Suet is a high energy food source that many birds love, and is especially beneficial to them during the cold winter months. Suet is enjoyed by woodpeckers, nuthatches, wrens, titmice, chickadees and more.
While you can buy suet cakes, it’s also pretty simple to make your own at home. Depending on how much suet your birds are going through, this may be more cost effective.
DIY Suet Basics
All you really need to make your own suet is a fat source, and a few bird friendly ingredients of your choice.
- Crisco (shortening made from vegetable oils)
- Rendered Beef Fat
- Nut Butter (no salt & no sugar added varieties are best)
- corn meal
- quick oats
- unsalted chopped nuts (peanuts are a bird favorite)
- bird seed (sunflower is a good choice)
- dried fruits (such as raisins or cranberry)
- cracked corn
Containers / Molds
- cake pan
- ice cube tray
- plastic tupperware
- tuna or pet food tin (washed)
- save empty plastic suet trays
It may take some trial and error to get the proper ratio of ingredients to achieve the consistency you want. We list some popular DIY recipes below.
Rendering your own beef fat
To make suet cakes with beef fat, you will have to melt the fat down into liquid. Beef fat can be obtained from a local butcher or at the butchers counter at your grocery.
Chop into small pieces and heat on low. You can do this over the stove or in a crock pot. Just make sure the heat is low so the fat doesn’t burn. Let it continue to cook down, and periodically stir, until all the solid pieces left are shriveled up and brown. Scoop out remaining bits with a slatted spoon.
If you are going to use this for suet that is only served during very cold winter months (think freezing), you can stop here. However if you want to use this for cakes that will continue to be served in the spring or fall, strain the liquid through a cheese cloth at least two times to remove any leftover pieces and impurities. This final step will help avoid spoilage in above-freezing temps.
Ingredients to avoid
There are a ton of recipes online for suet. But some ingredients can potentially pose problems, so to be on the safe side these should be avoided;
- Bacon grease: a lot of commercial bacon contains chemical preservatives, nitrosamines. For the long term health of birds it is better if they are not ingesting these preservatives.
- Bread: basically no nutritional value and likes to grow mold
- Table scraps: many things aren’t healthy for birds to eat. Check here for more info on what kitchen foods are safe for birds.
- Drippings from your roast turkey: the fat at the bottom of your roast pan is actually a mixture of fat and meat juices. Even solidified, this can stay greasy and coat birds feathers, impacting their ability to waterproof and insulate against cold.
Homemade Suet Recipes
Here are a selection of recipes you can try, or maybe they can give you some inspiration for your own creations.
Audubon Shortening Cakes
- 1 1/2 cups shortening (Crisco is fine)
- 3/4 cups nut butter (any kind – peanut, almond, cashew etc)
- 3 1/2 cups bird seed
- 1 cup quick oats
- 1/2 cups corn meal
- In a bowl mix the dry ingredients (seed, oats, corn meal).
- In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients (nut butter and shortening), stir well until thoroughly mixed.
- Stir the dry ingredients into wet.
- Spoon the mixture into your container of choice. Freeze for two hours, then it’s ready to use. Keep unused portions frozen.
Hard Peanut Butter Suet
- 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 2 cups quick-cook oats
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups lard
- 1 cup white flour
- optional: sprinkle in chopped mixed nuts
Melt peanut butter and lard together on low heat, once mixed add the other ingredients and mix till blended. Spoon into a cake pan or mold of your choice. Freeze for an hour. Store excess in freezer.
The Double-Up Method
This method uses some store-bought suet cakes, and bulks them up to double or even triple your original amount. Great way to buy the cheapest suet cakes that may look a little lackluster, and turn them into something the birds will really love.
- In a large pot or kettle, melt down about 2 1/2 cups of shortening/Crisco (low heat)
- Once fully melted add in 4-8 purchased suet cakes. Use a plain suet cake or one with minimal ingredients.
- After all that is melted, keep the pot on the stove but turn the heat off. Bulk up your brew by mixing in any other desired ingredients. I recommend cornmeal, peanut butter, sunflower seeds / birdseed mix and peanuts. Any amounts you want, it’s your creation!
- Stir together well, then scoop into your containers and set in the fridge. Reuse the plastic suet cake containers or use some Tupperware or a large cake pan that can be cut into squares later.
Boom, now those crappy 5 cakes from the store turned into 10 or more cakes loaded with goodies.
Stokes Suet Paste
This recipe is super easy, no cooking required, and you can get creative and use it in a number of ways.
- 1 part peanut butter
- 1 part Crisco or similar vegetable shortening
- 3 parts yellow cornmeal
- 1 part white or whole wheat flour
- 1 part finely cracked corn
Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor. If too sticky add more cornmeal or flour until you reach desired firmness. Keep refrigerated.
Ways to use suet paste:
- Smear on tree branches or tree trunks
- Create a pinecone feeder. Wrap a string or thin metal wire around a pinecone to hang. Spoon the paste into the pinecone crevices and voila! You can also coat the outside of the pinecone and then roll in some birdseed.
- Create a natural log feeder. Using a nice section of log with bark still intact, rig it to hang and drill some 1-inch deep holes. Spoon suet paste into the holes.