Suet, what is it and how do you use it?
That is a question we often hear. If you have heard of suet, it is probably because you enjoy feeding the birds in the winter. Suet is raw, hard fat from beef that is found around the kidneys and loins. It is similar to the pork leaf lard. Most people are familiar with lard, due to baking or frying recipes. I first learned about lard when my grandma was teaching me to make homemade pie crusts. She always said the secret to a light and flaky crust was lard. Both of these fats have some great uses but we will discuss suet today.
To be used in the kitchen or as bird food, suet must go through a melting process called rendering. You can find step by step instructions on rendering suet here. Once the suet is melted and the impurities are removed, you are left with tallow. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for an extended period of time without refrigeration. Be sure to keep it in an airtight container though. Tallow, rendered suet, has so many uses.
Food – Tallow was used for shortening and deep-frying. Tallow has a smoke point of almost 400 degrees which is more than butter or lard. So many restaurants like McDonald’s, use tallow to fry French fries and other foods. Tallow was the norm until vegetable oils took over.
Soap – Tallow is a very traditional soap ingredient. After all, back in the day, there were only 2 ingredients you could find most places, lye, and tallow. To make soap, you basically need ash and fats and tallow is just that – Fat. Some soapers still use tallow today in their soaps although, it is a bit controversial. Many vegan customers do not want to purchase any items that have animal bi-products in them and tallow is made from raw beef suet. Tallow works great at adding stability, lather, and hardness to soaps and is often preferred in some decorating techniques. It’s very gentle on the skin but to have the best cleaning soap you will want to combine tallow with super cleaning oils like coconut oil.
Bird food – Homemade suet cakes are very popular bird food. You will usually find them when the weather turns cold because suet needs to stay cold to keep from melting. My husband’s grandpa loves to feed the birds. He has several suet baskets hanging in his trees along with other bird feeders. He enjoys watching them so much that he even asked for bird feed for Christmas. There are so many varieties of birds and they have all different needs especially in the winter. Suet cakes not only contain the nuts and seeds that birds like but they also contain the beneficial “fat” from the suet itself. You can purchase suet cakes or you can try your hand at this easy-to-make recipe from One Good Thing.
Homemade Suet Cakes
1/2 lb. suet or lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 1/2 cups sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups millet
1 cup of dried fruit
I highly recommend you head on over to their website to see step by step directions with pictures. The birds will thank you!
Other Uses – Suet and tallow have been used in many other areas such as candles, printing, aviation fuel, and biodiesel. It’s so interesting that through the years, people have found some amazing uses for beef fat.
If you have an unconventional use for suet or tallow, please comment below. We would love to hear about how you use it. Or, if you decide to make the homemade suet cakes, let us know how they turn out.