If you are in the habit of cooking delicious food, you probably cook with some kind of fat. And whether you’re making olive oil-fried eggs, fries cooked in beef tallow, or extremely bomb chicken nuggets, you’re going to find yourself with a certain amount of leftover cooking fat, which needs to be repurposed, reused, or tossed.
Never dump it down the drain
Before we talk about what you can do with used cooking oil, let’s talk about what you should never do, under any circumstances. Pouring fat of any kind into your sink is strictly verboten. Even if the fat is liquid at room temperature, it can clog up your pipes and demolish your personal or neighbourhood plumbing, resulting in backed up sinks or, on a larger and more upsetting scale, basements flooded with sewage. Don’t do this, is what I’m saying.
Fat should be cherished, actually
I don’t throw away fat or grease unless I absolutely have to. If you are cooking a fatty meat that requires a lot of rendering, you’re going to want to save, not toss, the delicious runoff. If you’re planning to use it fairly soon (either immediately or in a couple of days), bacon grease can be poured directly from the pan into a jar or crock for future frying. If you don’t have immediate plans for the smokey, salty grease, strain it through a sieve and coffee filter to remove any meaty bits, and store it in the fridge, then grab some as needed to make fried eggs, salad dressing, or a very delicious mayo.
You can also do this with chicken, duck, and goose fat, as schmaltz and its gamey cousins are real culinary game changers. In fact, if you find yourself with poultry scraps, you should render those babies to obtain delicious fatty wonderment. (Plus you get cracklings, and cracklings are pure joy.)
You can clean it
Most cooking fats are not one-use and can be cleaned — even the liquid stuff used for deep frying. If straining — even through a coffee filter — isn’t enough, you can use unflavored gelatin to pull out all sorts of gunky crap. The Food Lab recommends half a cup of water and a teaspoon of powdered gelatin for every quart of slightly warm, dirty oil. Add the gelatin to the water, then let it bloom for a few minutes before bringing it to a boil, stirring until the gelatin dissolves. Add the dissolved gelatin to the oil, then stir vigorously before covering it and placing it in the fridge overnight. The oil will float to the top, leaving the gunk behind in a neat little disk.
If you simply must get rid of it
If your oil is too gunky to be saved, or you simply don’t want to fool with it anymore, there are some very easy ways to get it out of your kitchen. First, you’ll need a designated collection vessel. This can be an old coffee can, a plastic bottle, or a milk carton. Dump the oil or grease in the container, seal it, and toss it in the trash. If you want to be a little less wasteful, do a quick search to see if your city has a cooking oil recycling program, and take your greasy mess to a drop-off location. Just please, for the love of food, don’t pour it down any drain of any kind. Only jerks pour oil down the drain.
This story was originally published in October 2019 and was updated November 6, 2020.