Tell people that you not only eat bear meat but that you also love it, and most will grimace and postulate second-hand opinions about how bear is not only inedible, but also disease-ridden. Cooking bear, the uninformed will righteously tell you, not only results in a bad meal, but also causes everything from severe nausea to death. Mention that you also render bear fat for cooking, and you can almost see their brain seize up. It’s actually quite entertaining–not unlike telling a redneck that Toby Keith votes Democrat.
Ask these folks if they’ve actually tried bear and most will lower their eyes, kick the dirt a few times, and start sputtering excuses like “No, but I have this friend…”
So yes, I eat bear and ain’t afraid to evangelize about it. I have also started rendering the fat, which was thick and slick on this acorn-eating sow I killed with Steve Jones in New Mexico last fall. The resulting hard, white lard is a great medium for frying. To me, nothing beats onions and potatoes poached in bear fat–except maybe chicken thighs dusted with seasoned flour. I’ve also been told bear fat makes a great biscuit, which is what I’m reserving the last half-pint that’s in my fridge for, though I may sneak a spoonful out from time to time for fried eggs and hash browns.
Rendering bear fat is an easy affair, but it does take several hours. Luckily, this is mostly unattended cooking, requiring just a stir every now and then to keep the pieces from sticking to the pan. Several experienced bear hunters have told me you should do this outdoors if possible, as bear fat can produce an unpleasant odor. That wasn’t the case with my bear, but consider yourself forewarned–especially if you have a spouse or significant other who’s not exactly understanding of your kitchen experiments.
(Note: this is the same process used for rendering pork, duck or goose fat. If you kill a deer that has hard, white back fat, I’d also encourage you to try rendering that as well, despite contrary opinion that deer fat isn’t edible.)
Rendering Bear Fat
1. Clean the fat thoroughly, removing any stray hair and cutting away as much meat as possible.
2. Cut the fat into 1-inch squares and add to a deep stockpot. (The deeper the pot the better, as the grease may splatter.)
3. Set the pot over low to medium heat and stir regularly for the first few minutes to keep the fat from sticking. (A bit of water added to the pot can also help prevent scorching.) You want the fat to sputter, but not sizzle and turn brown, so keep the heat low.
4. Let the fat render and moisture evaporate. Depending on the amount of fat, this could take several hours or all day. Be sure to stir a few times every hour.
5. When the fat is completely liquefied and has stopped sputtering, you’re finished. There will be a few hard bits of fat–the cracklings–that will need to be filtered out.
6. Line a fine-meshed sieve with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl or large measuring cup. Slowly pour the rendered fat through the sieve to filter out the cracklings and impurities.
7. Transfer the fat to Mason jars, seal, and refrigerate. Bear fat should last several months in the fridge or even longer if frozen.