Come, mister tallow man.

Ring, ring.
“Hello?”
“Hi, Tricia. I have a friend here who has some beef fat, but doesn’t know what to do with it. Do you want it?”
“Why, yes. Yes, I do.”

And this is how I recently acquired some beef fat. And it wasn’t just any beef fat; this friend of a friend had purchased a side of beef from my friends at Rose Ranch who raise grass-fed cattle in Jones. Though I had never worked with beef fat, I am usually game for a kitchen adventure.

I assumed I was working with a generic chunk of beef fat (called “tallow” when rendered), until I later read Jennifer McLagan’s description of suet (suet is the fat that protects ruminants’ kidneys) in her book Fat: “You will realize that there is a papery membrane holding this hard, brittle fat together.” (See video below.)

According to McLagan, suet doesn’t need to be rendered. I have purchased suet from Cocina San Pasqual, and it doesn’t look like the fat I rendered (pictured below). I’m a little flustered by fat terminology, so I e-mailed McLagan some questions. For now, I’ll just call this “tallow,” even though it might be suet. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like all suet is tallow, but not all tallow is suet. Anyone?

Tallow is solid at room temperature, and McLagan says the high saturation “makes it stable when heated and slow to break down or turn rancid, so tallow is a perfect fat for frying.” Until the ’90s, McDonald’s used tallow for frying french fries. Also, tallow is one of six ingredients in my Cross Timbers Farm bar soap. Suet is prized for pastries and English puddings. For practical purposes, it really makes no difference to me if this fat is suet or tallow. But I would like to know, just for my personal satisfaction.

What am I going to do with the tallow? I’m going to make some pasties and fry some sweet potato fries. Also, I might trade some with a friend for a houseplant or some other type of fat.

tallowRendered tallowbeef fatbeef fatrendering tallowUnlike lard, the tallow didn’t require much tending and was never in danger of burning.tallowBeef tallow and suet are comprised of 50% saturated fat. It didn’t take long for the freshly rendered fat to cool and become solid.

Fascinating, no?

Check out my other adventures with animal fats.

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