Tallow vs Lard: What’s the Difference?

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While shopping with my young niece the other day (we were going to bake cookies for school), she asked me what people used before butter or baking margarine when baking or cooking. She was quite impressed when I explained that before processed spreads and oils, we used a much more traditional option of either tallow or lard. 

The thought of cooking fat out of an animal was a bit ghoulish to her, but tallow and lard have a unique taste, and for true authentic cooking and baking, you can’t go wrong with either. 

But which is best when cooking, and which is best for baking? Is there a difference between tallow and lard?  

Tallow is made from the fat collected from cows and other ruminant animals like sheep, while lard is made from the fat of pigs. A pig produces much more lard, which is rendered or heated from the connective tissue of a pig (usually from the back and kidney area). Likewise, a cow yields tallow from around the kidneys when heat is used.  

Making your own tallow or lard isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it does deliver a great taste to your kitchen’s accomplishments, and it’s said that McDonald’s used to prepare their chips in tallow, which gave it the unique and popular taste.

 Are you ready to learn which you should use for your recipe—tallow vs. lard?

What Is Tallow?

Tallow is produced when fat is heated from the connective tissue of a cow or sheep, usually from the meat around the animal’s kidneys. The fat liquifies when heated, and the dripped oil is collected, forming a tallow. 

Before the use of petroleum-based wax, tallow was the choice for making candles. When melted, tallow becomes fat, which is used to fry foods. 

You can expect a more beefy taste when you eat food fried in tallow. 

Tallow tends to be slightly harder than lard, and it’s also much higher in saturated fats, which means it’s not the best health choice you can make. 

However, for that authentic taste, it’s worth the bit of extra dense fats. 

At room temperature, the tallow solidifies into a buttery solid. The raw beef fat is known as suet before being rendered with heat to produce tallow.

What Is Lard?

Lard is a very popular fat, and since it’s produced in copious amounts by pigs, it’s much more readily available. Like butter, lard gives baked goods a lovely texture, without influencing the flavor with a “pig” taste. 

As with tallow, lard is rendered from pork back tissue, as well as the area around the pig’s kidneys. 

When heating the tissue of the back, the connective tissue crisps, forming crackling, which is a popular treat. 

The heated lard fat turns to a runny oil, which is softer than tallow.

At room temperature, lard has a soft texture, and it heats at a lower temperature than tallow, becoming oil to use in baking and cooking. 

Lard is denser in unsaturated fats, which is responsible for the softer and fluffier texture. Since it’s found just below the pig’s back skin, lard tends to also contain more natural vitamin D.  

3 Differences Between Tallow vs Tard

We ended up taking some tallow and lard home, and my niece (being a curious-minded pre-teen) wanted to explore the differences between each so she could tell her classmates about it that Monday. 

Where It Comes From

Tallow is rendered or melted from beef, lamb, goat, or other ruminant animal sources. The fatty tissue of the animal, usually found around the kidneys, is exposed to heat, which melts the fat into a runny oil. 

Often, when producing large quantities of tallow, the fatty tissue is cut from the animal carcass, heated in a vat, then drained of the remaining webby tissue. 

Lard is made in the same way, but only from the fatty tissue of pigs. Usually, the most fat is found along the pig’s back, just below the skin. 

Some fat is also harvested from around the kidneys. If processed on a large scale, the fatty tissue becomes lard and the connective tissue is fried to make cracklings.

Flavor Profile

Tallow has a very specific beefy taste, which is ideal for savory dishes and fried foods. Lard has less of a prominent flavor profile, and it’s got an almost umami taste.

Since lard tends to be softer than tallow, lard is used to fry vegetables and also in baking where the soft texture makes a great pastry crust. 


Both lard and tallow should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 30 to 90 days. When kept at cold temperatures, tallow will harden into a buttery consistency and have a crumbly texture. Heating it will return it to an oil form. 

Lard will harden somewhat, but it won’t become fully solid once it’s been heated (rendered). 

Is Tallow Better Than Lard?

Tallow has more vitamins and minerals than lard, but lard has better-unsaturated fats than tallow. However, in large quantities, either would present some challenges with the fatty content. 

Deciding which is better depends on what you are making. Use tallow for fried foods and lard for baked goods. 

Can Tallow Be Used Like Lard?

Tallow and lard are both fatty substances and when used for lubrication and spreading purposes, there aren’t as many differences between them. 

Tallow can be used to bake, and lard can be used for shallow frying of your morning bacon. 

However, since Tallow is beefier, it’s worth noting this when making baked treats where the sudden whiff of beef won’t go over so well with the taste of a peach cobbler. 

Lard would not have this issue as it’s got a more neutral taste and can be used for savory and sweet foods. 

My Last Foodie Thoughts 

My niece made some crackling for her classmates, and she baked some pastries to share with her class teacher. 

She has definitely had an interesting education on the use of more traditional oil, fat, and spread options as we explored lard and tallow. 

We’re still unsure of which we prefer, tallow vs lard, but having both on hand certainly opens some authentic cooking and baking options.

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