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This creamy, white pork fat used to be America’s mainstream choice for baking and frying. Is it time to bring lard back?
What You Need To Know
Lard had a tough time in the 20th century. After hundreds of years as America’s everyday choice for frying and baking, it went completely out of fashion. Crisco arrived in 1911, helped by health reports throughout the 20th century—now mostly discredited—about the evils of animal fat. In 1928, Americans ate an annual average of 14.3 pounds of lard per person; by 2009, that fell to 1.5 pounds. But all along, a faithful few kept lard as a secret weapon for making extra-flaky, tender pie crust and biscuits, Southern fried chicken, and Mexican foods such as tamales and carnitas. Lard is the traditional cooking fat of Thailand and parts of China, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Mexico as well as Central and South America—not to mention the American South.
We decided it was time to check out the lard market. We bought seven products, four from supermarkets and three online, to try in three blind tastings. First we substituted lard for butter in biscuits and pie crust, and then we prepared Pork Carnitas, for which the meat simmers in lard until it is meltingly tender and rich. Twenty-one America’s Test Kitchen staffers rated the results on flavor, texture, and overall appeal.
What Does Lard Taste Like?
We noticed a big difference in flavor, especially in baked goods. Highly ranked lards made biscuits and pie crusts that tasted “clean, rich”; “very neutral, almost buttery”; and “lightly sweet and delicate.” On the flip side, our lower-ranked lards gave biscuits and pie crusts anywhere from a hint of porkiness to “big, savory, porky flavor.” While tasters didn’t truly mind—we ultimately recommended even the porkiest lard with reservations—tasters noted that pork flavor wasn’t always welcome. “Not what I’d choose for a fruit pie,” one wrote. In carnitas, those porky lards excelled, enhancing the rich flavor of the chunks and shreds of pork. Still, we decided that we’d prefer an all-purpose lard for both sweet and savory recipes.
Lard’s flavor is the result of several factors, from the breed and diet of the pig to where on its body the fat was located and how it was processed. To make lard, pork fat is separated from other tissue using dry heat or steam or by simmering it in water and then using a centrifuge to remove the water. According to Jennifer McClagen, author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient (2008), higher rendering temperatures can give lard that “roast-pork” savory taste we noticed, while lower rendering temperatures can keep its flavor neutral. Manufacturers often deodorize and refine lard to reduce scents or flavors and add preservatives to prevent rancidity, all of which contributes to a more neutral taste.
Everything We Tested
Biscuits made with this preservative-free, nonhydrogenated lard made in Ohio came out “beautifully crisp and tender,” with “clean, rich flavor” and “lighter than others, crisp and perfect,” with a “delicate crumb” that tasted “very neutral, almost buttery.” Pie crust likewise had “clean, buttery flavor” “devoid of any fatty funk,” and a “very tender, and flaky and crisp” texture. In carnitas, this lard “made a substantial difference: moist, flavorful and lovely.”
This lard from Canada nearly tied for first place. It has a cult following in the United States, and we can see why: Biscuits came out “notably rich, crisp, and tender—a beautiful specimen.” Carnitas were “very tender,” “with a “perfect bite”; “rich and decadent.” And tasters deemed this lard’s pie crust “delicious; like butter” or “a Ritz Cracker” with “salty,” “sweet,” “nutty” notes and a “great flaky structure.” One taster simply wrote: “Perfection.”
With a “soft,” “flaky,” “moist” texture that “melts in your mouth,” biscuits made with this widely available supermarket lard were a hit with tasters. Partial hydrogenation helped ensure the firmness of this fat, so pie crust came out “flaky” “and “very, very tender.” Its flavor was “neutral” and “mellow,” leaving food “very tasty.” Carnitas were full of “deep, rich pork flavor.” One taster summed it up: “Porkadise Found.”
Tasters enjoyed biscuits from this widely available supermarket lard, calling them “salty, clean, savory,” with a “crisp” exterior. Pie crust had “neutral” flavor, with “not much character” but “good flakiness” and was “definitely acceptable.” Carnitas struck us as “rich, creamy, smooth, and meaty.” “I’ve gotta say, carnitas made with lard is so good! Why did we ever make it with oil?”
This supermarket lard gave biscuits “savory,” “lightly porky taste.” Pie crust was also “a bit on the pork-flavored side,” though it was flaky. Carnitas made with this lard stood out: “Incredible almost-fried crispy exterior and meltingly tender, juicy, moist interior.” “I want this, no tortillas, just straight up. Mmm, pork.”
Tasters called this pricey artisan lard sold in glass jars “quite porky,” “savory and lardy” in biscuits and pie crust, where it had a texture “like shortbread,” with “more crumb than flake.” It had the lowest melting point of the lards in our lineup; its label also says “premium cooking oil,” and the fat appears semiliquid in the jar. In carnitas, it was “savory and incredibly satisfying,” “with gamy, porky richness.”
Recommended with reservations
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.