Pure lard is an often overlooked alternative to the highly processed, genetically modified fats you find on your store shelves.
Despite its long controversial reputation, lard continues to be a popular cooking ingredient, especially among those well versed in the never-ending battle of good oil vs bad oil. Additionally, lard has a pretty stable shelf life and a decent smoke point of 370–400 degrees.
Some of us are old enough to remember the never-ending can of recycled bacon grease that sat on the side of mom’s and grandma’s stoves. If that’s you, you know that most of the guidance offered on the internet today errs on the side of safety rather than experience. But a good combination of the two is what’s needed for a long term food storage list.
Types of Lard
There are actually a few different types of lard, and Crisco isn’t one of them. The type of lard directly impacts its shelf life — not all lards are created equal and not all storage options work for all lards.
1. Unrendered lard
Any pig fat trimmed from uncooked pork is considered unrendered. For example, when I buy large pork loins from the butcher, I trim the heavy areas of fat and toss it in the freezer to render once I’ve accumulated enough to make it worth my time.
You can use it to cook with, but since it hasn’t been rendered, it will carry a heavy pork flavor that you may not want in your food. These fat pieces are the perfect addition to add to broths, soups, or beans to give an added pork flavor.
Although not technically classified as lard, pig fat comes in a few different forms:
- Fatback: Fatback is the large solid slab of fat adjacent to the back bone. It is traditionally used to flavor beans, leafy greens, and stews
- Leaf lard: Found around the kidneys, leaf lard is the crème de la crème of pork. It’s creamier, smoother, and free from the pork taste. In the absence of the pork flavor, leaf lard is the best choice for baking your favorite biscuits, donuts, and pie crusts.
- Salted pork: Salted pork can be either fatback or pork belly that has been salted and cured for prolonged shelf life. Salted pork was extremely popular in the 18th century due to its longevity and portability, and well worth considering today for the same reasons.
- Streaky pork: Streaky pork is a transitional section of fat between the fatback and the pork belly that is traditionally unsalted and uncured.
- Trimmings: Excess pork fat taken from various meat cuts like ham, pork chops, pork loins, pork butt, etc.
Unrendered lard is essentially taken from raw meat and as such, should be treated the same. The only way to store unrendered lard for any length of time is in the freezer unless it’s been salted and cured.
If you plan on using it quickly, it can last a couple of days in your refrigerator, but just like raw meat, its shelf life in the refrigerator is extremely short.
Most guidance tells you that lard will last in your freezer anywhere from six months to three years. As with most foods in your freezer, this depends on how well you prepare your lard for freezing.
Wrap your fatback in butcher paper and then vacuum seal it just like you would a fresh cut of beef and you shouldn’t have any issues. As with anything in the freezer, freezer burn can occur over time. While the taste may be unpleasant, it’s still edible and won’t cause physical harm.
Unrendered pork fat is not at risk of going rancid because it hasn’t been converted to oil yet.
2. Rendered Lard
Rendering lard means slowly heating the fat, which causes it to liquefy and separate from any connective tissues. Once it turns to liquid, it’s then filtered to remove any impurities from the oil.
This is essentially what resided in the grease can beside the stove when I was a kid growing up, and I still have plenty of relatives that use this method today. Despite what the internet tells you, our cans didn’t have expirations dates.
The grease was continually recycled over the years. We pulled the grease out as it was needed, and the next time we cooked bacon or pork, we replenished the stock. I can’t recall a single occasion that it ever went rancid.
As a matter of fact, rendered lard was actually used as a method of food preservation before the invention of refrigeration. Under the right conditions, any oil can go rancid. However, keeping your rendered lard in a dark, cool, dry place certainly helps preserve its longevity.
For safety’s sake, most people suggest using your rendered lard within a six-month period. Your nose can usually tell you if the oil is bad or not. Rancid oil has a very distinct smell that you’ll recognize instantly.
The good news is that eating rancid oil won’t kill you. It might not taste great, and it may cause a bit of gastric discomfort, but unlike botulism, it won’t kill you. It should be noted, though, that continued use of rancid oils may cause adverse health effects, such as advanced aging, cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.
Read about more uses for rancid oil.
But in an EOFTW scenario, I don’t believe any of those things would cross my mind.
The general rule of thumb is that your rendered pork fat can last about six months on the counter, a year in the fridge, and a few years in the freezer. However, based on both anecdotal and empirical evidence, many experienced homesteaders and preppers claim it can last much longer.
I find the best way to store lard long term is by canning it in jars and storing it in a cool, dark, dry place, such as a basement or root cellar. Remember, it’s light, oxygen, and water that cause your lard to oxidate and go rancid.
For this reason, I don’t like to store my lard in the refrigerator due to the added moisture, although many people do with success.
The freezer is the best option for your unrendered lard until you have an opportunity to render it, but I prefer to utilize my freezer space for more precious items. So once my lard is rendered, canning is the best option.
It’s important to point out that canning lard is not a traditional canning process. It does not utilize water bath canning or pressure canning, although some people do utilize these methods with plenty of success.
Canning lard is also only recommended if you’re using pasteurized, grass-fed lard. Store bought lard is often adulterated with additives that can impact its shelf life.
Once your lard is completely rendered, simply transfer your liquid gold to canning jars, leaving the traditional head space.
Wipe the lids clean, and seal with a proper canning lid. As the lard cools and hardens, the jars will vacuum seal themselves, leaving you with a shelf-stable product that can last indefinitely in the proper conditions.
Using smaller jars is recommended so you have sufficient time to consume the lard before it goes rancid. If your open jar smells rancid, you can simply opt not to use it. But don’t throw it out! There are plenty of things you can still use your lard for.
From a survivability standpoint, the body needs fats to function properly, so you need to ensure you have some on hand. Why not lard? It happens to be a good source of Vitamin D, is healthier and cheaper than butter, and is just as easy to store long term.