Beef Tallow - The (Second) Best Oil For Searing Steak
If you’re looking for the key to french fries that taste like the good ol’ days, your great-grandmother’s secret pie crust recipe, or the best steak sear you’ve ever had, look no further than beef tallow!
What is Beef Tallow?
Tallow is rendered animal fat that is solid at room temperature and is shelf-stable, meaning it can be stored for an extended period of time in an air-tight container. Due to tallow’s extremely high smoke point of 420ºF (220ºC), it’s long been known as a great medium for frying. Tallow is also commonly used for regular cooking (and as a key ingredient to perfect pie crusts)! It is typically white and waxy, with a similar consistency to coconut oil.
Tallow is a traditional, ‘old fashioned” cooking fat, but was largely replaced (along with coconut oil and butter) with refined vegetable and seed oils due to a misinformed health scare over saturated fats in the 1960’s. Tallow is made up of 50% saturated fat, 42% monounsaturated fat, and 4% polyunsaturated fat, and contains small amounts of Vitamins D and E.
The Science Behind the Sear
It’s no secret (or maybe it is) that the perfect sear is a major component to the perfect steak. Why is searing so important? Surprisingly, it’s not to “seal in the juices” - it’s because of the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. When the proteins and sugars of food are exposed to high heat, they transform to create the delicious, toasty, complex flavors we love. The Maillard reaction is what’s behind the browning of bread, the chewy outer crust of a cookie, the golden toasted marshmallow on a s’more… and the perfectly seared steak.
Our delicious Wagyu New York Strip Steak, seared in Beef Tallow.
Why Beef Tallow is the Key to the Perfect Sear
There are two things to look for in an ideal medium to sear steak in.
1) A high smoke point. A high smoke point ensures that your cooking won’t be interrupted by frantically turning off the fire alarm and opening the windows, and more importantly that your steak isn’t reduced to a gross, burnt mess. Common oils with very high smoke points are avocado, grapeseed, safflower, or peanut oil.
2) A mild (or complementary) flavor. Keeping in mind the flavor of your medium is very important. Let’s take coconut oil, for example. Coconut oil tends to add a sweet, nutty flavor to anything it’s in. So unless you want your meat to taste vaguely like coconut as an integral part of the recipe, like a coconut curry, you’ll likely instead want to use something with as similar of a flavor as possible.
That brings us to using beef tallow to sear steak. Beef tallow’s high smoking point of 420ºF and the fact that it’s literally beef fat, therefore tasting similar to the steak, makes it the perfect medium for searing beef. There is only one thing better than using beef tallow to sear, and that is using actual fat trimmed off the steak for a precise flavor match. Beef tallow will give your steak not only a deep, brown, delicious crust, but one that tastes just the way it should.
What To Look For When Buying Beef Tallow
Finding a trusted source for beef tallow is essential, because tallow from properly raised cattle tastes better and contains more vitamins. And since tallow is made of low-processed beef suet and fat, if the animal was given steroids or improperly given antibiotics those compounds could find their way into the fat used to make the tallow.
Ensure the tallow you buy is from a pasture-raised operation with established and transparent animal raising processes, as well as rigorous antibiotic and steroid standards. When looking at the tallow, the texture and color should be consistent. Color can range from pure white to yellow, depending on the age and diet of the cattle.
How to Make Beef Tallow At Home from Trim or Suet
Commercially made, shelf-stable tallow is typically made from suet (the soft fat surrounding the kidneys of the animal) due to its slightly higher smoke point and the density of nutrients. You can occasionally find suet in stores, but you can also make your very own beef tallow at home from simple trimmings. Making beef tallow is actually ridiculously simple, but it can take a lot of time and effort to build up a stash of fat to render from if you can't find suet.
The first step is to start trimming. Cut fat trim off of steaks, chuck roasts, really any cut of beef you can (except brisket, because the fat cap is very important for brisket). Make sure the beef you’re using to cut trim from is well raised. Keep your trimming in a bag in the freezer. (A quart size bag of fat trimming makes about one jar of tallow.)
When you’ve got enough fat saved up, or are able to get ahold of suet, get ready to render! Cut your frozen fat pieces up fairly small, or use a food processor. You can leave it in large chunks, but rendering will likely take longer.
Place the fat or suet into a slow cooker, crockpot, or dutch oven and cook on VERY low heat. The goal is to melt all the fat down over a long period of time, without burning anything. We typically use a crockpot on low for around 5-6 hours.
Check every hour or so to see how it’s progressing. When there is a large amount of golden liquid in the pot and very few chunks left, remove from heat.
Then, strain the tallow into a glass container. You can use cheesecloth over a glass bowl, a coffee filter in a strainer or pour-over, or a very, very fine strainer. We typically use a single-cup coffee pour over with a filter in it to strain into a medium size glass jar.
Cool tallow to room temperature. It will turn a very white color, but may also be yellowish depending on the diet and age of the beef cattle. Since homemade beef tallow isn’t typically in airtight containers, we recommend refrigerating for use over the next few weeks, or tallow can be frozen for several months.