Sunday, July 4, 2021

Biscuits with a Special Ingredient: Beef fat!

Today, we are economizing like it's the 1930's, using.... this!

This is what happens after cooking ground beef and then dumping it in a strainer to get rid of the fat. All this time, we have put it in the refrigerator to solidify and then carelessly dropping it in the trash. We've been saving the broth and adding it to soups, but carelessly discarding this magical stuff that goes floats to the top.

Why does the fat have veins?

And now for some historical context. Before we all could all just go out out and buy a bottle of cooking oil, throwing out drippings was considered as wasteful as throwing away a browning banana before the pandemic-induced banana bread renaissance. Last night's drippings were what you'd put in a skillet when you were making pancakes or browning onions. They went into your pie crusts and greased your baking pans. And, more relevant today, you'd prevent waste by putting this stuff into bread.

Parkerhouse Biscuits
1½ c flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ c beef drippings (or shortening)
⅓ c milk
1 egg
1 to 2 tbsp butter or margarine
milk for brushing

Heat oven to 425°. Grease a baking sheet.
Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the beef fat (or shortening) like a pie crust. Add the milk and egg. Knead 12 times. Roll out to a quarter inch. Cut into 2½" circles and lay on the baking sheet.
Using the flat side of a knife, make a crease just off-center. Put a small pat of butter on the bigger side. Brush around the edge with milk or water, fold over, and press to seal. Brush the tops with milk.
Bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden.

Adapted from Pillsbury's Meat Cook Book, 1970 via Mid-Century Menu on the Wayback Machine

It gets surprisingly crumbly and brittle when cold.


Today's recipe is the better half of the cherry pie with ham and celery. We had all agreed that the biscuits that went on top of that steaming red mediocrity were good enough to make again. I'm sure everyone thought I'd actually follow the recipe and use only the ingredients listed. We have precedent that if you follow the biscuit recipe, you will achieve delicious success. However, I've been feeling faint guilt about throwing this away every time we make tacos or spaghetti. I'm sure all my forebears who survived the 1930s would strangle me with their cotton floral print aprons for my careless waste.

When you use beef fat, it doesn't come out in a thick, scientifically-white creaminess like shortening does It breaks up into a lot of hard little curds. Our beef fat didn't really mix into the flour so much as break into smaller and smaller pieces and commingle with it.

The dough was a little stickier than when we used the shortening that the Pillsbury Meat Cook Book tells us we should have deployed, but it turned into perfectly acceptable biscuits. We put a little spoonful of margarine on most of them, but left it off of two so that we could taste the beefy difference with no buttery melted infusion in the way. But we went ahead and folded them in half so that all the biscuits would be otherwise identical. I was really hoping for a wonderful flavorful difference like when we made bread with chicken fat. I picked this recipe because there's really not a lot of flavor involved otherwise, which makes it perfect for discovering what new flavors beef fat will add. A lot of people will try new spices or fancy olive oil in mashed potatoes or something similarly bland for the same reason.

The oven gave off a very faint beefy smell, but mostly it smelled like biscuits. Had the beef been any subtler, it would have been undetectable until you knew to carefully sniff for it. But for possibly beef-related reasons, these rose a lot higher than the biscuits we made with shortening.

I posit that the writers of the Pillsbury Meat Cook Book made the biscuits for the recipe photo with beef fat instead of the shortening that they wrote down. Compare the biscuits above to the ones in the recipe photo:


They look the same aside from being cut different shapes, right? Now, compare those two photos to the comparatively crumbly biscuits we made using the shortening specified in the recipe.

It's got to be the beef fat. I may never again make biscuits without it.

But enough about appearances, let's discuss what you find when you actually eat one. These biscuits are really good, but the beef fat doesn't change them like you may expect. They may have a little bit more of a savory undertone, but no one will taste them and think "these taste like beef!". I did not expect to say this, but beef fat is a surprisingly neutral flavoring. I'm not going to go so far as to say you could put a beef dripping pie crust under your fruit pie, but that's only because I haven't personally tested this to see. I will say that it's worth testing out and I may or may not be plotting something involving beef fat, a pie pan, and a box of strawberry Jello.


  1. I wonder how many women in the 1930s refrigerated their fat drippings. It might be easier to work with if you let your fat chunks warm up a bit before incorporating them. Yay for being defiant and using old fashioned, dirty animal fat, and not using the clean, modern shortening. It's actually kind of interesting to learn about the history and marketing of shortening and vegetable oils. As usual, companies tell us we should use their products instead of using what we had.

    1. You know, I didn't even think about what an extravagance a refrigerator would have been at the time. And you're right that it's a fascinating history- I found a recipe that called for something called Cottolene. Trying to track the stuff down led to a lot more historical reading than I intended.

    2. I never thought about the luxury of refrigeration either, until I toured the loft where Grant Wood (guy who painted "American Gothic") lived from 1924-1935. In addition to supporting himself, he supported his sister and mother. They talked about how he bought his mother a refrigerator as a gift in spite of their amazingly tiny kitchen. They also talked about the reason jello was so popular at church potlucks. In that time period, it was a way for people to show off that they had a refrigerator because jello wouldn't set in an icebox. I personally blame those prideful church ladies showing off their modern refrigerators for the jello abominations that came about in subsequent years. I mean how else do you one up people when everyone has a refrigerator to set jello?

    3. If pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, those towering one-upmanship Jello creations make a lot more sense.

  2. It's funny that you just posted this. I've been trying to figure out how to make tallow. I want to try to make a Yorkshire pud this fall. I don't use super fatty cuts of meat though.

    1. I'm not the only one? Well, all I did was save the pan-drainings from cooking ground beef in a cup which I refrigerated. I've been just throwing out the pucks of fat once they hardened, but eventually my hatred of food waste got the better of me.

  3. Dripping, the fat from cooking meat, was used on bread as a meal in itself by my mother growing up; her parents were very poor, but could afford meat after immigrating.

    1. Sounds like a pretty good food on the cheap.