Bear Grease: How to Render Fat

rendered bear fat

Bear grease is a wonderful thing. Anyone who knows me knows my enthusiasm for evangelizing this all natural, all free product. In Camp Cookery, Horace Kephart says, "All of the caul fat [of a bear] should be saved for rendering into bear's oil, which is much better and wholesomer than lard." Made right, it has almost no flavor.

It's favored for pastries. It's a superb oil for frying. It's an outstanding conditioner for gun steel, leather and wood.

Eastern Woodland Indian tribes rubbed bear grease into the backs of their bows to seal out the elements. It's even been used to reliably predict the weather.

Bear grease is also an excellent supplement to critter food. We give it, in addition to raw venison, to all of our cats and dogs.

So I said bear fat was "free." I don't hunt bears and, even so, hunting is far from free. Every year I put in a call to a local game processor friend for any refuse bear fat. He usually gets at least one bear that has enough fat to save for me. It's normally 10 or 15 pounds, which fixes us with enough bear grease to last the year.

It helps us and it also keeps him from paying to drop it in a landfill. And it saves a precious resource from being wasted. I love knowing that I can glean something like that and put it to good use as a healthy food.

The Process of Rendering Bear Fat

There are a few ways to make bear grease or render lard. It's a simple process. It's also simple to screw up. I've learned, through trial, error, wasted fat and precious time, what works and what works better. If you follow these fundamentals, you'll get something useable:

  • cut away all meat from fat - if any meat is left, it will cook unwanted flavors into the bear grease

  • chop fat as finely as possible - ground is best; small pieces means more surface area and less heating time

  • use the heaviest pot possible - cast iron is best; this helps distribute heat more evenly

  • DO NOT OVERCOOK - or, really, don't cook. All you want to do is melt the fat to separate solids from oils. This requires moderate heat over the course of a couple of hours or so (or more). Less heat is preferable to less time. If it smokes, it's too hot. Scorching or burning makes it taste like fried meat. Medium heat on a modern stove works well.

  • If you're single, render your fat inside. If not, ALWAYS do it outside or face the wrath of your partner for stinking up the house. You've been warned.

Basic Methods

Dry Fat Rendering: This method calls for heating fat with no water added. The first time I ever rendered bear fat, this is what I tried. I really had no idea what I was doing. I just cut the fat up into a bunch of huge chunks, put it all in a cast iron pot and let it simmer on my wood stove. For days. Surprisingly, it worked fairly well, although it was too strong for Cindy's taste.

Slow heat and cast iron was the saving grace. I would never recommend it. It's really easy to over-heat and ruin your project and you really need to stir it a good bit until enough of the fat has been liquified to prevent it from burning. Lard or bear grease made this way usually takes on a stronger flavor which works OK for general cooking oil but you wouldn't want it in pastries.

I still have a hard time convincing Cindy to use bear grease for more than a few things because she remembers the first batch. Wet rendering is the way to go.

Semi-Wet Fat Rendering: You only use a little water - maybe an eighth of an inch in the bottom of your pot. The funcion of the water here is to ease the fat into heat. By the end of rendering the water cooks off. It's much easier to avoid scorching the fat when it's heated in water. This method is very similar to dry rendering and will result in a similar product.

Wet Fat Rendering: This is probably the safest way to make lard or bear grease. You use one part water to one part fat. When you're finished melting the fat, carefully remove it from the water. Any water left in your stored lard will make it spoil more quickly. This method will give you the most desirable and mildest flavored grease or lard.

I now only use a crock pot or slow cooker when I render fat. It's cheap insurance for keeping the fat from scorching and ruining the grease. You can just throw in your fat, turn it on and walk away until it's ready for another batch. Keep it on low and your fat should be safe.

Bear fat cracklings

After you've rendered most of the fat, you'll be left with a mixture of cracklings and some unmelted fat. You can keep heating to melt the rest, but it's not really worth the time or energy for what little return you'll get. To store your rendered lard, strain out the cracklings, which you can eat or mix into cornbread, by pouring it through a funnel lined with several layers of cheesecloth or a paper towel. For maximum storage time, freeze in clean jars, or keep it in the fridge.

Please note we don't sell bear fat or bear grease.


Salihah's picture

Helpful post! I've never rendered before. Does the process apply the same to other meat fats? Bear grease is also useful for protecting barrels on muzzleloaders, since pioneer days, prevents rust from moisture. Found your blog through Punk Domestics. I look forward to browsing your blog!

Albert Magliocco's picture

Bear fat alone will become rancid I mixed with leather preservative
Lexol is best then can use it for waterproofing Leather boots etc. and will not rot or go rancid

Eric Orr's picture

Hi Salihah. This will work for bear or pork fat and probably for beef and deer tallow, although I haven't tried rendering either one. I think I will be trying deer soon, though. I love bear grease for guns. I also mix it with brains to braintan deer skins. Thanks for the comment!

Anita's picture

I rendered bear grease, I have chunks of fat leftover, what can I do with the crispy leftovers?

janos's picture

Excellent for therapeutic massage, muscle/tendon iches.

Sassy's picture

Every year we have hedgehogs in the garden eating from our veg plot. We hunt them and cook with the meat. I'm wondering, do you think their fat would render down to be useful? We usually get 4 or 5 in one go and it would be great to use more of the animal, as I feel it's disrespectful no to.

Eric Orr's picture

Sorry, I'm just now seeing this. I think any rendered fat can be useful. It depends on what type of fat as to how it can be used. Deer and cows have "hard" fat that renders into tallow, which is good for candles, fuel or holding together pemmican, among other uses. I suspect hedgehogs have greasy fat which you could probably render into cooking grease or leather conditioning grease, fuel, etc. Couldn't hurt to try it.

TackyDriver's picture

Has anyone used a double boiler to render fat? The fat in the inner container never gets above 212F/100C as long as you keep water in the outer container. Is that too hot? Hoping it would be a hybrid wet/dry method. Plus I can at least season a cast iron inner container. Thanks, I've learned much.

Laura's picture

How do you can the fat? Does it need to be pressure canned? I'd love to hear more uses for crackling and meat bits

Eric Orr's picture

I re-worded that part because it's not recommended to can high fat foods--apparently the fat can protect botulism from heat. We don't actually can bear grease in a hot water bath or a pressure canner. We put it in clean jars to freeze or store in the fridge.

sue's picture

I have been offered some bear fat but I have been told there is a terrible bear smell associated with the fat. Is this typical or could it have been rendered inproperly. If so is there a way to alleviate the smell somewhat?

Eric Orr's picture

If it smells, it's probably scorched, which can give it a fried meat sort of smell. It's really easy to overcook. I don't think there's any way to get rid of the smell and, unfortunately, it's not really good for much except feeding to your dogs.

Kay 's picture

I'm interested in using this form of grease/oil for its many therapeutic reasons... I don't know where to begin to look for it though. Any suggestions?

Eric Orr's picture

I'm not sure where you could get it commercially. The only way I know of is to ask a processor or hunter to save some bear fat for you. Of course you have to live near bear habitat. If you're not near bears, you might try posting in a bear hunting forum to see if you could get someone to send you some. 

Sonja's picture

after my cancer, I used bear grease on my head and it helped a LOT to them growing back like crazy! that was from a recommendation from a friend of a friend ;-)
I'm still using it as a moisturizer for skin and scalp... making sure the meat is all gone when i render the fat... and all my friends who tried it, after i got a shit load of bear fat last fall, also prized the good it does on their skin and scalp. Even my groomer for my cat has hard time to go through his fur with the trimmer ;-)
now, need to try it in bakery...

Eric Orr's picture

That's awesome! I know people who use it on their hair but hadn't heard it could help with growing. Hope you bake some good stuff with it!

Sherryl's picture

I render bear fat the dry way. I don't have any problems. But I do have a question!
How can you tell if the rendered fat is still good?
I have noticed in a couple of the containers there is a few spots of black along the edge. I have wiped them away. But because I can not find an answer to my question. (Is it still good to use for frying?) I have decided to use it for soap.
I have read about washing the lard by cooking it in water slowly. Letting it sit and firm up and take it off.

Eric Orr's picture

Hi Sherryl,

Lard or grease molds when it goes rancid which could be from lack of refrigeration, from being stored for a long time, or from dry rendering/not rendering all the way, as it's really hard to control how hot it cooks and how much it renders. I personally wouldn't eat it. I think soap would be a much better option but the soap will probably mold, as well. It's possible you could scrape off the mold but I think once it molds, it's probably gone bad throughout the batch.

Julie 's picture

What happens if it boils? Do you just throw it out?

Eric Orr's picture

I don't think boiling it briefly would hurt it but I would be careful getting it that hot and losing control of the heat.

Anita's picture

Hello, I was wondering what will happen to the grease if I didn't get all the meat and hair out before it was cooked down, I ground the fat already? Not cooked yet.

Eric Orr's picture

You can strain it out, but it will probably impart a flavor to your grease when you cook it. I would just focus on rendering it with as litttle heat as possible to avoid cooking the meat much.

Drew's picture

Thank you for the very informative breakdown. The semi-wet method you mentioned worked great. The lard is nice and white with very little to no smell. I got around 8L (12-500ml jars and 2-946ml jars) of lard from the fall bear I harvested last week. You really need to take your time and not rush the process, make sure you have plenty of time to do this properly.

Eric Orr's picture

I'm glad it was useful. You're right...the key is taking it slow.

Steve's picture

How long can the fat in the freezer before you render it .. I have some that has been frozen for years that I haven’t gotten to yet

Eric Orr's picture

I'm not really sure. I know it depends on how well it's packed. If it's vacuum-sealed, it will last longer. If you're not planning to eat the rendered fat, it probably doesn't matter how long. I found this forum post about pork fat (similar to bear fat) which might help.

Artsifriend 's picture

Hi, my first attempt at rendering and my fat was given to me but it had moss in it and some bits of meat, I won’t eat it, but wanted to know if I may have burnt it. It’s a very dark brown amber, but it wasn’t smoking and it does smell, like wet puppy lol, wanted to try for skin and hair; what do you think? Should I go back to the drawing board. I know it is a sacred gift so I don’t want to waste it.

Eric Orr's picture

I haven't gotten anything that dark before...maybe it's colored by the meat? If it doesn't smell, it's probably not burned.

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