Lard is the melted fat of pigs, and it's a popular fat for cooking in baking. It's especially favored by bakers who love the flaky texture it imparts to pastries and other baked goods.
- Made from the melted fat of pigs
- Neutral to mildly porky in flavor
- Great for baking and deep-frying
- Preferred by some bakers over butter or shortening
What Is Lard?
Lard is the melted fat of a pig, which is used as a fat in cooking, baking, and deep-frying. It has a creamy white color, and a flavor that ranges from mildly porky to neutral, flavorless, and odorless, depending on the variety, brand, and how it's been made.
There are three main varieties of lard:
- Rendered lard is pork fat that has been melted, then filtered, and chilled.
- Processed lard has been melted, filtered, and then hydrogenated to make it shelf-stable.
- Leaf lard is made from the visceral fat that encircles the pig's kidneys, and is considered the highest grade of lard. Its flavor is mild and un-porky, and it's soft, creamy, and spreadable. And it's particularly prized by bakers who love the flaky texture it imparts to pastries and other baked goods.
How to Cook With Lard
In general, lard can be used anywhere you'd use butter. So you can use it in baking, in pies, cookies, biscuits, and pastries, and for making the masa for tamales. You can also use it for sautéeing, as a topping for rice and veggies, and as a spread on toast. But lard is also useful in ways that butter isn't. For instance, lard is a widely used fat for deep-frying. Its smoke point is relatively low, around 370 to 375 F, but if you can keep the temperature at around 360 to 365 F, it will produce crispy, flavorful fried chicken. It's also a popular fat for frying donuts. Note that crispiness is not so much a function of the fat as it is the temperature of the fat, and what sort of batter the item is coated in.
When it comes to baking, however, lard's particular properties do in fact help produce an extra flaky crust or dough. This is because lard has a higher melting temperature than butter. Flakiness is a function of lumps of fat that form little pockets in the dough. When the dough is baked, those lumps of fat eventually melt away, leaving the space in the pockets intact, thus producing a flaky texture. And while butter melts at around 90 to 95 F, lard melts at anywhere from 97 to 118 F, which means that those layers of dough stay separate for longer in the oven, producing extra flakiness.
What Does It Taste Like?
Different brands and types of lard have different flavors depending on how they're rendered. High-temperature rendering tends to produce a lard that has a more pronounced porky flavor, while low-temperature rendering produces a more neutral-flavored lard. Moreover, hydrogenated lard, which is the shelf-stable variety sold on supermarket shelves, has a firmer mouthfeel, while freshly-rendered lard is creamier, softer, and melts more quickly. Experimenting with different brands can help you sort out the difference, particularly if you don't want your fruit pies to taste porky. Some people don't mind this, so it's a matter of preference.
There are several fats you can substitute for lard, and choosing which one is the best one depends on the type of recipe you're preparing. If you're frying, you can use vegetable shortening, or a liquid oil like peanut oil, canola oil, or safflower oil. But frying in butter or olive oil isn't a good idea since those types of fat have low smoke points. If you're baking a pie or biscuits, you could substitute butter or vegetable shortening. Liquid oils won't work here since it's the solid globs of fat that help create those flaky layers in the pastry or biscuit dough.
Here are a few recipes that are prepared using lard.
Where to Buy Lard
Lard is available at most supermarkets, usually the processed variety, either in bricks or in buckets, in the baking aisle alongside other shortenings like vegetable shortening and cooking oils. You can also often purchase rendered lard directly from local butchers who render it themselves. Note that in order to make it shelf-stable, processed lard is hydrogenated, which means that it is a trans fat. Whereas lard rendered by a butcher is pure pork fat and thus not a trans fat.
Technically, shelf-stable lard that is sold on supermarket shelves can be stored at room temperature in your pantry or cupboard. But in practice, this largely depends on the temperature of your cupboard or pantry. If it gets above 75 degrees in your kitchen, your lard is more likely to become rancid. So you're better off storing it tightly sealed in the refrigerator or even the freezer. This is also true for freshly rendered lard that you purchase from a butcher.