top!
How to Use Schmaltz
Schmaltz is super versatile! You can use it as a replacement for almost any other oil in your cooking and baking. A major difference between tallow and schmaltz is that schmaltz must be stored in the fridge.
Some great things to make with schmaltz are mayonnaise, baked potatoes, roasted veggies, and baked goods like bread and biscuits.
As I mentioned, you can use schmaltz as a substitute in most recipes. Try popcorn in schmaltz next time you’re popping, or make some delicious caramelized schmaltz onions!
Suet In Detail
The last type of animal fat we are looking at is suet.
What Is Suet?
This is the fat found around the kidneys and loins of cows, sheep, or other such ruminant animals. People don’t usually use suet to make non-food items but it is much praised for what it adds to cooking.
It is hard like lard and tallow, but unlike the two other fats discussed, suet is harder at room temperature and tends to be crumbly instead of soft and malleable. Typically, you shred or chop it, and it has a very mild taste. This makes it good for adding richness or umami to foods.
Differences Between Suet vs Lard vs Tallow
- Suet is hard like lard and tallow.
- Suet is harder at room temperature than tallow and lard.
- Suet is crumbly. Tallow and Lard are softer and malleable.
- Suet is not shelf-stable at room temp.
- Suet is clarified, not rendered like tallow and lard.
The only downside to suet is that it is not shelf-stable at room temperatures like lard or tallow. Store it in the fridge or freezer for longer shelf life.
Another main difference between suet and the other fats mentioned is that instead of rendering it like lard and tallow, suet is clarified. This means that the suet, instead of heating it at a temperature high enough to cook the connective tissue, you’d cook it at a very low temperature.
This low-temperature cooking allows you to gently separate the suet from the meaty parts of the animal without cooking it.
How to Use Suet
- Pies and mincemeat dishes
- Traditional British food like steamed pudding and pastries
- Bird food
The most well-known cooking use for suet is in traditional British savory dishes such as meat pies and mincemeat dishes. People use it in other traditional British foods such as steamed puddings and various pastries.
Outside of the kitchen, you can use suet to make bird food. To make a suet bird feeder, you’d either use it on its own or mixed with other fats. You can also use peanut butter. Mix it with an equal amount of birdseed. You can then put it in a container made for this type of bird feed and hang it from a tree.
Suet bird feed is an excellent source of food for birds during the winter when other sources of food are scarce, as it is a high-energy food source.
Tallow vs Lard Summary
Just to sum up all the information that we have gone over, the three fats are all very versatile and have multiple uses, both in and out of the kitchen. Obtain them in their raw form from the butcher, or in their finished form from store shelves.
Lard refers to the fat that comes from a pig, and leaf lard is the highest quality and most prized portion, found around the kidneys. You can use lard for cooking, baking, frying, and also to make candles, soaps, and moisturizers.
Tallow is the fat found on cows or other ruminant animals. Use it in high-temperature cooking such as frying, and is also, like lard, used to make candles, soap, and moisturizers.
Unlike the other types of fat mentioned, suet is clarified instead of rendered. If it is food grade, it is great for making savory foods and baked goods. If suet is not food grade, you can use it as a high-energy bird food when mixed with birdseed. Suet is also not as shelf-stable as tallow and lard are. It is best to store it in the freezer.
Hopefully, all of this information helps you to choose which type of fat you need for the project you have at hand.
Sunday 17th of July 2022
You didn't cover schmaltz.
Monday 18th of July 2022
Thanks for the heads-up Plums - added extra info this morning!
Monday 28th of June 2021
Thanks for clarifying the differences between suet and tallow. I bought some suet to make dough for my hand held meat pies. As I was grating the suet, I saw tiny pieces of silver skin. I wondered if I should have rendered the suet before using. I went ahead and used the suet and the pie crust came out delicious. Sturdy and flaky. Glad I didn't make it into tallow and ruin all that dough!
Monday 28th of June 2021
Hi Pier! Bet those pieces added to the deliciousness (and nutrition :P) of your pies - they sound amazing!
Wednesday 23rd of June 2021
Thank you for all this helpful information. Just bought suet for the first time from local butcher and was a anxious to know more about it and how to store it.
Thursday 24th of June 2021
Sounds great Jo-Ann! What are you planning to do with it? I love hearing about ways people are going back to the old ways of doing things :)
Tuesday 1st of December 2020
So suet and tallow are the same type of fat? It's just the processing of that fat that makes the difference?
Wednesday 2nd of December 2020
Hey there Kali! Yes, they are the same type of fat. We always refer to suet as the very pure fat you find around the kidneys. If you can get your hands on just that big chunk of suet (it actually even looks different than the rest of the fat on the animal. The other fat is kind of "slimy" whereas the chunk of suet is dry and crumbly), it's a breeze to render into tallow.
Tallow is any of the fat rendered. You can render tallow out of any of the fat, but the suet gives you the cleanest, easiest fat. You can actually use suet in its original state, without rendering. It's that pure!