No matter if you want to have candles on hand for emergencies, are simply interested in learning how to make them, or have a lot of beef fat on hand after slaughtering a cow and don’t want it to go to waste, making tallow candles is a good idea. I know that the first time you make a tallow candle, you are likely to be a little apprehensive as well as confused about the process. How do you render the fat? Are there any tips and tricks to make the process easier? I’ve been through the process before and am here to help you make candle making as easy as possible.
Tallow Candle Needs:
- High-quality beef fat
- Food processor
- Glass jars for straining
- Canning jars
- Optional: essential oils
- Optional: baking pan
- Optional: parchment paper
Chop the Tallow Fat up
The food processor is necessary to help you chop the fat up quickly and into small pieces before you begin rendering it. Not everyone has this handy kitchen appliance, however. If you don’t have a food processor, you don’t have to go out and buy one. All you have to do is use a sharp kitchen knife to chop the fat into much smaller pieces. While this will take a while, it’s an easy work-around if you don’t have the right appliance for the job. If you have a food processor, you will find that it makes this task a lot faster and easier, which is why I like to use mine for the job.
Strain the Tallow
If you don’t have cheesecloth on hand, don’t worry! You can still easily render your beef fat and make your own candles without this material, which will save you a trip to the store and a lot of frustration. Before you get started making candles, look for old-fashioned cloth diapers. These are similar to large, thin linen towels and work great for this purpose.
Tallow Fat straining alternative
Another alternative that you can use if you do not have cheesecloth on hand is a clean pillowcase. Of course, if you do go this route, you will likely not want to use the pillowcase on a bed again due to how difficult it can be to clean. This is a great alternative if you are in a hurry and it is a wonderful way to use up older pillowcases that may be getting a little threadbare but I still prefer cheesecloth.
Slow cook the Tallow to Render Fat
Not everyone has a large stock pot at his or her home that can be used to render beef fat and that’s okay. Even if you don’t have this piece of kitchen equipment, you can make your own candles. You will want to use a slow cooker instead. This is ideal if you aren’t going to be around to keep an eye on your beef fat and don’t want to have to worry about the temperature as you can easily set it and forget it. Additionally, it’s a great substitute because you won’t have to use up your stove all day long if you have other cooking that you need to do. I recommend the slow cooker if you can’t monitor your fat while it melts but if you are going to be in the kitchen and want to raise the heat a little to speed up the process, then I think that using a large stock pot on the stove is the better option.
Containers for your Candles
If you do not have canning jars on hand that you are willing to use for your candles, then you can use other jars instead but you need to take extra care with them. The reason why I love canning jars for this purpose is that they are specifically designed to withstand high temperatures and the chance of you damaging or breaking the jars when pouring hot tallow into them is very low. If you only have regular jars on hand, then you need to take an extra step to ensure that you won’t break them when filling them with hot tallow. It’s a good idea to use either a hair dryer or your oven to heat them up before you pour the tallow inside. While this doesn’t completely negate the risk of them breaking due to the heat of the tallow, it does greatly decrease the risk and will make you safer. I recommend using canning jars for this reason.
Not everyone has parchment paper in his or her kitchen but if you are going to be storing extra tallow for use in the future, then you will need a way to allow it to cool without it sticking to the pan. While I prefer parchment paper for this purpose as I think that the cooled and hardened tallow is very easy to remove, waxed paper is another option.
I know that you may be feeling a little overwhelmed right now but I will show you how easy it is to render your beef fat and make your own tallow candles. It’s much simpler when you take it step-by-step, which is how I will walk you through the process.
Gather and Prepare Your Fat
Thanks to The Prairie Homestead for the picture.
Your first step in making candles is to gather and prepare your fat for rendering; although this step is fairly straightforward, it does tend to be a little time-consuming so you will want to prepare for that when you are planning out how much time you have to make your candles. It is not difficult to render tallow but you do want to make sure that you have time and enough fat to make the process worth the effort.
I have found that cold fat is significantly easier to work with than warm fat is. If you are butchering your own animal, then you want to make sure that you use the leaf fat, which is located around the kidneys. It’s generally very easy to remove from the animal and can be refrigerated until you are ready to work with it. If you get your cow from a butcher, then make sure that they include fat in your order or you will not have enough to render into tallow.
Collecting the Fat for the Candles
When your fat is collected and cold, then cut it into smaller chunks that you can easily manage and take care to remove any gristle, meat, or blood from the fat. Leaf fat that is located around the kidneys does not need nearly as much trimming as fat from other places on the body but you do need to remove the kidneys if they are still in the fat and also remove the “cellophane” that is wrapped around the fat itself. If you can’t get all of this off, don’t worry — I have found that it will cook out during the rendering process but I still like to remove as much as I can before I even get started.
When you have completely trimmed all of your fat, then you will want to use a food processor or your sharp knife to chop the fat into much smaller pieces. Remember that the smaller your pieces of fat are, the faster the rendering process will go. I will sometimes spend a little extra time working on this step simply because I know that it will speed up the rest of the process in the future, making my extra time here worth my while.
Pro tip: If you are having problems processing your fat and it keeps gumming up in the food processor, then take a break and stick it in the freezer for half an hour. This is long enough to help it harden up enough to be much easier to process. It will keep it from making a mess in the bowl of your processor as well, which makes cleaning up a lot faster and easier.
Melt and Strain Your Fat
Thanks to MommyPotamus for the picture.
This next step can take hours, especially if you are rendering a very large amount of fat, which is why it’s a good idea to start the entire process early in the day when you know that you don’t have a lot of other things going on. Put your chopped fat either into your large stock pot or your slow cooker and turn it on to very low heat to start melting the fat. You don’t want it to burn so make sure that you stir it once in a while when you walk by it. Rendering takes a very long time but after a while, you will notice that the fat is melting and that all of the impurities in the fat are coming to the top of the melted fat.
While you may be tempted to take your fat off of the heat as soon as it has melted and there are some floating bits, you need to allow it to stay on the heat for a little bit longer. You need to make sure that all of the fat is completely melted and that there is a nice clear liquid located on the bottom of the pot. Floating on the top of this clear liquid will be crispy bits that are all of the impurities you were unable to remove completely from the fat during the trimming.
Let the Tallow Cool
While you can immediately move to the next step, I like to let my tallow cool just a little bit so I don’t accidentally burn myself when straining it. You don’t want it to cool too much but it’s nice to remove a little of the heat. While it is cooling, I will often take a large slotted spoon and begin removing some of the impurities that are floating on the top to make straining through the cheesecloth faster and easier. It also prevents the many impurities and floating pieces from blocking the flow of the tallow through the cheesecloth when you do strain and causing a mess.
By placing the cheesecloth directly over the mouth of the jar and using a rubber band or another set of hands to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall into the jar during this process, slowly pour the tallow in the jar, allowing the cheesecloth to strain out any bits. This ensures that all you are going to store is the clear liquid.
Pro Tip: Have more cheesecloth on hand than you think you will need. If you have rendered a lot of beef fat, then you will find that straining it gets more and more difficult when you use the same piece of cheesecloth over and over. Being able to grab a clean piece will speed up the straining process and keep you from being frustrated.
Prepare Your Tallow Candle Jars
Thanks to The Homesteading Hippy for the picture.
Once you have carefully strained all of your tallow, you will want to let it cool slightly before you pour it into your candle jars. This is a great time to make sure that you have your jars prepared and ready for the liquid tallow to be poured in them and around the wick. Each jar is going to need one wick that you can light when you are ready to use the candle but there are a number of different ways that you can make sure that your wick stays in place when you are pouring the tallow. Neglecting to correctly prepare your jars will mean that your wick may float, get off-center, or come completely out of the jar, which will render it useless.
Your first step in preparing your jars is making sure that they all have a wick that is the appropriate height. Using scissors or a very sharp knife, carefully cut the wick to a height of about an inch taller than the jar itself. This will allow you to easily light it the first time without having to fight with getting a very short wick to catch your flame. Remember that all jars that are different heights will need wicks that are different heights so carefully consider the height of the jar you are going to fill. I know how easy it is to get excited and cut all of your wicks at once only to realize later that some of them are much too short!
One way to keep the wick in place for when you are pouring tallow is to use two pencils to hold it in the middle of the jar. You can also use tape in place of the pencils if you want to make sure that the wick will not have any chance of moving during this process. Finally, using a bit of glue, such as from a hot glue gun, is a final way to stick the wick firmly to the bottom of the jar and make sure that it will not move out of position when you are making your candles.
Pro Tip: There are some people who want to try their hand at “authentic” candles by dipping the wick in the melted tallow repeatedly until they have made candles. While this is a fun experiment for children to try, I have found that it is almost impossible to get the candles to the same size and it is terribly time-consuming. If you want to make your candles quickly and ensure that they are all uniform, then using canning jars is a better idea.
Pour Your Tallow
Thanks to The Homesteading Hippy for the picture.
Once your jars are prepared and your tallow has cooled enough to be poured easily but not so much that it has begun to harden, you will want to pour it carefully into your prepared jars. It can be tempting to rush through this process but the last thing that you want to have happen is to spill and have to clean up melted tallow from your countertop or floor. You can use a large ladle for this purpose or pour directly from the storage jars where you have the tallow cooling. Either way, using small amounts at a time will allow you to control exactly where the tallow is flowing and will help you avoid accidentally knocking the wick out of place.
Aromatherapy for your Tallow Candle
If you want to add essential oils to your candles so they will smell great when they burn, then now is the time. It’s important to remember that essential oils tend to be very volatile and can easily start a fire if you haven’t taken the time to stir them in to the tallow completely before it cools and you light a candle. This is an optional step and not one that will appeal to everyone but is a great way to ensure that you have nice-smelling candles that you made yourself. Another option for adding essential oils if you are worried about trying to stir the tallow without disturbing the wick is to add them to the bottom of the jar right before you pour in the tallow. This will allow the movement of the pouring tallow to help “stir” them in without you having to do any additional work.
Pro tip: Essential oils can be used to invigorate or calm and I think it’s a good idea to do a mixture of each so you have a candle for every situation. Label your jars with masking tape and a marker so you know what kind of candle you are going to burn.
Troubleshooting When making your Candle
Thanks to The Prairie Homestead for the picture.
If you move too slowly or get interrupted and notice that your tallow is not pouring easily, then don’t panic. All you need to do is gently warm the tallow back up over low heat to ensure that it is liquid and can be poured. While this does take a few minutes, it is a great way to make sure that your tallow will pour freely and easily and that you won’t have any air pockets in your candles that were caused by cooled chunks of the tallow.
If you have extra tallow left over and not enough jars for making candles, then you may be tempted to throw it away but you can store it for later use. After lining a large baking dish with either parchment or waxed paper, carefully pour the tallow into the dish to allow it to cool and harden completely. Once it has hardened, you can remove it from the dish and cut it into smaller pieces that will be easy to store. The tallow will last for a very long time when it is in this state. While you can store your tallow in your panty and keep it at room temperature, I like to make sure that I won’t have any problems with it going bad. It’s easy to wrap the tallow or store it in large plastic bags in the refrigerator or in the freezer. When it is kept in cold storage, it will last for months and even years.
Pro Tip: In the future, when you want to make more candles, all you have to do thaw your tallow, cut it into smaller pieces, melt it, and pour it into prepared jars. This way, you are never without the candles that you need around your home.
As you can see, rendering fat is very easy, although it does require some prep work as well as the right supplies and plenty of time. Thanks to the tips and tricks that I have provided here, you should be able to easily render your own beef fat into tallow that is perfect for making your own candles. I hate wasting any part of the cow that I have butchered or bought and this process is just one step that I use to ensure that I am getting the most use out of the animal. Tallow candles’ smell, attractive appearance, and ease of use make them a great option when you want to light up your home without having to pay for candles at the store. As long as you have all of your materials on hand before you get started, you will find that going step by step through the process allows you to make tallow candles without much trouble. Let me know what you think in the comments and if this article has helped you in any way, then please share it with someone else who would like it!