If you’re new to cooking with traditional animal fats, you might hear the words suet and tallow thrown around frequently, and often seemingly interchangeably. But, they are really not the same thing, and they actually refer to fat in different stages of processing. Fat is called suet being its rendered while tallow is the name for the fat after rendering.
Keep in mind that while suet and tallow are different, they are both derived from beef (or another livestock animal like lamb). Vegetarians should look into ghee as a healthy cooking alternative.
What is Suet?
Suet is the raw fat surrounding the kidneys. It can be from any animal, though it usually refers to fat from ruminants, such as beef and lamb. It is dry and crumbly. Suet is usually used for tallow, and has less uses just on its’ own.
What is Tallow?
Tallow is the rendered fat, and the product of suet after rendering. The rending separates the water from the fat, and removes impurities. Tallow is usually from beef, but sometimes rendered mutton and lamb fat is also called tallow. Unlike suet, tallow has a long shelf life, and does not require refrigeration. Tallow ranges from white to more yellow in color depending on the source and is stored in a jar as a solid.
Suet has a melting point of between 113°F and 122°F. Keep this in mind for when melting suet down into tallow. It has a high smoke point of 392°F, meaning it is very stable at high heat.
Beef tallow has a smoke point of 400°F. This high temperature makes tallow perfect for deep frying.
Suet is mostly used to make tallow. But, you can bake and cook with it, too. There are some traditional (mostly British) recipes that call for suet instead of tallow or another fat, such as Christmas pudding, Mincemeat, Rag pudding and Spotted dick. It can be used in sweet and savory recipes. Suet is actually commonly used to make cakes to put in bird feeders.
Tallow is used in many different recipes for baking, roasting, and frying. In addition, tallow makes a perfect rich moisturizer for skin. Tallow is also a great alternative to wax for candles and soap. It’s actually a more traditional version. The stiff, crumbly texture makes it perfect for cosmetics.