I get this question all the time because I use lard in dozens of recipes on this site. It's true, I no longer fear lard the way I used to, but I know many of you out there still do, and that's okay!
First let's take a look at the differences between lard and bacon fat.
Start with a slab of pork back fat like this:
Chop it up and let some heat break it down:
And you'll end up with some real deal lard.
This will solidify in the fridge and take on that creamy, white appearance that you're familiar with:
Home-rendered lard is one of cleanest cooking fats you can work with and I use it all the time, but of course I am kind of biased because I no longer fear the lard 🙂
And note that the lard you'll find in the baking aisle of the supermarket is typically hydrogenated to make it shelf safe. I tend to stay away from those versions as they can be trans-fatty.
Sometimes you can find pure lard in butchers or gourmet shops, so I usually keep an eye out for that. Here's some real deal lard in the freezer of my local butcher:
But now instead of back fat let's start with some bacon. Bacon comes from the belly of the pig.
We'll cook the bacon and gather up the leftover drippings.
I've been saving this bacon fat for the past few months -- I usually just strain it into a Mason jar and store it in the fridge.
And I've been using it to make Flour Tortillas (recipe here):
And even some Mayocoba Pot Beans.
So how does it compare to lard?
Overall I'd have to say yes, you can substitute bacon fat for lard and still get a good result.
But I will always reach for some real deal lard if given the choice. Why?
Bacon is brined and sometimes smoked, so the leftover drippings are going to have a slight bacony flavor to them. This can work well in some dishes, but in others you may not want that flavor.
More importantly, I feel like the bacon fat is less potent than the lard. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but I feel like I have to use more of it to get the same effect as home rendered lard.
To me, this makes home-rendered lard much more efficient and flexible.
But of course, life is busy right? So if you can't dedicate time to render some lard at home then I think it's worth saving your bacon drippings. You can use them in a pinch and you'll still get a good result with the recipes on my site.
Sure, maybe you'll have to use a little more of it, and maybe it will alter the flavor of the dish a bit, but overall it's definitely in the same ballpark as home rendered lard. Maybe even the same section of the ballpark, just a few rows back.
Okay, let me know if you have any questions about these options. I use both of them quite a bit so feel free to give a holler.
For reference, here's our post on home rendered lard if you want to try it.