You’ve likely used suet in cooking, craft projects, or to feed birds before, but have you ever made it at home? Rendered suet tallow is remarkably versatile around the homestead and easy to make.
In addition to its use as a culinary staple, this fat has many other uses around the homestead, which we’ll discuss further in this article.
Ready to learn how to make and use suet? Let’s jump in.
What is Suet, and What is it Used For?
Raw suet is the crumbling, saturated fat found around the kidneys of cattle and sheep. It’s most often harvested from beef, lamb, and mutton and processed into tallow (or clarified suet) for cooking and baking purposes.
Before butter became available year-round and long before seed oils gained popularity, this was the primary fat that people used for culinary purposes.
Many people use suet instead of butter for baked goods such as pie crusts, cookies, and other pastries because it retains a loose, crumbly texture and isn’t as greasy or “wet” to work with as other fats.
How to Make Suet Tallow
Although you can use suet in its raw form, most chefs and home cooks prefer to render it. This eliminates impurities and leaves you with a clean and ideally textured product.
Remove as much fat as you can from around the beef or mutton kidneys and set it aside in a bowl. Fill this with water and rinse it well, then pat it dry with paper towels or clean dish towels that you don’t mind getting greasy.
If you have a meat grinder, now’s the time to put it to good use. Feed the fat through the grinder, collecting it in another clean bowl. Alternatively, you can put it all through a food processor on low setting.
You’re aiming to grind it into fine particles here—not puree it into a suet smoothie.
Transfer your chopped or ground suet bits into a large, heavy pot. Cast iron is excellent, but so is glass or copper. Avoid using thin pots like aluminum because they’ll heat too quickly and potentially burn the fat.
Set the heat to medium-low, add about a third of a cup of water, and stir regularly until all the suet has melted into a liquid. Depending on your stove and pot thickness, this should take 25-30 minutes.
Don’t worry about the water: it’ll steam off during the rendering process, so you won’t have to contend with watery tallow.
Set two layers of cheesecloth or muslin in a colander and place this over a clean bowl. Pour the melted liquid suet through this cloth and allow it to finish dripping. The cheesecloth will sift out any impurities, as well as bits of vein and sinew that won’t melt.
At this point, you can decide how you’d like to store your tallow. This will determine the next step.
If you’re going to use it for regular cooking, you can pour the strained fat into a glass canning jar, allow it to cool, and store it in the refrigerator to use as needed. Alternatively, if you’re aiming for long-term storage, it’s better to form into pats to keep in the freezer.
Put paper cupcake or muffin liners into a muffin pan and pour the strained liquid fat into each section. Then, pop the tray into the freezer and allow it to set for an hour or so.
After that, pull it out and remove each frozen tallow cup. Wrap each individually in plastic wrap or waxed paper, then transfer them into a freezer zip bag or plastic storage container.
Return this to the freezer and simply pull out a pat whenever you need one. These can remain safely frozen for human consumption for up to a year. After that, use them solely for household purposes or as wild animal feed.
Uses for Suet Around the Homestead
If you’re an Outlander fan, or you’re simply fond of historical reenactment or pioneering, check out this video on 18th-century suet uses shared by Townsends:
You can use this fat around your homestead in several ways. For example:
1. Bird Feed
Suet is an ideal winter food for birds, and can be invaluable for domestic poultry and wild feathered friends alike.
Try making suet snacks and toys to keep your chickens, quail, and/or Guinea fowl active while providing them with essential calories and nutrients. Alternatively, you can make hanging suet treats for wild birds to peck at, which may help keep them alive during the cold, hungry months.
Suet can be used for emergency lighting by setting it on fire. Take one of the frozen pats you set aside earlier, use a lighter to heat a skewer or thin screwdriver, and poke a channel down into it.
Then, take a wooden toothpick or piece of cotton twine, coat it with a bit of the fat, and push that into the channel as a wick.
Place this pat into a small dish or glass jar, and light the wick with a lighter or match. This creates a candle/oil lamp that will illuminate the surrounding area for a couple of hours.
As you may have gleaned from the tip on lighting above, suet can also be used for starting fires. This is invaluable in the winter, when you may need to spark up your hearth or wood stove as quickly as possible to warm you up.
Grab an empty toilet paper roll or cardboard egg carton, as well as some lint from the dryer, dry birch bark, and/or shredded paper. Scrunch up the flammable materials and drizzle them with some melted fat.
Then cram that into the roll or carton and place it beneath kindling in your hearth, wood stove, or outdoor bonfire pit. Once lit, it’ll burn long enough for you to get kindling burning properly.
If one of your doors has a squeaky hinge or your tools feel gummed up and sticky, no worries! Simply melt a bit of suet by rubbing it between your fingertips, then apply it to the squeaky or stuck area.
Move everything around a bit to let the fat seep into where it’s most needed, and that should do the trick nicely.
5. Leather Conditioning
Melt a bit of suet into liquid form, then remove from the heat. Use a clean piece of cotton or linen cloth to absorb a bit of the fat, and rub it into your leather boots, coat, saddle, or whatnot in small circular motions.
This will help to soften the leather while also making it water-resistant.
6. Personal Care Products
Long before people used refined olive or coconut oil for their skin, they were moisturizing it with animal fats.
You can use melted suet for skin creams and salves to good effect, firmed up with a bit of beeswax or carnauba wax. Add essential oils for their healing properties and/or scents, and store your creams or salves in the refrigerator so they don’t go rancid at room temperature.
In addition to having great moisturizing and healing benefits for your skin, suet can also be effective as an insect repellent.
Not on its own, of course: you’ll need to add some essential oils to it. Lemon eucalyptus is incredibly effective against mosquitoes, gnats, and ticks, but you can also use rosemary, peppermint, and clove oil to good effect.