As a hunter I am always looking for unique ways to use my deer. Usually that involves finding new and better ways to cook the meat, but this year when my saw my 8-point was covered with thick tallow I had an idea.
I know people have been using fat to make soap for thousands of years, so I figured do some research and figure out what the steps were and if it was even possible. After a internet searches it did not see too difficult so I decided to give it a try.
I will now walk you through the process of making your own. Most of you have heard of field to table, this will be more like field to shower.
Collecting the Fat:
This part is real easy if you process your own deer. You just butcher it like normal but instead of throwing the tallow that builds up on the back, rump, and kidneys you simply save it.
If you have a processor butcher your deer you can ask them to save the tallow for you. This may cost more since it will take a little bit of extra time, but I do not think it would be too much.
I saved about five pounds of fat from my buck and froze it until I was ready to work with it.
Rendering the Fat:
So now that we have big chunks of fat straight off the deer, what we need to do now is render it. Rendering basically cleans out the blood and muscle that is mixed in and also changes the chemical make up. I am not exactly sure what the chemical change is but the fat changes from waxy lumps to smooth grease like you found find after cooking bacon and letting it cool.
The first step to rendering is creating surface area. You can do this by either using a meat grinder or you can cut it into small pieces using a knife. I went with a knife.
After the fat is cut up or ground place it in a crockpot. Add a few cups of water and a tablespoon of salt so the fat won’t burn before it melts. The water will separate off when you are done so it is no big deal.
Put the crockpot on high and let it simmer until all the fat is melted. I took me over 24-hours from mine to melt down.
NOTE: I would recommend doing this outside or in the garage since the smell is not too pleasant.
NOTE: You can also do this with an outdoor burner. That would be quicker but you would need to keep a closer eye on it. With the crockpot, you can turn it on and go about your business.
Once all the fat is melted, you need to filter the fat. I used an old t-shirt and a colander to separate the remaining solids from the liquid. I hung the t-shirt up and had it drip into my container that the rest of the liquid was in.
I ended up squeezing out a few more cups before throwing the remaining solids away.
Now I am left with pure rendered whitetail fat. The last step is to let the fat cool and return to a solid-state. ( I left mine in the fridge overnight.)
Once it is solid pop it out of the container unto a cutting board. All of the impurities and excess water will collect on the bottom, dry off the water and scrap any brown spots off the tallow with a knife.
Your tallow is now ready to make soap.
NOTE: I would recommend using a container with some flex such as stainless steel or plastic. It makes popping the solid fat out of the bowl easier.
NOTE: If you are not ready to make soap immediately you can freeze your tallow but I would plan on using it in the next couple of months
Soap Making Supplies:
When it comes to making soap there are a few other ingredients and tools you will need. I was able to find everything I needed on Amazon or Walmart.
Here is a list of things to buy
1. Soap Making Kit: I bought a soap making kit off of Amazon. It included soap molds, a soap cutter along with a few other things.
2. Lye / Sodium Hydroxide: I ordered mine off of Amazon, but you should be able to find it in any hardware store. It is often used as a drain cleaner.
3. Digital Scale: When making soap your measurements need to be precise a digital scale that measures in ounces and grams is a must. I picked mine up from Walmart for less than $20.
4. Emersion Blender: This is a must, it reduces mixing time by a ton. I picked up mine from Walmart but I saw some cheaper on Amazon.
5. Crockpot: You could do this on the stove but the crockpot is so much easier.
6. Scents: If you want to make unscented natural soap you can, but I wanted something that would smell nice. For this, it is your personal preference. I decided on some manly scents so I went with Campfire and Apple-Maple-Burbon for my two batches.
7. Extra Fats: You can make a 100% tallow soup but according to some experienced “soapers” I spoke to it does not make suds very well and a lot of people are disappointed. When it comes fats the sky is the limit. I found you can use almost any plant or animal fat to make soap with. I chose for my first batch deer tallow, coconut oil, and caster oil and my second I went with deer tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, and caster oil.
8. Measuring Cups: When you make your lye solution the chemical reaction heats up quickly so you need something that will not melt and is nonreactive. Purchase either a glass or hard plastic measuring cup that can hold the appropriate amount of water.
9. Cooking Thermometer
Crafting a Recipe:
Making soap is not quite like following a cooking recipe, but it is very similar. The big difference is you have to craft it and it is not as hard as it seems. The website soapcalc.net does all the work for you. All you need to do is enter the amount of fats and oils you are using.
My first batch I did a 50% deer tallow, 40% Coconut Oil, and 10% Caster Oil soap. I decided for ease of math to start with two pounds of deer tallow, so I entered in a total of four pounds of fats and oils.
I kept all the other options at the default except for the super fat percentage that I bumped up to 10% based on a recommendation from an experienced soap maker on a Facebook group called Soap Dudes (a guys only soap making group).
Note: Super Fat is the residual amount of fat left over after the lye is added to create a chemical reaction. Most places I read do not recommend going below 5% in order to give you a buffer for the lye to expend all its caustic properties. If unused lye is left in the soap it could cause burns.
After that, I choose my fat type out of the drop-down menu, and to my surprise, they had the option for Tallow, Deer. I entered all my ingredients and the appropriate percentages. After that all I had to do was push “Calculate Recipe” and the recipe was complete, now just view and print it.
The program does all the calculations for you. It tells you what you how much water and lye you will need to create the chemical process that turns fat to soap.
NOTE: It might not be a bad idea to post your recipe to a soap making group on social media and ask the more experienced soapers if everything looks good. They are all super helpful to newbies.
Finally, after all the prep work it is time to get started. I am going to tell you how to do cold-process soap because from what I read it is easier and that’s what I did.
First, get out all your ingredients starting with your fats, your digital scale, and your crockpot.
Following your recipe measure out all your fats and add them to the crockpot. Turn the crockpot on high and melt your fat. turn it back to low once it is all melted.
Note: You can measure using ounces or grams but since grams are a smaller unit using them will be more precise.
At this point, it is time to make your lye solution. Keep in mind lye is caustic and it will burn you if it comes in contact with your skin, so always wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection when working with it. Also, have some vinegar nearby if you accidentally get some on you it will neutralize it fast. Water will make it worse.
This is also the point were you can start being creative. You can substitute other liquids for water. For my first batch I deluded a quarter cup of coffee in the water in order to give the soap a light brown color. For my second batch I used half coffee and half milk.
Note: A quick google search will let you know what liquids work well and anything you need to be aware of if you decide to use something besides water.
Measure out your liquid and your lye before you add the lye get your liquid as cold as possible. To do this I measured out my liquid as soon as I started melting my fat and put it in the freezer. By the time the fat was melted my liquid had just started forming ice crystals.
Once the fat is melted measure out the lye, using all the safety measures I mentioned earlier. Using a non reactive spoon slowly mix the lye into your cold liquid stirring as you pour.
Note: The liquid heats up fast and produces noxious fumes so do not hold your face directly over the solution.
The fat and the lye solution need to be within ten degrees of temperature for the correct chemical reaction to take place. Both times the fat reached approximately 130 degrees when everything melted and you will want your lye solution around that temperature before you add them together.
Note: The lye solution heated up to 160 degrees on my first batch, but I did not have my liquid as cold as I should have, so I had to wait until my lye solution cooled. On my second batch, I cooled my liquid to almost freezing and when I added the lye it only heated to 140, so I did not have to wait as long to add them together.
Using a cooking thermometer take the temperature of both the fat and lye solution until they are within ten degrees. The closer they are that better. I waited until they were within five for both my batches.
Pour the lye solution into the melted fat. Now get out your emersion blender and start blending until you get to what is called “trace.” Trace is were the soap has thickened enough that when you pull your blender out it leaves a “trace” of were it has been.
Once you come to trace you add your scents and any other additives. I added coffee grounds to my second batch for color and an exfoliant. This is also when you add your coloring if you are using any. (I used coffee in my liquid for color so I did not add any colorings at this stage.)
Note: Once again a quick google search will tell you what kinds of things people add and if there is anything you should look out for.
Note: People often use mica powder to color their soap. Sometimes they separate the soap out and mix different colors and create swirls or other designs when they place the soap into molds.
Once your soap is at trace and all your scents and additives are mixed in it is time to place your soap into molds. At this point, it should be the consistency of pudding. Keep in mind that the mixture is still undergoing a chemical reaction so you can still be burned by it. Remember your safety protocols.
Using a non-reactive spoon or ladle scoop out your mixture and place them into your soap molds. I filled mine close to the top and gave it a few lite taps to draw out any air bubbles.
After your molds are filled cover in plastic wrap and wrap in an old towel for insulation and let them sit for at least 24-hours.
At this point you can clean up your equipment keeping in mind that any residue is probably still caustic and can cause burns if it comes in contact with your skin, so continue to use gloves.
After 24-hours remove the soap from the molds. In both of my batches, I had to run a butter knife around the edges for them to let go, but they came out pretty easy.
Now you have a giant loaf of soap. Get out the soap cutter that came with the kit and cut the soap into one inch thick bars. (Mine came with two a straight cut and a wavy cut, the wavy cut looked cool so I used that)
The soap now needs to cure for 4-6 weeks. find an out-of-the-way place and just let them air out turning them over every few days.
Note: The soap is usable after just a few days of curing, but it will still have excess moisture in it and you run the risk of it breaking up faster when you use it with water.
So there you have it, deer tallow soap. Just another way to use a part of the deer that usually gets thrown away.
Rinse, Lather, Repeat
The soap works very well. I have already taken a few showers with it. I decided not to add pictures of that because no one wants to see it anyway.