Deer Tallow Candles (…not for the faint-hearted)

I mentioned in my previous post that we didn’t get any deer this year, but a neighbor at the cabin gave us the doe he shot. Over thanksgiving weekend, my husband and dad and I processed the deer into steaks, loins, and trimmings for sausage. This year, I also saved the tallow (it was a HUGE, fat deer), to try my hand at making candles. In an attempt to use as much of the deer as possible (as my current knowledge allows), I spent a bit of time reading up on candlemaking and uses for animal fat.  (nevermind that we had rewatched Fight Club the night before, and soap was admittedly on my mind…)  Uses for tallow include bird suet, soap, candles, salves, and leather conditioner.

Here is how I made the candles:

**What you will need**
-deer tallow, cut in small pieces
-a big kettle (preferably outdoor burner because it can get smelly and messy)
-one big jar (if temporary storage is needed) or multiple small jars (whatever you want the candles to be in
-cheese cloth or mesh strainer (the finer the strainer, the more pure and clean the tallow)
-string, twine, or a wick of some sort
-some natural fragrance, to your preference. Essential oils are best, because oil mixes with oil.

1. “Cut the fat” – As we deconstructed the deer, we cut it into our normal steaks, loins, and trimmings (for sausage to be made at a later time). You have to cut the thick, hard tallow off the trimmings anyways, so we set aside the hard fat in a separate container rather than tossing it as usual.

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2. Melt the tallow. Cut the tallow into small pieces (much smaller than pictured here), or run it through a meat grinder. The smaller the pieces, the quicker and easier it will melt, and the shorter time you will have to deal with the smell and sight of oozy, jiggly, pure fat. Put the tallow in a big kettle and raise the heat very gradually, very slowly. Again, you want to melt the fat rather than cook it basically. You can pour a bit of hot water over the fat to help facilitate the melting and prevent the bottom from burning. That is what I did, but it requires letting the fat and water separate and then skimming the fat off the top later. Melting the tallow can take up to a few hours, depending on the size of pieces, the amount, etc. Keep the heat LOW, simmering is great, boiling might be overcooking it. During this time it will reduce and turn grayish/brownish, any cracklings or meat particles will separate and float up.  (sounds enticing, I know…)

3. Strain the tallow. When your tallow has simmered down and melted as much as you want, pour it off through a strainer. We used cheesecloth and funneled it into a big quart jar all at once. Since I added some hot water to begin with, I had to let it cool overnight and let the water separate. The fat will rise to the top and harden, the water will stay below.

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4. Use the melted tallow right away (if you hadn’t added any water) or re-heat the skimmed off tallow. It’s best to double-boil it to heat it evenly and prevent burning. While the tallow is reheating you can prep your small jars or containers for the candles. If needed, the solid tallow can be stored in a sealed container for several weeks, or even longer in the fridge.

******When the tallow was nearly melted, I added my scents. I used orange oil and patchouli essential oils and cinnamon powder. That is what I had on hand, but any other essential oils could be used. I would like to make some using clove oil or juniper as well. Gently stir the oils and cinnamon (or whatever you want to use) into the hot tallow.  In each of the pint jars pictured below, I added around 8-10 drops of essential oil, and enough cinnamon to coat the surface, then stirred it in so it would evenly distribute.  I used the smaller pint jars to re-heat and pour my candles because they are easier to handle, and small amounts melt faster than one big fat jar.

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5. Prime your wicks. I used a thick twine for my wicks. The wick material needs to be primed – aka coated a couple times with wax, before being combined with the whole candle. Dip the wick in the melted tallow twice, and let it cool . This will keep the candle from burning too quickly or burning out on you. Tie it around a stick or pencil (or in my case, a lag bolt) to center the wick and prevent it from floating around while the candle is still liquid. (side note, remember making sugar crystals in grade school?!)

6. Pour your candles. Carefully pour the pure, melted tallow into your candle containers (jars, tins, whatever), and make sure the wick is centered. If you hadn’t already added your scent, do it now, very carefully, by the individual candle. After that, DON’T TOUCH IT.  That will mess up the cooling process and give you a lumpy, scaly looking candle surface. Let it cool, it may take several hours to smooth over. Make sure it is placed up and out of the way of any cats or dogs or other critters to whom melted fat may be a delectable treat.  (I wonder if quick-cooling the candles in a refrigerator affects the final appearance? Not sure)

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7. Amazing! When your candles have cooled, they turn a solid creamy white again. I ended up getting 6 candles out of all my labor (5 pictured below). I could have let the fat simmer much longer and gotten more out of it the night that I melted it down, but it got late and I needed to go to bed. You can see that a few of the candles have more cinnamon speckles than others.

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At last, let there be light. The candle I lit has a nice slow burn, and the twine wick crackles a bit as it burns. The fragrance is subtle (certainly not as pungent as chemical artificial fragrances), but it doesn’t smell bad or anywhere near what the melting tallow smelled like. Even my iron-stomach husband got a little queasy with the combined sight and smell of the simmering tallow chunks.  (HUGE KUDOS and husband points to Jason!!!!)

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