Food: Beef Heart Cracklings and Tallow

20 Nov
These are cracklings, if you've never seen them before.

These are cracklings, if you’ve never seen them before.

Yesterday as I was making another batch of beef heart jerky I realized that this grass-fed heart had considerably more fat around it than the last one had. I try not to waste anything, and while I planned to let the dogs have any meat trimmings that got left out, I wasn’t about to let this much pure fat go unused, so I made some tallow. And beef cracklings.

I’ve never made tallow before but I figured it can’t be much different from rendering lard, and so it proved; I used the exact same procedure and I’ll describe it so you can try it too.

Why would you want to do this? Well, let’s talk about lard first. In his book Why We Get Fat Gary Taubes says this about it:

Take lard, for example, which has long been considered the archetypal example of a killer fat. It was lard that bakeries and fast-food restaurants used in large quantities before they were pressured to replace it with the artificial trans fat that nutritionists have now decided might be a cause of heart disease after all. You can find the fat composition of lard easily enough, as you can for most foods, by going to a U.S. Department of Agriculture website called the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. You’ll find that nearly half the fat in lard (47 percent) is monounsaturated, which is almost universally considered a “good” fat. Monounsaturated fat raises HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol (both good things, according to our doctors). Ninety percent of that monounsaturated fat is the same oleic acid that’s in the olive oil so highly touted by champions of the Mediterranean diet. Slightly more than 40 percent of the fat in lard is indeed saturated, but a third of that is the same stearic acid that’s in chocolate and is now also considered a “good fat”, because it will raise our HDL levels but have no effect on LDL (a good thing and a neutral thing). The remaining fat (about 12 percent of the total) is polyunsaturated, which actually lowers LDL cholesterol but has no effect on HDL (also a good thing and a neutral thing). 

In total, more than 70 percent of the fat in lard will improve your cholesterol profile compared with what would happen if you replaced that lard with carbohydrates. The remaining 30 percent will raise LDL cholesterol (bad) but also raise HDL (good). In other words, and hard as this may be to believe, if you replace the carbohydrates in your diet with an equal quantity of lard, it will actually reduce your risk of having a heart attack. It will make you healthier. The same is true for red meat, bacon and eggs, and virtually any other animal product we might choose to eat instead of the carbohydrates that make us fat. (Butter is a slight exception, because only half the fat will definitely improve your cholesterol profile; the other half will raise LDL but also raise HDL.)

Going over to the USDA’s own specifications for tallow I found that tallow is nowhere near the death-dealing food item that the vegetable oils lobby would have us believe. Just like lard. If you scroll down to the Lipids column you’ll see what I mean. (Unless you’re one of those people who believes that eating fat will make you fat and give you heart disease. I’m not even going to talk to you folks, LOL.)

McDonalds originally used beef tallow to make its famous fries, but along with everybody else McD’s was convinced this is bad, bad, bad for you and they switched to hydrogenated vegetable oils, which turn out to be…bad, bad, bad for you. In fact, they are about to be banned by the FDA as I write this. (Unless they get turned around by the corporate lobby that seems to make the decisions in this country, anyway.) McD’s would never have used grass fed beef though, so their tallow wouldn’t have been nearly as good for you as this stuff is, never mind the antibiotics or the quality of the animals’ lives. But anyway, I remember eating those fries in the 60s and the smell of this tallow rendering brought that back powerfully, something of a pop-culture Proustian moment of olfactory enlightenment with “freedom fries” replacing the Madeleines. And the cracklings tasted great while they were still hot with a bit of salt on them, too.  I prefer pork cracklings overall, but these are good.

While you render the fat the jerky marinates

While you render the fat the jerky marinates

So I wasted almost none of this animal’s heart and I got three products from it: great beef jerky, about a third of a pound of tallow, and around a half a cup of crunchy golden cracklings. As well as some scraps for the dogs, which I boiled and fed them yesterday and today. A tiny amount went into the compost – odd bits that weren’t really muscle and weren’t fat either. Those stringy blood vessels you find in places aren’t that great to eat although I doubt the dogs would mind much. But let’s get to the how-to part.

1. Remove the fat from the heart and dice it into pieces the size of dice. (That’s where the word comes from, after all.) Include as little meat as you can. Put them into a pot with enough water to come about a third of the way up their depth and start them boiling. The water is there to keep the not-yet-rendered fat from burning. It will evaporate quickly as the cubes melt, leaving you with nothing but liquid fat and ever decreasing solids; these latter are the cracklings. You will need to turn the temperature down as this happens or you risk burning things and at the end it will be quite low as the fat just barely bubbles. The whole process took about an hour and a half yesterday. Most of the time you don’t have to be there but towards the end it needs closer monitoring and you should stir things occasionally anyway.

Rendering the fat (about 15 minutes in)

Rendering the fat (about 15 minutes in)

Almost done

Almost done

Finished cracklings

Finished cracklings

2. When the cracklings have shrunk to roughly the size of currants and raisins spoon them out with a runcible spoon. Salt them while they are still hot and turn them over a few times to distribute the salt. Pour the hot fat into a bowl that can stand the heat, going slowly to keep any sediment out of the bowl. There will be a tiny amount of fat that you lose as you get to the end because of this sediment, but I find this a lot easier than straining the hot fat; that is a real pain in the butt. When the tallow hardens at room temperature it will be off-white unless you burned something; if you did it may still be good to use but you would probably want to use it for savory dishes rather than anything sweet.

Tallow at room temperature

Tallow at room temperature

That’s really all there is to it.




Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Health, Recipes & ingredients


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4 responses to “Food: Beef Heart Cracklings and Tallow

  1. Adele Hite, MPH RD

    June 29, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    A “runcible spoon”, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I’m familiar with the term from Edward Lear (cats, apparently, can also be “runcible” as in “The Pobble Who Had No Toes”), but I didn’t know it applied to a utensil I actually have in my kitchen. Why do we call them “sporks” when “runcible spoon” is way cooler?

    • tyrannocaster

      June 29, 2014 at 4:26 pm

      That’s funny, because I thought that a spork was a sort of physical combination of spoon and fork – mostly spoon, but with some little tines on the end. I have seen these, I’m not making it up. So we both learned something about how our own language is used. “Runcible” was apparently coined by Lear as a nonsense word, but it has certainly entered the lexicon of cooks as the official word for “that thing”, which I suppose takes a certain something away from the whimsical appeal of the word as a piece of pure fantasy, but at the same time it adds immeasurably to the richness of our speech.

      • Adele Hite, MPH RD

        June 29, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        And to me says something out how humans really want to take something that is nonsense and make it “make” sense. Sound familiar?

      • tyrannocaster

        June 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

        Adele, I think we are both right about what runcible spoons are; I did some digging, and Merriam Webster online says this:

        Definition of RUNCIBLE SPOON: a sharp-edged fork with three broad curved prongs
        Origin of RUNCIBLE SPOON: coined with an obscure meaning by Edward Lear
        First Known Use: 1871

        Now, that would be the item which I have known as a “spork”, and thus the correct definition, at least as far as use goes (went) when the term was coined. But I have found that the word is often used by cooks to mean what we also call a “slotted spoon”, ie, one of those big serving spoons that drain liquids while retaining the bigger items. So there is at least a certain population that uses it to mean something a bit different from the original meaning of the word. Maybe only cooks (maybe only *some* cooks) use it this way – I can’t say, but I think the only people I’ve ever heard use it like this are cooks, some of them pretty accomplished chefs. Most people just don’t use the word, after all.

        In any case, when it comes to tallow, the runcible spoon I was talking about is the same as a slotted spoon and not a spork. 🙂 Anal retentives of the world, you can relax now.


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