in which we render smoked pork fat sublime

in which we render smoked pork fat sublime

A Charcutepaloozian Secret Weapon - Rendered Lard From a Smoked Pork Roast

Ok, ok, I’ll move on already, but please let me add just one more thing.

Since the point of Charcutepalooza is nose to tail use of carefully raised meat, I just wanted to mention this one last awesome bonus pastured heritage breed  pork  has over conventionally raised.

At first glance, many of you will feel waves of anxiety at the sight of untrimmed fat on your roast (if ever you’re lucky enough to see your roast in all it’s untrimmed glory).  Fear not this fat however – it is not the evil health hazard we have been trained to believe.  This snowy rind of fat coating your pork is the sign that your pig has been raised slowly and will have meltingly tender, juicy and flavorful meat.  It also means that not only do you have your meat, you have a bonus round of fat to render.

Make no mistake, the fat rendered from a pastured, heritage breed pig is nothing like the blocks of industrial  lard you can buy in the supermarket.  That processed lard has been hydrogenated to extend its shelf life, thereby leaving it full of trans fats.  Pastured pork fat is not only extremely useful, it’s actually good for you;  those supermarket blocks of lard take what began as mostly monounsaturated fat with healthful benefits and commercially process it into an unhealthy fat that tastes like candle wax.  Eesh!

One day I was going to be around all afternoon, so I took my smoked pork fat (it weighed about ½ pound), chopped it into cubes, put the cubes into a gratin dish and covered them with a little less than 1/3 cups water.  The recommended ratio is 1/3 cup (75 ml) water: 1 pound (450g) fat.  The purpose of adding the water is to keep the fat from burning before it begins to melt.  The water will naturally evaporate during the cooking process.

Fear Not Fat-phobes! This is a fat that is actually good for you

Place the pan in a 250° F oven uncovered.  Check and stir after 30 minutes or so – watch carefully as the fat begins to color.  The fat will melt, the water will evaporate, and bits of firmer fat & meat bits will float in the liquid fat.  To see an amazingly fabulous blow-by-blow of rendering lard, visit A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa; but don’t forget to come right back.

The process will take as long as it takes (mine took about 3 hours), depending on how finely you chop the pieces in the beginning, the amount you started with and the

That lovely fat cap after being smoked for three hours, ready to morph into a formidable culinary weapon

whims and mood of your particular piece of pork fat.  The bits of firm fat & meat left floating in the liquid are the cracklings.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Strain the fat through cheesecloth lined sieve into a clean jar.  Let cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for up to a year.  If you’re like me with a fridge full of mystery jars, remember to label your jar.  I also scooped up the cracklings and saved them to use later on a salad (Bacos get real), soup, stew, risotto, green beans, mashed potatoes, you get the drift right?

My lard is rendered from leftover pork back fat that had been smoked, so this time, it’s all about the smoky, porky flavor. Lard need not be pig-flavored however.  Lard is usually rendered from uncooked, non-smoked Back Fat, Belly Fat or Leaf Lard.  Each type of lard is best suited for different purposes with leaf lard being the most flavorless and suited perfectly to making fine pastry.

But pastry isn’t what’s on my mind today.  It’s beef stew.

Beef Stew, More French than Irish, with a Secret

I like to begin making a stew by sautéing my veggies first.  For years, I’ve used olive oil or more recently, strained bacon fat.  But since I’d saved the fat from my smoked pork roast, now seemed like a pretty perfect time to try out the fruits of my rendering idea.

After sautéing my carrots, potatoes, onions & garlic in my smoked pork lard, I added a pastured Devon chuck roast I had cubed into 2 ½ x ½-inch squares.  I roughly layered the veggies & beef cubes in a dutch oven, added a large can of whole tomatoes, covered and simmered slowly for about 2 hours. Remove the meat and vegetables from the juice and set aside.  Bring remaining juices to a boil uncovered and reduce by half. Return the meat and veggies to the pot of reduced juice and serve.

The reason I’m being deliberately vague with this recipe is that it is one that does not really require perfect following of directions as long as you follow the general principles. If you’re the sort who finds freeform cooking frustrating, here’s a basic recipe.   It can be nice to add wine or a bit of brandy to the reducing juices; a knob of butter stirred in at the end gives a velvety sheen.  Walnuts or chestnuts can be a nice addition also.  Today, I happened to have those pork cracklings on hand so that’s the way I played it.  There was no need for any additional cheffery.  And that’s what’s so great about cooking with local, seasonal, carefully raised ingredients.  No fancy tricks or exotic ingredients required.  You’re making full use of the byproduct of an earlier meal.

The small amount of smoked lard I used to brown the veggies in the beginning (about 3 TBS) plus the addition of a few tablespoons of cracklings gave a deliciously rich boost to my stew.  It was so simple, and so inexpensive.  The smokiness was very subtle – my stew did not taste the least bit like barbecue.  Really, it doesn’t even taste at all like pork – I swear, if I didn’t tell you, you’d never know.  It’s 100% bona-fide beef stew.  But,  this thickened sauce is a far cry from the floury thickened sauce that is traditional in Irish style stews and doesn’t carry the burden of the extra calories, carbs and gluten the flour brings.

A final note – conventionally raised pork is much, much leaner and is slaughtered at a younger age than heritage breed pastured pork.  And I don’t mean that to be a compliment.  Taking time to render pork fat probably isn’t worthwhile unless your  pork is from one of the fattier, slower maturing heritage breeds like Berkshire, Tamworth, Hereford, Ossabow, Red Wattle and so on.  Check out Slow Food USA arc of taste on Local Harvest to find your own Fatty.

My pastured pork roast is the roast that kept on giving; I captured about ¾ cup of secret flavor booster.  I won’t tell if you don’t….

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

Part three: what we ate, how we ate it and an undisputed winner:

Lamppost Farm Heritage Breed Pastured Pork

Conventionally Raised Pork

Dried green bean varieties from last summer’s garden. May be even better dried…

Baked Beans spooned over cornbread with raw Bermuda onion and a big slice of tomato

Hot Milk Cake with Home-made Plum Jam Filling – Try it in a Bowl with Milk!


There’s More:  Monday, we made the pork leftovers into pulled pork by putting the leftover roast in a gratin dish, adding ½ cup of water, covering tightly with foil and baking in a 250° oven for 4 hours.  I then shredded the meat, sprinkled with malt vinegar and a tiny bit of Stubb’s Original BBQ sauce.

We had soft tacos Monday with this gorgeous pulled pork, mixed greens, leftover beans and salsa made from last years’ roasted corn relish, chopped & drained canned tomatoes, chopped Bermuda onion, chopped cilantro, fresh lemon juice and kosher salt.  Chipolte who??

xxLordy, lordy, Carolina-style pulled pork xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and those tacos….

And even more:

  1. The fat from my Hereford/Berkshire roast is waiting to be rendered
  2. The fat from my smoking drip pan is neatly saved into a jar waiting to sauté my onions & garlic for risotto later.

The Recipes:

And, our Uncontested Pork Butt Winner:

I’m sure you could see this coming a mile away, but while both roasts were enjoyed, the Lamppost Roast really was in a league of its own. The only advantage I can see with the confinement raised pork was the price.  The price per pound of the heritage breed roast was a little less than twice that of the conventional.

However, when I factor back in the smoky rendered cooking grease I saved from the pastured pork, the gap  narrows again. The conventional pork was tougher in texture and less flavorful, although after braising for four hours (following a 3+ hour smoking), the difference was harder to appreciate.

Go Lamppost Farm! With all our newfound skills, we’re signing up for half a pig asap!

Missed Parts One & Two?

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

part two: brining, smoking and the almighty pellicle

On the right, pastured heritage breed pork from Lamppost Farm. On the left, conventional pork.

Yesterday we posted part one about our purchase of two Boston Butt pork roasts.

The first was from the pastured Hereford/Berkshire pigs at Lamppost Farm; the second was unknown pork of confined upbringing,  most likely Duroc or Duroc/Berkshire breeds purchased from my local butcher.

Left: Pastured Roast, Right: Conventional

These two roasts come from opposite ends of the pork roast spectrum – the commercial roast being much leaner.  My commercial roast had some gnarly fat marbled through the center; the fat on the pastured roast was like a rooftop after a heavy, heavy snow – perfectly drifted on top.  The pastured roast was also nicely marbled throughout.  Each roast was bone-in and weighed about 3 pounds.

An indulgent bit of wandering:  it’s fascinating how quickly America switched gears from being a country where lard was the primary cooking fat to an animal fat-phobic country using industrially processed vegetable oils.  Did you know it all began in WWII?  During the war,  lard was urgently needed for military applications and citizens were urged to switch to “more healthful” vegetable oils for cooking.  By the time the military no longer needed the lard, the consumer market for lard collapsed and the old-fashioned fattier breeds of pigs were no longer profitable.  Breeders began breeding and selecting animals that would build muscle rapidly for meat and pork production switched from pastured animals on small farms to centralized, industrial confinement operations.  Learn more about the powerful impact the blending of modern advertising methods, government and corporate interests had on American society in this exhibit of wartime posters from an online exhibit from the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library.  Love these posters!

OK, OK,  back to the pork. As my goal is to really let the flavor of the roasts shine, I kept the spices, brining and rubbing really, really minimal.  I brined both roasts in a simple solution of brown sugar, kosher salt & water for about 8 hours. I figured if I got the smoking part right, that would add plenty of flavor (although some of those Chinese 5 season powder rubbed roasts look phenomenal).

Our smoker of choice, budget and availability was a Weber charcoal grill, a

Ye Olde Low Tech High Quality Weber Grill

good digital thermometer, hardwood lump charcoal, apple wood and two aluminum foil pans.  Not very sophisticated some would say, but you true McGyvers probably think we’re over-equipped.

We arranged the charcoal around the outside rim of the round grill, leaving space for a round drip pan in the center.   We lit the charcoal, burning it uncovered about 25 minutes until the coals looked

Hardwood Charcoal burning around the edge - drip pan goes in the center

ashy white.  Once the coals were white, we put in the drip pan and added chunks of soaked & drained apple wood on top of the charcoal.

On the grill, we placed the two roasts in the center above the drip pan and

placed a tin filled with water beside the roasts.  To monitor the internal temperature of the meat, we inserted the probe of a digital meat thermometer in the

Soaked apple wood chunks tossed on top of the ash white charcoal, roasts centered on rack over drip pan and pan of water placed on rack. Note the thermometer probe into thickest part of meat, away from the bone.

thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.

So now, the guessery begins.  We put the roasts on about noon and smoked them until just after 3:00.  The smoking went remarkably well, except we did struggle a little with keeping the charcoal burning on one side and the temperature up.  I slipped a dial thermometer inside the grill vents to

check the temperature of the airspace inside the grill, but it only reads to 222°.  There were times the temperature dipped to 180° – apparently fire building is a skill we need to work on a bit more. I fussed over my non-burning charcoal, opened the lid too many times and clucked like the smoking newbie that I am, but it all came to a supremely satisfying end.

I wasn’t confident about my thermometer readings, so I finished the roast in a 350 oven for 15 minutes until my thermometer showed an internal temperature of 160°.  Since it only took 15 minutes to reach 160°, I probably didn’t need the oven finish, but we weren’t taking any chances.

A really important part is to let the meat rest for a minimum of 15 minutes before carving – it’s hard to resist ripping into something that looks that gorgeous and has tormented you for over three hours with smells so tantalizing, but RESIST THE URGE!

Now, let me thank Mrs. Wheelbarrow, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn for making an emphatic point about developing the pellicle before smoking the meat.  This is THE secret, I believe, to a successful smoked roast.  I heeded their advice and after removing from the brine allowed my roasts to rest uncovered in the refrigerator overnight so the meat surface would develop that dry tackiness that helps the smoky flavor adhere to the meat.  Both roasts ended up with a beautiful red exterior that made the ends the most fought over pieces on the platter.

We have not been fans of smoked foods.  Oh sure, we love an occasional smoky BBQ, but smoked cheese and other snacks are usually a pass.  I would never think of smoking when deciding how to cook a roast.  Yet, after smoking these roasts, I’m looking at everything in our kitchen thinking it should be smoked immediately.  It’s probably the special combination of hardwood charcoal, apple wood and DIY seasoning, right?  Then I realize my entire experience with smoked foods is from holiday gift baskets of stale, unheard of brands of gourmet foods.

Now that I’ve seen the light, I can’t wait to take on almonds, my beef bacon from February and some home-made cheese for starters.

Come back on the 15th for part three: what we ate, how we ate it and an undisputed winner.

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

In which we tell a charcutepaloozian tale: on two pork butts in three parts

part one: buying meat, local farmers and a throw down

The Pigs of Lamppost Farm

I’m feeling lucky this morning.  You have no idea just how difficult it is to source a fresh, pastured pork roast from a local farmer on short notice this time of year.  Why you ask? Because pasture raised meat is SEASONAL!

“Meat seasonal?”  you ask, exchanging “chick’s nutty” eye rolls over my head….

Yes, seasonal.  If you want it pastured, humanely raised and free to have a life on a local farm, meat is seasonal.  Let’s think this through:  babies are typically born in the spring, they eat grass all summer and are then butchered before winter sets in.  Fall is the best time for lots of meats and planning to buy a quarter, half or whole animal directly from the farm enables you to get the freshest, healthiest and most extraordinary meat at the best prices.

The Montgomery Family of Lamppost Farm

Fortunately, I was able to tap into the private stash of Steve and Melanie Montgomery of Lamppost Farm for the pork shoulder I needed for April’s Charcutepalooza smoking challenge.   Steve and Melanie are really fun & interesting young farmers. The kind of farmers that make you want to learn more about food and farming.  And lots of other stuff…. like I said, they’re interesting.

There just aren’t enough water cooler chats about the fact that farmers make up a paltry 1% of our population.  When our grocery shelves are bursting with such quantity & varieties of boxes, cans & jars, the last thing we fear is that we’re running out of farmers.    Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening.  The average age of an American farmer is 55 years old – most are actually over 65 years old and expected to retire within the next ten years.  And more unsettling, young farmers are getting scarcer.  Read this excellent article by Zoë Bradbury to learn why this is such a critical issue.  Really, read it now – it’s that important.

Thank goodness young families like Steve and Melanie Montgomery feel called to give farming a chance.  Of course, I was wondering what would motivate a young couple with four kids to throw caution to the wind and jump into farming.  Having done it myself, I know it’s not a lifestyle choice for the faint of heart.

It seems both Melanie and Steve have sadly lost close relatives to cancer. As a result, they became very concerned about how ignorant we have become about where our food comes from.  Their faith is also a motivating factor, and farming is a vocation that allows them to slow it down, tune into nature’s rhythms and recognize God in their everyday lives.  By which I don’t mean taking it easy!  Farming is tiring, hard work but so satisfying in a meaningful,  spiritual way.

On Farm Butchering Workshop at Lamppost Farm

The really awesome thing about Steve and Melanie’s farm is how transparent and accessible it is.  They actually host events inviting people to participate in the butchering of their pigs & chickens.  Now, I know that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but do you think Tyson or Perdue would be willing to open their farms up to scrutiny like that?  You should really check them out – the farm is an easy drive to Pittsburgh and Boardman Ohio:

Lamppost Farm
14900 Market Street
Columbiana,  OH  44408

According to Melanie, the overall response from those who have participated was one of empowerment, pride and appreciation.  Many families are finding their Lamppost Farm butchering experience to be a truly awakening and educational opportunity.  The meat they take home becomes much more than just another supper; each time they cook up some of the pork they butchered themselves, the memory of the day and the farm makes the meal just a little bit richer.   Apparently  they’re also feeling an increased appreciation for their Lamppost Farm meat too, since they keep coming back for more.

Lamppost Farm’s pigs are a combination of two heritage breeds;  Hereford and Berkshire.  Now, I’m the first to admit I don’t really know any pigs personally, but I think it would be hard to find any cuter, chubbier or more entertaining pigs than these.

Lamppost Farm’s Hereford Berkshire cross pigs

My enthusiasm for these old-fashioned breeds isn’t about being hip or trendy or a food snob. Today, 75% of the pigs raised in the United States come from only 3 breeds. That’s dangerous! One severe outbreak of disease can wipe out a huge chunk of our food supply; protecting genetic diversity ensures that species of plants and livestock will be able to survive and adapt to future conditions.

In addition, the pig confinement operations raising most of the pork you buy in the grocery store are like small cities housing huge numbers of hogs and producing tremendous amounts of manure and chemical wastes.  Confinement hogs do not live pretty lives, and they do rely on antibiotics to maintain their health and increase their growth rate in such close quarters.  Not the kind of genetics capable of revitalizing an ailing gene pool….

The hogs at Lamppost Farm have a totally different lifestyle – they are playful, happy and free to run, root and wallow as pigs were born to do. Ditto for the cows & chickens. It’s really nice to see the Montgomery’s care and enthusiasm for their animals.

If the fact that humanely raised local meat is better for the environment, the animals and your local economy isn’t enough to motivate you to consider stocking your freezer with fresh meats purchased directly from a nearby farmer,  let me go about this in a different way.  How about  a pork butt throw down with this Lamppost Farm pork butt vs a conventionally raised pork butt from my local butcher?  Seeing (and smelling & tasting of course) is believing….

Beautiful Boston Butt roast with the perfect layer of fat on top

My Lamppost Farm roast is a 3 pound Boston Butt.  Boston butt is a cut of pork  that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone.  This roast is really pretty – so pretty in fact I’m a little afraid to touch it. It’s neatly cut and squared with a really nice layer of fat resting perfectly on top.

Conventionally Raised Pork Butt

My second butt is from our neighborhood butcher.  Living in a rural community I am really fortunate to have such a nice, immaculate butcher shop so nearby.  The shop is run by a local family with care and enthusiasm. I admire their ability to work hard and waste nothing.  Scraps are sold as soups and dog food, simple charcuterie and lunch meats are made on premises, they’ve added an impressive smoker and make some pretty tasty bacon.

Still, it is a proudly modern shop, interested in bright lights, big cuts for the money and the latest efficiencies in animal rearing and butchering. Just a little out of step with the likes of me and my fondness for old world food traditions.

There was a polite whiff of bristling and teeny bit of exasperation when I asked what breed of pig the roast was from and whether it was a conventionally raised or pastured pig.  The women behind the counter have no idea; the owner had to be called out to answer such  questions.

My conventional roast is fresh, clean and has some fat gnarled through the center of the roast.  I’m told my conventional roast is most likely a Duroc or Duroc Berkshire cross and probably raised by a conventional hog farmer about an hour away.  Or not.  But probably.

So, for now, my two butts are resting up for their big day in a simple brine bath,  to be slowly smoked over apple wood tomorrow.  Tune in tomorrow for part two…..

See you next time!

In which we admit it: we’re charcuterie sissies

In which we admit it: we’re charcuterie sissies

A Bold Jump into the Kiddie Pool

I want to be a Nose-to-Tail Badass, I really do.  I see all you Charcutepaloozans with your lamb brains and pig’s heads and am overwhelmed with equal and conflicting feelings of squeamishness and awe.

I’m the girl who had a severe emotional breakdown over my college biology fetal pig dissection. Humiliating, to say the least.  Don’t ask me to talk about the scene in Cold Mountain where the old woman kills the goat. “Yes, but aren’t you the lady who raises beef cows,” you ask?  I never said my life was simple.

I consider myself a reasonably adventurous eater.  But, I confess, I find eyes, ears, tails, feet and snouts on my plate a bit upsetting.  Intestines don’t make me wonder what the best wine pairings and side dishes would be. I don’t enjoy the flavors or textures of liver, kidney, blood or tripe.  But, if nothing else, I’m determined.

Boldly jumping into the kiddie pool, I decided to go for the tongue as my brining challenge. Preferring a tongue I have not been licked by,  I looked to my neighbor, John Lamb at Grazy Days Ranch.  Ironically, John Lamb is a farmer who raises goats and beef cattle; you’ll find no 4-legged lambs on this farm.

Grazy Days has a beautiful herd of heritage breed Belted Galloway cattle. You might call them Oreo cows, the ones with the big white belt around the middle.  John’s are definitely Double Stuff, well fattened on an all grass diet.  These cows lead the life cows are meant to live – a companionable herd free to roam acres and acres of rolling grass pasture.

I’m big on low maintenance old-fashioned breeds of livestock and the Belties are a treasure worth preserving. Read more about them here:  and here.  Grazy Days Ranch sells beef and goat meat by the quarter, half and whole, custom cut to your specifications – just a short drive north of Pittsburgh, you really should check it out.

Grazy Acres Ranch Grass Fed Belted Galloway Cattle

Once I started pickling and brining, one thing led to another and another.  Did I mention how much I love pickl-ey things?  I pickled kale stems, carrots and onions (there’s a good reason you won’t find a recipe for this in any cookbook – yuk).

I preserved lemons and approached the age-old question of the chicken and the egg from the pickling/brining perspective. I still don’t know which came first, but when they both taste so good, does it really matter?

But all that, while enjoyable and tasty, is avoiding the issue.  Forget the comfort zone; let’s consider this tongue.

Most of you probably have not had the experience of being licked by a cow’s tongue.  They are like sandpaper. A good lick from a cow will give you brush burns; I kid you not.  Cows don’t have upper teeth, so they use their tongues to wrap around the grass to tear it up – cow tongues are strong, very well used muscles.

Another tongue surprise is just how long it actually is.  Somehow we think they are the size we can see, but there’s a whole lot more.  This tongue was over 12” long – a big hunk of meat that typically goes unused.

The tongue came coiled up with sandpapery skin on.  I placed it in the brine for several days, then rinsed it and gave it a good three-hour boil.  The skin peels right off easily although I did read somewhere that if you allow the tongue to cool before peeling it becomes difficult to remove.  I wasn’t taking any chances.

xxxx  Pickled Corned Beef Tongue xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The disguise, Part I


After cooking, the tongue had a really nice, corned beef flavor and color.  Parts of the tongue have brisket-y texture, but most has that unmistakable sponginess. It’s very tender, not at all rubbery, but definitely tonge-y.

We being sissies and all, I decided the most successful method of serving my tongue is by disguising the texture.

So, may I present, corned beef hash.  I followed Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Ultimate Corned Beef Hash. And it was good. Even better with the home-made ketchup I made last summer following Pam Corbin’s recipe in her Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2 .

So, my secret is out.  Will my family be speaking to me after my trickery,  and if so, will anyone want seconds? Only time will tell….

Crispy Crusted Corned Beef Hash with Home-made Roasted Tomato Ketchup