15 Types of Butter — And the Best Ways to Use Each One

Types of Butter

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Types of Butter
Cheapism/DALL-E 3

Butter Makes Everything Better

Have you ever taken stock in the butter aisle, noticing all of the different varieties available? You head there with tunnel vision, after that same type of butter you always use, but notice the refrigerated section spans a pretty substantial space. Still, you throw your usual in the cart and carry on. But what are you leaving behind? What's the difference between those on the shelf and the one in your cart? 

From Irish butter to ghee, there are tons of different types of butters out there, all with different recommended uses. Consider this your guide to all the different types — your butter bible, if you will. 

Sticks Of Butter

1. Unsalted Butter

Best for: Baking, frostings, cooking

Unsalted butter is a baker's best friend (someone should cross-stitch that). Most baking recipes — from chocolate chip cookies to butter cake — call for a couple of sticks of the unsalted stuff so that the baker can latch onto a better balance of salty flavors (which you often don't want too much of in baked goods). Costing around $4 for a pound (or four sticks), unsalted butter is also great for making frostings and it's a go-to for cooking, too. This is one you'll want to have on hand. 

Butter Sticks

2. Salted Butter

Best for: Buttering bread, cooking

The taste of salt is definitely present in salted butter, so don't shrug your shoulders as you choose between this stuff and its unsalted sister. They might have the same price point, but they don't share an identical flavor profile. Some baking recipes call for the salty stuff, but generally speaking, you'll want salted butter for sauteeing, cooking, and spreading on your toast. 

Browned Butter in a Skillet with a Wood Spatula
Candice Bell/istockphoto

3. Brown Butter

Best for: Baking, cooking, making sauces

If you've never browned butter before, you should reevaluate your life immediately and give it a whirl. All you have to do is melt some butter in a pan, swirling it around continuously until it turns brown. It can go from brown to burnt pretty quick, so you'll want to be careful, but once you master your technique, brown butter is the gateway to several elevated baking recipes, sauces, and it's a treat to cook with, too!

King Crab Dipped in Butter

4. Clarified Butter

Best for: Drowning seafood in, searing and high-heat cooking

There's nothing quite like getting your knuckles wet with clarified butter as you inhale crab legs while they're still hot. To make clarified butter, you have to melt butter and skim the milk solids from the surface, resulting in a concentrated, bright yellow end result that's almost entirely butterfat. 

Glass jar and wooden spoon with yellow ghee

5. Ghee

Best for: Cooking and roasting

Although ghee is a type of clarified butter, this stuff is its own thing. Ghee is cooked longer than standard clarified butter, until those separated blobs of milk start turning a dark golden-brown hue, settling to the bottom of the pan. After straining, you've got ghee! You can also buy it in a jar at the grocery store, but it isn't cheap and typically costs around $12 for a small jar.

Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter

6. Irish Butter

Best for: Everything under the sun 

Listen, we're Kerrygold or bust. This bright yellow brick o' butter is so coveted we're pretty sure it comes from a leprechaun's pot at the end of an Irish rainbow somewhere. Irish butter is actually sourced from Irish dairy cows and is churned until it gets to about 82% butterfat (for comparison, standard American sweet cream butter is 80% butterfat). From baking to cooking to spreading this on toast or eating right off of a spoon, this is the real deal. For an 8-ounce package, you'll spend about $4.50, so Kerrygold (the most popular brand of Irish butter) costs right around double what your standard store-brand unsalted or salted sticks run. 

Ingredients: Butter Isolated on White Background

7. European Butter

Best for: Spreading on bread, some baking

Like the Irish stuff, European-based butter is churned until it reaches 82% butterfat. The slightly higher butterfat level gives European butter a tad more richer and creamier taste, and it's just a smidge easier to spread. You can use this the same way and expect to pay a similar price to Irish butter.

Toasted Sourdough with Cultured Butter

8. Cultured Butter

Best for: Spreading on bread, some baking

Cultured butter's name is a nod to how it's made. It's butter combined with bacterial cultures. Before you get the ick, remember: That's similar to how yogurt is made. Because of its composition, this butter — which costs a little less than $4 for an 8-ounce container — has a tangier taste to it and is best suited as a spread.

Siced herb butter close up

9. Compound Butter

Best for: Slathering all over meat like your life depends on it

If you want to elevate a steak, throw a dollop of compound butter on it when it's finished cooking and still piping hot. The burst of buttery and herb-infused flavors will send your tastebuds straight to heaven. This butter is just softened butter (unsalted, salted, Irish, European ... whatever you fancy) mixed with seasonings and herbs. It's entirely customizable and a culinary game-changer as far as we're concerned. 

Bowl of butter on blue background, from above

10. Whipped Butter

Best for: Spreading on bread and using as a finisher 

You might have inferred from its name that whipped butter is butter that's been whipped with a mixer to achieve a lighter, fluffier texture. This super-soft butter makes an ideal spread and works well as a finisher on dishes like rice or mashed potatoes. While it's easy enough to make on your own, you can find 8-ounce containers for just north of $4 at the grocery store.

Breakfast in the fresh air in your favorite cafe. A plate with vegetables and tofu for a complete diet. Close-up of a knife spreading sauce on a piece of whole grain toast.

11. Plant-Based Butter

Best for: Cooking and baking vegan dishes, duh 

Plant-based butter is merely margarine's cousin. It's made by mixing oils from plants (olive oil, soybean oil, coconut oil, etc) with water. You can use vegan butter in all of the same ways as dairy butter. A pound will run you around $4 to $5 depending on which brand you reach for.

Knife in a tub of yellow butter in kitchen
Tim Wigley/istockphoto

12. Spreadable Butter

Best for: Spreading — shocking, right?!

Available in a plastic container with a lid rather than sticks in a box, spreadable butter is meant to be used as a spread. Of course, it's also good, well, and fine to scoop some out and add it to prepared dishes to infuse them with buttery goodness. Depending on the brand, prices for butter spreads vary, but linger around the $4 for a 12-ounce container price tag. 

Woman hand cutting fresh butter with a table knife

13. Grass-Fed Butter

Best for: Any situation in which you prefer to envision a cow peacefully grazing in a pasture while being milked

If you're someone who gravitates toward grass-fed, this butter was meant for you. It's derived from cows that were only fed grass, not corn or grain. Grass-fed butter works well for everything from sauteeing to baking and costs a little more than $4 for 8 ounces.

spreading margarine butter onto bread

14. Margarine

Best for: Imitating butter on a budget

Did anyone else grow up using the empty Country Crock tubs to store leftovers in? While margarine moonlights as spreadable butter, it is in fact not butter (shoutout to I Can't Believe It's Not Butter). Margarine is made from solidified vegetable oils and many varieties are accidentally vegan, although some do contain milk. Margarine is a cheaper butter stand-in that works as a spread or a finisher, and you can get a giant tub of the stuff for around $6. Bargain (we can't believe it's not) butter. 

Block of butter with butter knife in a open pack.  Buttering bread

15. Sweet Cream Butter

Best for: Cooking and baking 

Using pasteurized fresh cream as its key ingredient, sweet cream butter is pretty comparable to salted or unsalted butter depending on the type of sweet cream butter you buy. Despite its name, it doesn't have a noticeably sweeter flavor profile and is interchangeable with other butter varieties.