Hey, you. Yeah, you.
Are you saving your fat?
No, I’m not talking about the kind around your waist. (I’m saving that, too, though. Winter is cold, after all.)
I’m talking about the oil, grease, and other fats you’re using for cooking. Are you saving them? Or are you throwing it out, or worse, pouring it down the drain?
Well, stop it! There is a better way, and it’s probably your great-great grandmother’s way.
Quit Throwing Your Grease Out
I hope I’m preaching to the choir here for this first part: if you’re pouring your oil down the drain, you’re doing some pretty nasty things to your pipes, the surrounding land, and our water supply. At the very least, you’ll clog up sewer and septic pipes with solidified fat and cause flooding (possibly of sewage) in your house. Pretty gross.
At worst, a lot of people pouring fat down drains causes pipes to build up fat and calcium deposits, which then causes waterways (including those people swim in) to build up with sewage. Double gross. Frankly, pouring just about anything besides water down the drain is not a good idea. Just don’t.
Okay, cool. So I’ll throw my rendered fat in the garbage. Easy-peasy.
Wait! WAIT! STOP! Hear me out.
First of all, you paid for that fat – olive oil, vegetable oil, bacon or sausage grease. And now you’re just going to throw it in the garbage? Saving it to use later would make the money you spent even more worth it (especially if it’s animal fat – double use!) and your future food pretty delicious.
Secondly, you’re going to use fat or oil in the future, in some application, and maybe even in the same recipe. Wouldn’t you like to have a source right in your kitchen that you didn’t pay a bunch of extra money for?
Yeah? Okay, good.
Rendering Bacon Fat
This is probably the easiest of the fats to save, since there isn’t any filtering involved (at least in our house). So you’ve cooked a pan of bacon, either on the stove or in the oven, and now you’ve got a reservoir full of bacon grease. Wonderful!
We keep our extra grease in a glass bowl with a lid, but I’ve heard of others using glass jars, glazed ceramic jars or pots, or basically anything that’s not plastic to store bacon fat. We keep ours in the fridge until we need a tablespoon or two, or are adding to it.
Mmmkay, so directions.
First, get yourself a dedicated non-plastic container for said grease. A Mason jar works great for this, or a Pyrex bowl.
Secondly, carefully pour the melted fat into the container.
Thirdly, allow it to cool, put a lid on it, and store it.
That’s it. You can use a funnel to make sure you don’t have a mess, and if you’re not into little bits of bacon or sausage in the rendered fat, you can filter it using a sieve and/or a cheesecloth.
Keep the jar in the fridge for long-term use. Some people keep them out on the counter if they use and replace the fat regularly. We don’t use it quite that much, so in the fridge it goes!
You can use tablespoonfuls to replace butter in frying recipes, which is where we use it most often. Some people will add it to biscuits and other baked goods, and even use it as a spread like butter. It will impart a smoky bacon flavor to whatever you’re cooking and eating, rather than the more neutral butter flavor that, well, butter offers, so keep that in mind for however you use it.
Reusing Fry Oil
So you’ve deep-fried something, and now you’re stuck with cups of oil. What now?
Yes, you can reuse that oil! (With a few caveats, of course.)
Firstly, let’s start with the oil you’ve used for frying. For larger quantities, it’s fine to use a cheap, neutral oil, such as general vegetable oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and the like. In fact, using expensive oils, like imported extra-virgin olive oils and other fancy stuff (avocado, almond, etc.) for high-heat applications renders them just as tasteless as regular vegetable oil. Basically, don’t waste your fancy oil on deep frying.
Secondly, saving your oil depends on what you’re frying, and what you plan to use the oil for in the future. If you’re frying vegetables and fairly neutral stuff that doesn’t produce much of its own oil, then you’ll be left with a fairly neutral oil to reuse.
If, however, you’re frying fish or other potentially pungent foods, you can still save the oil – you’ll just have a fishy- or strong-tasting oil that you might want to save for future fish fries only.
So, saving your fry oil is similar to saving your bacon grease:
First, use glass containers, such as large jars, to store the oil.
In the case of fry oil, you do want to make sure and filter out any fried bits, as those can burn in later batches and reduce the life of your oil, not to mention make your food taste burnt. Use a sieve and layers of cloth to filter out the bits so you have clear oil.
You can store your jars in the fridge. We store ours in the pantry, and haven’t had any adverse results so far. You do you.
You can reuse this oil several times before you have to dispose of it, and for more than just deep frying: use it like you do your regular oil, in tablespoons, as well.
That being said, there is a limit to the number of times you can reuse oil. With each high-heat application, the oil breaks down further, and it will continue to take on the taste and smell of what you’re cooking, as well as of cooked or burnt oil. It’ll start to get gummy, cloudy, dark, and possibly foamy when it’s ready to be discarded. The most telling feature of spent oil, however, will be its smell: once it smells rancid, sour, or just like that restaurant that gave you food poisoning, it’s time to dispose of it.
The best way to dispose of large quantities of spent oil is taking them to a recycling center that advertises itself to do so. You can also toss it in your garbage in a container, but if you know me by now, you know I’m not a fan of just “tossing” things in the garbage, since it’ll probably end up in the trash vortex. Remember the trash vortex? Don’t throw more things into the trash vortex.
Whatever you do, do not pour oil down the drain. I already told you not to and why, but I’m repeating it here. Do not pour grease down the drain. Ever.
Got other uses for oil, or other methods of saving your oil and fats? Leave them in the comments!