Beef fat is one of the healthiest fats. It is highly stable, which means it resists oxidation (which causes cell damage), it doesn't need to be highly processed to use, and the fatty acids that compose it are very beneficial. One, stearic acid, is known to be great for skin and even promoting body loss!
Tallow, which is rendered down beef fat, was traditionally used in many foods and products. It's unfortunate that it has become so uncommon today, but it is very easy and very inexpensive to make your own! It is my top choice for a cooking fat and can also be used to easily make your own clean skin products and candles.
- Cooked or raw beef fat pieces
- Add the fat to a large pan with a small amount of water for it to bathe in. This can also be done in a slow cooker. The water will keep any of the fat pieces from burning and keep it cooking more evenly without you having to stir as much.
- Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. As the fat pieces cook liquid fat will start to fill the pan. If the water cooks off and there isn't yet enough liquid fat for the pieces to bathe in the fat instead, keep adding more water (carefully- remember the fat will be hot at this point and fat and water don't mix!)
- Stir occasionally and continue to cook until the leftover fat pieces are almost entirely dark and crunchy. This step will take from an hour to several hours depending on the size of your pan and the amount of fat.
- While the fat is still warm, strain the fat from the solid pieces. You can do this by setting a mesh strainer over a bowl or over a funnel into a jar. The leftover solid pieces are cracklings. They can be kept and eaten or discarded.
The fat will cool into a beautiful off-white solid at room temperature. Animal fats are stable enough to be kept at room temperature for a long time, but can be stored in the refrigerator for extended periods of time and in the freezer almost indefinitely.
I save pieces of fat from beef, store them in a bag in my freezer, and when I have enough, render them into tallow from frozen. Raw pieces of fat will usually result in more "pure" tallow (less color and flavor, which is especially desirable if you are making skin products or candles), but fat off of already cooked meat works just fine too. You can also buy beef fat from many butchers. Some may even give it to you for free. The butcher close to my home sells it for 99 cents per pound (it's usually bought to be mixed into ground venison to up the fat).
I usually refer to just rendered beef fat as "tallow" but it can also mean mutton fat or a mixture of different animal fats. The fat that comes from pork is called "lard". "Schmaltz" is chicken fat commonly used in Jewish cooking. All animal cooking fats can also just be called "suet" although this technically refers to the fat around the loin and kidneys of ruminants (cattle, deer, sheep, goats, etc). Regardless of the names, leftover fat from any type of meat can be rendered into cooking fat, although the fat from ruminants is the highest quality in terms of its fatty acid composition and probably its nutrition.