Beef tallow is an animal cooking fat that has gained popularity along with paleo diets and nose-to-tail eating in recent years. It’s also an ingredient that you might not have on hand, and are unsure where to get. Luckily, if a recipe calls for tallow, you can probably substitute it for another fat more likely to be on hand. Keep reading for the full breakdown.
What is Tallow?
Tallow is the rendered fat from beef. The raw fat can come from around the loins and kidneys, called suet, and it gets melted and strained, making tallow. Tallow is solid at room temperature, is white in color, and has a long shelf-life without refrigeration required. You can render tallow yourself if you have raw beef fat. Tallow is also sold in jars already rendered and ready-to-use at some supermarkets, health food stores, and online.
Tallow has many uses in and out of the kitchen. In addition to soap and candle-making, tallow is an excellent cooking fat to use for frying, roasting, searing, broiling and even in baking. Tallow is famous for making crunchy, rich french fries. It handles high temperatures without burning and adds a silky rich veil of fat to whatever its used to cook with.
Can beef tallow be substituted in cooking recipes?
Yes, tallow can be substituted in recipes as long as you use a cooking fat that has the same attributes as tallow. All the substitutes listed below can be used to replace beef tallow in a 1:1 ratio in recipes.
What is Tallow like?
These key features of tallow are essential to this unique and traditional cooking fat. An adequate tallow substitute should be similar in the following attributes:
➤ High Smoke Point
Tallow has a fairly high smoke point of around 400°F. In order to use a substitute in a similar way as you would tallow, it should also have a high smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature in which an oil or fat starts to burn or smoke. It’s ideal to keep oils at temperatures below the smoke point, as burning can create unhealthy chemical reactions, and burnt tastes.
Tallow has a somewhat beefy flavor and aroma, but it is not overpoweringly flavorful. The perfect tallow substitute should have a neutral or savory flavor.
➤ Fatty Acid Profile
Tallow is mainly made up of saturated fat. This fatty acid composition is what makes it solid at room temperature. You’ll notice that all of the following beef tallow substitutes listed below are also solid at room temperature, not liquid oils. You might even notice that tallow, and the fats listed below, immediately solidify after cooling. This saturated quality of the fats is important because saturated fat tends to have a heavier mouthfeel and richer taste. A “light” oil would not make a good substitute for rich and decadent, saturated tallow.
The Best Tallow Substitutes
Lard is a natural choice for a tallow substitute because it is fat rendered from a different animal, a pig. It’s made the same way, by rendering raw pork fat into strained lard. Sometimes the words tallow and lard are used interchangeably, but tallow usually beef fat and lard is usually pork fat. Pork lard has a similar smoke point of 370°F, and can handle high temperatures without smoking. It has a similar animal fat flavor, and richness. Lard is usually less saturated than tallow, though, and the fatty acid profile of lard can vary wildly depending on what the animal ate. Get it at Thrive Market and Amazon.
Coconut oil can easily substitute beef tallow, and it’s convenient because you probably already have some in your kitchen. Refined coconut oil’s high smoke point of 450°F, and even virgin coconut oil’s lower smoke point of 350°F make it easy to swap in. Refined coconut oil has a completely neutral taste, but virgin coconut oil will taste somewhat like coconut. Coconut oil is the best choice if you are deep frying, because it is also economical to use large amounts if you buy it in bulk. Some reputable brands are Thrive Market, Carrington Farms, Nutiva, and Spectrum.
Duck fat is another animal fat that makes a great tallow substitute because of its smoke point of 375°F, and its rich, savory flavor. Duck fat is not quite as saturated as tallow, and it can be somewhat pricey, so it may not be a good choice for deep frying. Though, it is perfect for roasting and pan-frying. I especially like this one from US Wellness Meats, and these from Fatworks and Epic.
Ghee is clarified butter, that is, butter with the milk solids removed so only the fat remains. Clarified butter, or ghee, has a higher smoke point than regular butter. The smoke point of ghee is around 450°F. Ghee has a neutral to nutty, savory flavor that is actually very similar to tallow. It’s also high in saturated fat like tallow. The only issue with ghee as a tallow substitute is that ghee can be fairly pricey, so you probably wouldn’t want to deep fry in it. Ghee is great for sautéing, roasting, and searing, though. You can find ghee on Thrive Market and Amazon. Some recommended brands are Thrive Market, Organic Valley, Carrington Farms, Bulletproof and 4th & Heart.
Butter is last on this list because although it is similar to beef tallow in many ways, it just doesn’t have a high smoke point. Butter has a smoke point of around 325°F so if you plan to use it in a high heat situation, think again. Otherwise, it has a rich, savory flavor that will compliment and enhance your food just like tallow does, and has a similar amount of saturated fat.
The best tallow substitutes are coconut oil, lard, duck fat, and ghee because they match the smoke point, taste, and fat makeup of tallow. Butter is only sometimes a good substitute, as it burns much more easily than tallow does.