What Should I Do With Old Cooking Grease?

Q: I happened to catch your advice to Glen the bacon-cooking fire-starter in Wichita the other week. Thankfully, as a fellow bacon lover, it’s been five years and counting since I’ve set my kitchen ablaze.

In your advice to Glen, the word “grease” comes up a couple of times which got me thinking ... how should I be disposing of my cooking grease? Normally, I just collect it in an empty coffee can and then toss it in the trash, although I’ve seen friends just pour it down the drain, which can’t be good for the pipes or the environment. Any thoughts on different ways to reuse or dispose of it?

A green grease junkie,

Maura — Reno , Nev.

A: Hey Maura,

Jeesh, you sure know how to make a boy lust for cured meats. If you had mentioned the “B” word one more time you would have prompted me to head out the door to round up some “L” and some “T.”

The current way you’re disposing of your cooking grease is pretty typical. Plenty of folks pour grease into repurposed soup or coffee cans and than toss it when full. Just make sure you seal the container. My mother kept a can of it under the sink and I was always mystified by what was in there and where it came from. From the amount of cooking that my mother does (I love you Mom!) I’m guessing that the same can of grease that I use to poke and smell is still there 25 years later.

From what I understand, pouring cooking fats, oils and grease down a kitchen sink is illegal in some areas since it can damage local sewers and eventually lead to sewage backups and overflows which, needless to say, are a huge environmental and health headache. And even if your bacon grease doesn’t damage the local sewer system, it can clog the pipes in your home and generally be a huge pain in the pork butt.

You mention that you’ve seen friends actually doing this with their own grease. Perhaps they’re pouring very small amounts down the drain and then flushing it with hot water to prevent it from hardening. This makes it slightly more acceptable, but it’s still the least ideal route you can take. The next time one of your grease-pouring buddies throws a dinner party bestow them with a nontoxic Drano alternative, baking soda and white vinegar, as a host/hostess gift. That should get the point across.

I’m not sure what other interests you have in the kitchen aside from the frying of cured meats, but if you’re into baking and other types of cookery, consider reusing the bacon grease. Yes, reuse it. This ages-old practice makes many cholesterol-conscious folks uneasy but it’s quite common, especially in Southern cooking, and will save you money if you frequently buy packaged lard from the supermarket. The uses for old bacon grease are various, from making pie crust to frying hash browns. Give it a shot if you’re so inclined.

If you happen to compost, I wouldn’t recommend adding any animal-based greases to your compost pile since, like bones and raw meat, it can attract unwanted critters. But to attract wanted critters of the winged and feathered variety, you can cry incorporating bacon grease into a suet cake. If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, turn all those bacon-based breakfasts into a candle. And if you happen to hold a bacon cook-off at home and end up with large amounts of grease on your hands, contact your local waste management facility to see how it can be properly disposed of. A neighborhood restaurant may even be willing to take it off your hands and recycle it.

I think that covers just about everything, Maura. Keep it greasy.

— Matt

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