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According to J. Kenji López-Alt, the more saturated a fat, the harder it is and the crispier the results. I agree with that conclusion.

Despite this fact, every electric fryer I have owned has explicitly stated not to use lard etc. in it rather than oil. I haven't tried it, but I assume this is down to the difficulty of cleaning the hardened fat in the pan as the cooking medium will be solid rather than liquid.

As lard etc. melts at a relatively low temperature, why can't you just turn the fryer on for a few moments - long enough to free the elements, switch off and then scoop the semi hardened fat out?

(I come from a generation where my mother had a dedicated non-electric chip pan used for frying with solid lard. This was cleaned out manually on a regular basis and the results far surpassed cooking in oil).

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    I'd like to see a comparison between domestic and commercial electric deep fat fryers regarding this advice. There must be some traditional chippies in the UK/Aus/NZ (that fry with animal fat) that use electric fryers, never mind other countries. Jun 18, 2023 at 12:54
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    @Crazymoomin - perhaps some specialists still exist - but one thing's for sure… they all used to. And wrap them properly in newspaper ;) Before that, it would be gas, which I don't imagine you can keep a cool zone with either.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:27
  • Exposed electrical elements need to be covered by liquid at all times while power is applied. Otherwise they can overheat and burn out. If unmelted solid fat is used in a deep fryer with exposed elements, it may be possible that the elements burn out when power is turned on before the fat melts and conducts the heat away from the element.
    – elchambro
    Jun 19, 2023 at 3:10
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    Coming from Belgium, a country where there is - to say the least - a fry-centric culture; every single chip shop I have ever visited uses an electric fryer and solid fat (presumably lard). I suspect the issue is not related to the operation of the device but rather the maintenance involved.
    – Flater
    Jun 19, 2023 at 5:28
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    @rumtscho: link You'll have to translate it if you want to read the source but "Ossewit" means "white of the ox" and in the description is referenced as "beef fat", so it is of animal origin. I specifically looked up one of the two or three major professional suppliers for chip shops, and I have seen these boxes in chip shops I visited. I do agree that it has likely decreased in favor of plant-based fats but animal-based fats are commonly still considered to yield a better result.
    – Flater
    Jun 19, 2023 at 23:31

2 Answers 2

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I’m going to use the manual for my Bella 1.5L Deep Fryer as an example. There are two different kinds of reasons: the superficial reason, and the underlying reason.

The superficial reason is a difference in behavior between lard (and other solid or semi-solid fats) and oils (and other liquid fats). Here is the full text of the warning in my deep fryer’s manual:

  • Always use oil with low water content like sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable oil or corn oil. Never use hard fats, olive oil or oil with a high water content.
    WARNING! Never, under any circumstances, add water or any other liquid to the oil.
  • Never mix different oils together to fry foods.
  • Never use butter or margarine to fry foods.

Butter, according to a very old Iowa State University survey, contains at least 8.6% water, with most containing between 13% and 16% water. The USDA’s Food Data Central says about 16% for salted butter (i.e., 16 grams out of every 100 grams). Unsalted butter is higher, at 17%. (Judging from other sources even besides the old survey, that number varies considerably.)

Oils, such as sunflower oil, typically contain practically no water, on the order of less than a percent. The USDA’s Food Data Central doesn’t report any amount for water in safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, or canola oil.

The more water, the greater the chance of sputtering, throwing hot fat out of the fryer.

Mind you, they also report no water in lard or olive oil. The wording in that manual may be unfortunate. Judging from the hard fats warning being bracketed by warnings about water, it may reflect an incorrect belief on the writers’ part that hard fats and olive oils contain more water than sunflower, etc., oil. Or it may be differentiating three types of oil: those that are hard, those that are olive, and those that have a high water content.

If its presence in the line that starts with “Always use oil with low water content” is unrelated to that opening and similar closing, then the warning to “never use hard fats” contains no reason. However, there are some anecdotal sources that attribute this to solid fats heating less evenly until they melt, suggesting the potential for the heating element to have trouble if there isn’t anything to heat around it. Given the speed at which lard melts, this sounds almost urban-legendish to me, but you may wish to pre-melt your lard if you’re going to use it in a deep fryer.

Beef tallow is, in this respect, similar to lard, a solid fat with practically no water.

While the manual doesn’t mention it, another concern is likely the smoke point. Oils have a much higher smoke point than animal fats, with lard coming in at 370°F/185°C, butter at 350°F/175°C, and most common cooking oils well above that. Sunflower oil starts at 440°F/225°C, peanut oil is at 450°F/230°C, and safflower oil has a smoke point of 510°F/265°C. Since these fryers tend to have maximums above 370°F/185°C (mine goes to 375°), recommending only oils vastly reduces the chance of reaching a fat’s smoke point.

This concern is also touched on in Julia Kiene’s 1954 Electric Fryer-Cooker Recipes.

WHICH FATS ARE BEST

If you prefer oils for frying, there are excellent ones, such as Wesson, Mazola, and peanut oil. Each section of the United States and each foreign country offers its favorite oils. Olive oil is fine but much too expensive, of course.

Perhaps you prefer a hydrogenated vegetable fat such as Spry, Crisco, or Snowdrift. Each has been used with success.

Leaf or fine-quality lard is a possibility. The National Livestock and Meat Board recommends that the temperature for lard for deep-fat frying should not go above 350° F. There are also combinations of lard and vegetable oils as in Swift’ning.

Note that when she writes “deep-fat frying” she is talking about all frying oils. She refers to all of them as “fats” (for example, see the facing page where she describes how to “clarify fat” and “how many times fat may be used”, and of course the title to the section I quoted, “Which fats are best” where she includes various vegetable oils under that heading.

However, all of those concerns could be handled by recommending people use care when frying, as Kiene does, perhaps even including a chart of smoke points. Very likely the real concern is over lawsuits. Here’s another warning in my deep fryer’s manual:

  1. Do not immerse detachable power cord in any liquid. If the cord falls in water or other liquid, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY and replace it with a new cord.

There is no ambiguity to that statement, no “if water gets inside the plug holes” or “if hot fat melts the plastic around the wire”. If any part of the cord gets into water or any other liquid, throw it out. This is almost certainly there purely for legal reasons. Likely the same is true for their warning about kinds of oils. That’s why I quoted an older cookbook above; I specifically went looking for an older book which, if my theory were correct, would not contain such inflexible warnings. This does not prove the theory true, of course, but it also does not falsify it.

Anecdotally, I use lard almost exclusively in this deep fryer. It fries wonderfully and tastes great.

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    "Butter is 30% to 40%."? what? (wikipedia says 12-20, the butter package in the fridge says 18%). (in mass)
    – njzk2
    Jun 18, 2023 at 9:27
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    My lard is 99% fat. The only other ingredient is 'antioxidant'. My butter is 82% fat, 98.5% milk [including solids, of course], 1.5% salt. Both are pretty standard supermarket own-brand, nothing out of the ordinary. Butters labelled 'spreadable' have water, which is listed as an ingredient - eg new.lurpak.com/en-gb/products/…
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 18, 2023 at 10:53
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    You have misread Major Fats and Oils Used in Bakeries. The 12% to 18% water for lard refers to the moisture content of the fatty tissues from which lard is rendered. The 30% to 40% for butter refers not to the moisture content, but to the fat content of the cream from which the butter is churned. Below it reads: "Lard and shortening have a higher fat content (close to 100%) compared to about 80% for butter and margarine." Jun 18, 2023 at 11:54
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    I completely misread Major Fats and Oils. I’ve corrected with better (I hope) data from the USDA’s Food Data Central. Jun 18, 2023 at 18:26
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    There is one other very good reason other than the immediate danger of exploding or splattering oil. Heating saturated fats (like lards) to too high a temperature converts them into transfats.
    – Escoce
    Jun 21, 2023 at 17:21
2

There may be some confusion here between two related meanings of "lard": This word can refer both to the refined product, available in bricks next to the shortening in the baking aisle, and to the fatty tissue as trimmed off the carcass by the butcher.

The former is pure fat and should be free of water.

The latter contains non-fat material including some water as well as connective tissue and possibly blood vessels.

The latter is converted into the former by "rendering", heating the lard until the fats melt out. A similar process converts beef fat into tallow. This is usually done in boiling water, with the fat floating to the top where it can be filtered and collected. If this is not done with enough care (e.g. at home) some water drops can be trapped in the hardened fat.

Any water will sink to the bottom of the molten fat in the fryer, become superheated, and suddenly boil generating a shock wave and a steam bubble. Whether this just makes a small pop or sends hot oil all over everything depends on several factors including the size of the drop, how deep it is, and the size of the pot. After all, all the popping and sizzling when food is being deep-fried is due to water boiling off. More depth allows the shock wave from the sudden boiling to dissipate, and sufficient pot area allows the steam bubble to rise to the surface without acting as a piston that ejects a lot of oil ahead of it.

There is a small range of temperatures warm enough to melt the fat but below the boiling point of water where the fat can be visually inspected for water. I expect that a water drop too small to see at the bottom of the fat would be at most the "small pop" variety. But then such visual inspection could be fooled if you have a continuous water layer at the bottom of the fat and this would be essentially invisible—and very dangerous.

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    I have never heard the term "lard" applied to the non-rendered stuff. Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster and The professional chef make no mention of such meaning. Other languages where animal fat is more popular have separate terms for the unrendered fat and for the lard. And, among those cooks I know who do use raw (or salted) pig fat, none would come upon the idea of using it as a frying fat in a deep fryer. Lard is pure rendered fat, with basically no water content left.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:05
  • en.wiktionary.org has definition 1 being "Fat from the abdomen of a pig, especially as prepared for use in cooking or pharmacy." Note "especially as prepared" which does not exclude the unprepared form. Admittedly, though, definition 2 "Fatty meat from a pig; bacon, pork" is marked obsolete. Jun 20, 2023 at 11:14
  • It also might be some of my Québecois heritage slipping in, where "lard" can definitely refer to some especially fatty cuts of pork, hence "fèves au lard" (pork & beans). Jun 20, 2023 at 11:18
  • Oh, that's interesting. It appears that "lard" is a French word for "bacon", which would explain "fèves au lard". For me, that makes it a false friend linguistically. I can imagine it being used interchangeably with bacon in eng-fr bilingual communities such as Quebec, but I think that for the vast majority of English speakers in the world, this usage would be incorrect.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 20, 2023 at 11:27

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