Delving into the rich world of animal fats and the uses they have is the mark of any cooking or nutrition aficionado. Contrary to what many people think, not all animal fat is the same. The texture, nutritional profile, taste, and use changes depending on the animal itself, what part of the animal the fat is from, and how you choose to prepare it.
Suet is one of our favorite types of animal fat. It’s versatile, delicious, and is renowned for its baking and cooking uses.
We’re going to cover what suet is, why you should consider adding it to your rotation, and what separates bad suet from good suet.
What is suet?
Suet is the crumbly, hard, and saturated fat found around animal kidneys.
It’s most commonly taken from cows and sheep, and many butchers clarify and remove impurities from suet by boiling it and collecting the fat that separates from the water after boiling. The remaining fat is purified suet.
Suet is special for a few reasons:
1. It has the highest smoke point of any fat, which makes it ideal for baking.
If you’re into baking at all, you know the struggle around freezing butter to prevent it from melting too soon, getting temperatures exactly right to aim for certain textures, etc.
Because suet is solid at room temperature and has a high melting and smoke point, bakers can use suet in pie crusts and not worry about it melting right away. Then, once the pie crust is in the oven, the suet takes longer to melt than the pie crust takes to set, resulting in larger air pockets and a characteristic spongy texture (1). Suet is what gives British pies their distinct texture and no other fat source can exactly replicate it. If you use a lower melting fat, then the batter will end up being heavier and thicker.
If you’ve ever had an authentic British meat pie, mincemeat, or steamed pudding, it was most likely made with suet.
2. Suet has a mild flavor, making it versatile.
Suet isn’t overpowering, which means you can use it in a variety of cooking applications and not worry about your dish being overtaken by meaty flavor. It’s a world away from something like bacon lard, which lends that “bacon-y” taste to every bit of what you’re making.
Pro tip: If you ask your butcher for suet, ask specifically for kidney fat. Some butchers won’t know exactly what you mean by suet or try to give you different types of fat instead of real suet. Suet is unique in its properties and can’t be replaced by other parts of the animal.
Are suet and tallow the same thing?
No, but tallow can be made from suet.
Some people say tallow is exclusively made from suet, while others consider it a general term for rendered fat. Rendering just means melting and clarifying fat, so you’ll need to be specific depending on what you’re looking for.
Suet is made into tallow by filtering it, cooling it, and simmering it. Tallow is used in all sorts of applications like frying, candles, and even soaps. The main difference between suet and tallow is its long shelf life. Tallow can last around a month without refrigeration and for years if properly stored.
At US Wellness Meats, we use the same methods as pioneers in the 1800’s. Our tallow is brought to a simmer for approximately 8-10 hours to evaporate the water from our raw suet in order to produce the tallow. We simmer the suet at approximately 180-200 degrees F, and the result is amazing.
What does suet taste like?
As mentioned above, suet doesn’t have a strong flavor, and that’s the point. It’s generally considered subtle or mild — even bland. It does have a bit of meaty flavor, but that usually goes unnoticed once it goes through any sort of cooking process.
Is suet the same as lard?
No. Lard is rendered pork fat from pigs, whereas suet is taken from cows or lambs and is specifically the fat around the kidneys. Again, there is no substitute for actual suet. It’s unique and no other animal fat recreates the same feel and texture that suet has.
Beef suet uses
Suet is most famously used in British pies and savory puddings, but there are many ways to use suet:
- In dumplings
- In any sort of savory suet pudding
- For general frying because of its 400-degree smoke point
- In any other meat-based recipe.
- Wild game hunters love to cook their game in suet.
- For bird lovers who like to make beef suet cakes.
- To turn into tallow to make candles or soap.
If you don’t have access to suet or prefer something else, then there are a few options that get close to suet, but again, nothing is a true replacement for authentic suet. Its unique properties can’t be replicated, but, if you do need to swap out suet in a recipe, here are your best bets:
- Vegetable suet (a vegetarian form of suet that is made from rice flour, palm oil, etc.)
- Beef tallow
- Pork fat
How to cook suet
A lot of suet is already prepared, so you won’t have to do anything to it unless you’re turning it into tallow. If you do happen to go to your butcher and buy raw suet knobs, then all you need to do is trim away the pink tissues, melt down the white fat at a low heat for 15-20 minutes, strain it, and cool it.
For using suet in recipes, they often ask you to grate it. We recommend freezing it beforehand to make this process easier.
How to store suet
Storing suet is easy. You can freeze suet in small containers for months at a time or keep it in your fridge for a few days. The purer your suet, the longer it will last. Follow your nose and only keep what you need in the fridge!
Again, suet shines in meat pies. You really can’t beat the texture it provides. With that in mind, here are a few of our favorite recipes that use suet:
While this haggis recipe isn’t made inside of a lamb stomach like days of old, it’s about as close as you can get. You won’t find a better recipe for a chilly evening!
For those of you looking for a challenge, this is the recipe for you. This pudding takes a long time to prepare, but the rewards are well worth it.
This is a slightly simpler pudding option that still gets you most of the way there. Remember to use fresh herbs!
Where to buy real suet
Finding suet in the states isn’t nearly as common as it is in the U.K. and Ireland, but you may be able to find it in specialty stores. Also, keep in mind that a lot of suet in supermarkets is actually dehydrated suet. Companies mix it with flour to help it keep longer and stay more stable at room temperature. This can mess with some recipes that call for pure suet.
You can also buy authentic suet directly from grass-fed butchers like US Wellness Meats, which will give you the best results. Our suet is 100% grass-fed and is absolutely delicious.
Order our pure, grass-fed, non-GMO beef suet and make sure your recipe comes out perfectly.
And that’s all you need to know about suet. Remember to be specific when talking to your butchers, don’t settle for anything that’s not real suet. Good luck, and happy cooking!
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.