Tallow is a wax that can be used when making soap or candles. Tallow wax is made from raw animal fat known as suet. Suet fat is a clean fat located around the kidneys and liver of an animal. Most suet comes from beef fat — pounds of fat — and a kidney which can be cooked for your pets. If you decide to make tallow wax from suet, you can obtain the suet at a slaughterhouse or butcher shop.
Making tallow involves a process known as rendering. Traditionally, tallow was made from all of the fat from a butchered animal. The process of rendering all the animal’s fat to make tallow wax was messy and it smelled. However, making tallow wax from the suet fat is a much cleaner process because it is a relatively pure fat – there are almost no animal bits in suet fat.
To make tallow, or to render fat, the suet is cut away from the kidney which lies in the central area of the suet.
The suet fat is then cut into small cubes or put in a grinder. The smaller the bits of suet fat, the faster it will cook down.
The cubed fat is then placed in a large kettle, covered with water, and heated.
Once the mixture begins to boil, turn the heat down and allow the fat to slowly melt.
As the fat heats up it will melt, separate, and become liquid fat. I placed a lid on the kettle, set slightly off-kilter so that I did not create steam as I melted the cubes of fat.
The heating process will also separate the fat from any impurities like gristle or sinew. Once the fat has melted, strain the liquid into another container where the melted fat can harden to tallow wax. Strain the melted fat using a sieve or colander. I used a cheesecloth-lined plastic colander set on top of an enamel pot.
After the melted tallow has been strained, lift the colander away. You will see the tallow is rising to the top and the remaining water sinks to the bottom.
Chill or refrigerate your container and allow the tallow to harden. The tallow will cool into a large white disc on the top of the container.
When you are ready to separate your hardened tallow wax from the water, use a knife or spoon to lift the tallow chunks out of the container. Hardened tallow wax should be clear of any debris or impurities.
When separating the hardened tallow wax, you are likely to get a gloppy residue on the underside. Any gelatinous residue attached to the tallow wax can be scraped away and discarded. Use an old coffee can to capture this residue — do not pour it down the sink. Unless you want clogged pipes…
The cleaned tallow chunks can be cut into smaller sections to use in soap making or making candles. Any leftover tallow should be stored in plastic bags in the freezer. Be sure to record the date and use the tallow within a year.
Making tallow wax is very easy to do, but it is a bit time-consuming. If you make tallow wax, make enough to last a while. If you have ever made beef or chicken broth, you already know the procedure.
- Cutting board
- Spoon or stirring implement
- Kettle for cooking
- Bowl or kettle for tallow to harden in
- Paper towels or newspaper, including some cut paper sections (for wipe ups)
Now for the warnings…Be cautious of the melted tallow. The liquid is waxy and will turn to hardened wax when cooled. Any splash on a counter will result in hard wax droplets. (Ask me how I know…)
For cleanups: Only use disposable paper towels or sections of newspaper for cleanup because you cannot wash wax-soaked rags or cloth.
Do not try to clean your equipment under hot running water either — you will clog your drain pipe. Clean your equipment after the tallow wax has hardened and scrap it off.
Dedicated equipment: Consider using old equipment that can be dedicated to tallow and candle making. Old coffee cans make very good melting vessels, provided they are used inside another kettle with some water (like a double boiler). I have dedicated an old wooden spoon, a melamine cutting board, and a plastic colander that were removed from the kitchen years ago. They are perfect for making tallow wax!