Tallow candles can be made from animal fat that has been rendered and is a great way to put parts of an animal to use that you may have otherwise thrown out, one most common is deer tallow candles. It works best with fat that is quite firm at room temperature. While I’ve heard people do make them out of pork lard as well, there are a couple of reasons this is probably not ideal. For one, pork lard is great for cooking. If you have good quality pork fat to render or rendered lard, it is probably best saved for adding to recipes, deep-frying, etc.
I make my tallow candles from deer tallow. Deer fat is not that tasty to eat and it is much more dense and hard at room temperature. In this way, it is practically like wax already and doesn’t need any special treatment to be used to make candles. Beef tallow, especially that coming from the firm back fat of a cow, is a suitable substitute as well.
These candles can be scented with essential oils if you wish or they can just be left in the closet as emergency candles for those times when the power may go out. Either way, they are lovely candles if you put them in a nice mason jar or another heat-safe ornamental jar.
What fat to use for deer tallow candles?
The first step is obviously obtaining the fat. A deer, cow, or pig has a number of sources of fat, but they do differ a bit in their consistency and purity. Although many can be used, generally the dense, firm back fat is the best option for pure white tallow that will be firm and waxy at room temperature but melt easily when the candle is lit. Leaf fat (from the posterior part of the abdomen surrounding the kidneys) is also a good choice assuming it is pretty clean.
How to render the fat:
- First, chop the pieces of fat into smaller slices or chunks. The smaller the better as it will render more quickly and more efficiently. But don’t drive yourself crazy. Just give them a good going over with a chef’s knife to chop them up a bit.
- Put the pieces of fat into a pot and add a cup or two of water. Start the heat on low and slowly warm up, stirring occasionally.
- As the fat heats up, it will slowly start to soften and then start to give up its fat. This takes a while so don’t rush. If you turn up the heat to speed things up you can scorch and burn the bottom. Just let it gently heat there for a long time. How long depends on the type of fat and how finely it was chopped, but you really can’t go too long as long as it is low gentle heat.
- Once the fat has been rendered and the remaining solid chunks are pretty small or have started to turn crusty and fall to the bottom, it is done.
- Let the fat cool for a while and then ladle through a fine-mesh sieve or layers of cheesecloth to strain out the bits. Use the ladle or a spoon to push on the pieces to get out as much tallow as possible. Either use it right away, as explained below, or chill in a refrigerator for later. This rendered fat can also be used to make great birdseed treats that you can hang from outside your window.
What will you need?
You don’t need a whole lot to make these deer tallow candles! That is part of what makes them great. You only need the rendered tallow (see above), heat-safe glass jars (mason jars of various shapes are great choices), and wicks. Wicks are probably the only thing you may not have on hand or may not be able to find in your local grocery store. A big pack of wicks with bases can be bought online (through Amazon.com for example) for cheap.
How do you make the deer tallow candles?
Once you have your tallow, jars, and wicks, it is simple! First, balance the wick with the base at the bottom of each glass jar. It may take a bit of fiddling to get them to stay upright roughly in the middle of the jar. I used a couple of pencils laying across the top of the jar, one on either side of the wick, to hold it in place.
Once your wicks are stable, simply pour the liquified tallow carefully into the jar to the desired depth. If you’ve just finished rendering the tallow, it should already be warm and liquified. If you have stored the tallow in the fridge, you’ll need to gently heat it back up to melt it to a pourable consistency before this step. If you would like to scent your candles, before pouring you can stir in some essential oils of your choosing before pouring. Just use your nose to determine how much is adequate to give a pleasing aroma without overpowering the room.
Finally, just wait for the tallow to cool back down to room temperature, and Voila! Your deer tallow candles are complete! You can cut the wicks a bit shorter as needed, a half-inch or so above the level of the tallow.