Taste Test

The Best Butter for Baking Comes From a Surprising Place

Trust us—we did a lot of research.

September 29, 2023
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Our test kitchen goes through pounds and pounds (and pounds) of butter every week. Maybe it’s for sautéeing kale, mashing potatoes, or scrambling eggs. But, most often, it’s for baking.

I don’t need to tell you that unsalted butter is the default for baked goods, from chocolate chip cookies to pound cakes to pie crusts. Using unsalted butter allows you to control the amount of salt in your baked goods (especially since the salt content in salted butter varies, so it’s hard to know exactly how much you’re adding). The more nitty-gritty—and less talked about—distinction is American-style versus European-style.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee defines the latter as “a cultured butter with a fat content higher than the standard 80 percent.” Depending on the brand, expect European butter to contain anywhere from 82 to 86 percent. In the United States, American-made butter must contain at least 80 percent fat. It may not sound like a huge difference, but just think of whole versus nonfat milk—a few percentage points makes a world of difference when it comes to flavor. Irish and European-style butter are beloved for being richer and creamier because they contain more milk and have a lower water content; this also means that they’re easier to bring to room temperature, which is ideal when you’re in a pinch and need softened butter stat.

Of course, baking a muffin is not drinking a glass of milk. Fat is flavor, yes, but it’s also one of the components in a fine-tuned formula. Safe to say that there are dozens of butter brands to pick from at the grocery store, but which one is the best for your recipe? It’s easy to think that swapping in higher-fat, European-style butter in any baking recipe would lead to more flavorful pie crusts, brown butter blondies, chocolate chip cookies, you name it. (And, as European-style butters have become more popular in the U.S., a lot of online resources have indicated as much.) But that sort of swap can unravel a recipe.

As award-winning baker Stella Parks noted a few years ago:

Friendly reminder: switching to European style butter in an American recipe isn’t an upgrade, it’s a fundamental alteration of the formula.

Similarly, King Arthur conducted a few American-style versus European-style baking experiments—and found that recipes with American-style butter did not appreciate a European-style substitute. Shortbread turned out greasier. And scones: flatter, “sad, and slumped.”

All of which is o say, if you’re baking a recipe developed for American-style butter, American-style butter is your best bet. Not all recipes will specify which type of butter to use, but if you’re cooking a baking recipe from a U.S.-based recipe developer, it’s safe to assume that they used American-style and not European-style butter.

But which American-style butter is the best to buy for baking? We did a taste test of five popular brands of butter to find out which is the best.

The Rules

  • All of the butters we tested were unsalted and uncultured, with cream and natural flavors as the only allowed ingredients. Cultured butter has a tangier taste—it’s delicious, but not the basic butter flavor we were after.
  • Prices are based on AmazonFresh, FreshDirect, and stores in the New York City area. Therefore, these prices may fluctuate based on where you live.
  • Because pie crust is all about the butter, we selected this recipe as the baked good for the experiment. I followed the same Pie Crispies recipe for each butter, then presented the cookies in a blind taste test at the office.
  • Staffers were asked to provide feedback on flavor, texture, and any feelings the butters evoked.

Here's how the most popular brands of butter ranked from never again to the most delicious…

The Results

Photo by Emma Laperruque

5. Land O’ Lakes ($4.89/pound)

Southern Living named Land O’ Lakes the butter of choice in its test kitchen, but the bulk of our taste testers respectfully disagreed. Most found it “not very buttery,” or “not so butter-forward” with a sad face drawn in for emphasis. Multiple people called it “bland.” Though, for what it’s worth, one lone wolf said: “This is #1.” Do with that what you will.

4. 365 ($5.69/pound)

The Whole Foods store brand 365 ranked quite close to Land O’ Lakes. Several people described its flavor as “savory,” with one taste tester comparing it to “a butter and lard pie,” which, by the way, “is a compliment!” A couple people found the pie crust result to be “oily”—we can all agree this is not the goal of butter. Therefore, we’d probably pass on buying 365 butter in the future.

3. Breakstone’s ($6.49/pound)

“Buttery but blah” sums up the wishy-washy feedback to Breakstone’s. Some complimented its “nice,” “yum,” and “light yet rich” flavor. Others said it was “less flavorful” and “reminds me of lard, but not in a way I’m mad at? I think.”

2. Cabot ($5.79/pound)

Cabot came in strong as one of the best butters for baking: “Butteriest,” “very strong butter flavor,” “excellent flavor,” “can def taste the butter,” and “ooh nice flavor” were among its many compliments. Meanwhile, one taste tester declared that it “tastes like fish.” Perhaps this single low ranking is what helped the winner take home the gold...

1. Trader Joe’s ($3.99/pound)

“Whoa,” said one person. And the rest of the group agreed, describing Trader Joe’s store brand as: “extra buttery,” “sweet buttery flavor,” and “nice butter flavor,” with more than one declaring it “very rich.” We were also pretty pleased that the winner just so happened to be the cheapest of the bunch. And we were even more pleased that it came from one of our favorite grocery stores.

This article was updated in May 2023 with current pricing (which in some cases is up by 33 to 63 percent from 2022!).

More from Food52

What’s your favorite American-style butter for baking? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Smaug
  • Gwyn
  • cosmiccook
  • Denise
  • Mjkreu
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Smaug September 29, 2023
Would you guys PLEASE stor reprinting this preposterous "test"?
Deborah J. September 29, 2023
Really?????!!!! You would not want new people to this website and review to enjoy it??? If it really bothers you so much...just move on. Many of us have found this to be quite useful and informative.
Smaug September 30, 2023
Really. People actually take this stuff seriously and this test was massively flawed in concept, methodology and conclusions, and even if there were any validity to it originally it would be seriously out of date. It is no service to new readers tto expose them to the mistakes of the past.
Gwyn March 12, 2023
Hello F52! I’m sorry but you missed the best butter in the country! http://www.kriemhilddairy.com/
I exclusively use it in my bakery for all my baking! You must try it!!!
cosmiccook January 12, 2023
What about James Farm butter from Wisconsin? Its the brand that Julie (in Julia & Julie movie) places at the museum at the end of the movie. And Costco Kirkland butter???
Smaug January 12, 2023
They really need to stop reprinting this silly article. The sample is ridiculously limited- probably just what someone had in the fridge on a slow Saturday morning- and the methodology is nonsense.
Denise January 5, 2023
I make a lot of Baklava which uses a pound of butter. I started to notice the brand I used seemed watery and not flavorful so I switched to Kate’s Butter from Maine, which is much better tasting and hormone free. I will have to try Traders butter and see how it compares.
Cherjh7 March 13, 2023
How did it compare? I use Kats too! My favorite
Mjkreu January 5, 2023
I just wanted to say I really enjoyed this article. Very well written and easy to understand 110%. Thank you and all the contributors!
Kim T. January 5, 2023
Why wasn't Kerry Gold included in the testing?
Sam January 5, 2023
If you read the article, you'll understand. Stella Parks has stated that using a European butter in baking isn't necessarily an upgrade, but a fundamental change in the baking formula.
kcorvin October 20, 2022
How about a vegan butter baking contest? I'm allergic to dairy and all of this talk about real butter makes me sad.
Sam October 20, 2022
Vegan? Watch your language!
kcorvin October 20, 2022
Did you read the part about allergy to dairy? I wish I could eat the real thing!
Sam October 20, 2022
Yes, it was a joke.
James October 21, 2022
Sorry, but as far as I know, "Vegan Butter" violates the standards of identity established for butter. That was one of the reasons that Oleo was invented... Butter is by definition a dairy product. Sorry you can't enjoy it but even butter is not worth risking your health...
Aurora K. October 20, 2022
What do you mean by “Trader Joe’s” butter? Do you mean their Breton cultured butter? I don’t think there is a “Trader Joe’s butter.” Why didn’t you take photographs? Could you provide more clarity, please. Thank you‼️
Sam October 20, 2022
Yes, there is a Trader Joe's brand butter. Do a search & you'll see the pics.
spenlo October 20, 2022
My butter from TJ's say's Trader Joe's and comes in an orange and red box.
Carol K. October 20, 2022
My choice for butter is “Challenge” both salted and non salted!
Rebecca October 19, 2022
Why would anyone buy a butter that has added natural flavors? Shouldn’t butter just be cream and salt?
Smaug October 19, 2022
At the least there's usually some annatto as a dye. One of the measures of quality in the milk is the amount of yellow pigment, and so some products, such as butter and some cheeses, are traditionally colored artificially.
James G. October 19, 2022
James October 19, 2022
Actually the best tasting butter is a German made butter. It is called Meggle Joghurt Butter. Not only does it have an irresistibly fresh and light taste, it contains 20% less fat than traditional butter because it is blended with yogurt. Distribution is limited, but hopefully I break no rules by saying that I buy through Bavaria Sausage, Inc.
6317 Nesbitt Road, Madison, WI 53719
Rebecca K. October 18, 2022
My husband and I happened upon an unbelievable butter from Hope, Minnesota while traveling a few months ago. The Hope Creamery has been in operation since the early 1900's. They had a choice of salted, unsalted and higher fat for baking. We purchased some of the salted for bread and were ecstatic. It is delicious! Maybe we will pass through again some day and try out the higher fat version for baking. I recommend it!
Warah October 18, 2022
Yes, another vote for Hope butter from Minneapolis.
cosmiccook January 12, 2023
Although in France, David Lebovitz LOVES to cook/bake w salted butter (as does Dorie Greenspan). I've started using it in some cookies and have great success!
Gary S. October 18, 2022
Actually I have discovered that Country crock Avacado butter helps my scones rise better and no impact on flavor of course a huge decrease in fat and especially saturated fat
AdriRose October 18, 2022
Check out butters by Sierra Nevada Cheese Company; they make conventional, Graziers Grass-Fed, and Organic. All butters are handmade in small batches and are vat-cultured for 16 hours to European standards of 82%+ butterfat.
Lynnie October 18, 2022
While I confess to often using Kirkland's unsalted organic butter for baking (great value and excellent properties all the way around), our go to here in N. Calif. and I am told it is a favorite among chefs across the country is Strauss Creamery, a locally-sourced fine organic dairy. ALL their products are cuts above other comparable dairy products and they are meticulous in their dairy and farming practices. Running a close second is Clover, another top shelf N. Calif. organic (and also some non-ogranic options) dairy. I definitely use Strauss for cooking, like sautéing fish filets, picattas and the like where the butter is a very forward element in the finished dish.
Epicurean October 21, 2022
Strauss is an excellent brand! Great ice cream too!
cosmiccook January 12, 2023
I think Restaurant depot carries Clover--I'll check it out next time! Thanks for the tip!
Marla K. October 18, 2022
What? No Challenge butter included in your evaluations?

Been using Challenge almost exclusively forever. It's widely available and frequently goes on sale. I will use European butter for spreading, but never for cooking or baking, as it's much too expensive for that.
Smaug October 18, 2022
The sample in this article is ridiculously limited, to the point that it's completely meaningless. It's not just the brands, dairy is generally locally sourced so you're not getting the same thing from the same brand in different places. Why this nonsense, which seems to amount to no more than a limited test of what they had in the refrigerator that day, continues to be reprinted and taken seriously is beyond me.
paseo October 18, 2022
Relax. It’s just an opinion piece. Nothing to get all worked up about.
Smaug October 19, 2022
It is not an opinion piece, it is a pseudoscience piece, absolutely execrable journalism. It has been posted numerous times on this site and doubtless spread around to other platforms. People read this sort of thing, and take it seriously enough that almost 400 have bothered to comment. The sort of "testing" that goes on in the food industry is generally extremely weak and more often than not prejudiced- do people no longer resent being fed BS? Possibly not, as we're constantly bombarded by propaganda on all sides, to the point that it seems like normal communication.
paseo October 19, 2022
As I can read from so many of the comments over the last few years of this there are a lot of opinions on what is the best butter and what it is best used for.
It does seem to be a matter of personal preference and what is available in one's own market. You seem, over the past few years of multiple comments (no way could I hack my way through all) to be the only one personally offended by it.
Smaug October 19, 2022
That may be true, and it's sad- the grand old tradition of responsible journalism, together with respect for it, has largely been destroyed by the internet, but I hate to see it go without a struggle. For some reason this nonsense keeps being reprinted and people keep reading it and taking it seriously, so periodically I point out its obvious flaws; a Quixotic quest, to be sure, but then there are those that seem to think it worth the time to write comments to the effect that I shouldn't do so, so I'm not alone in wasting my time on it.
Epicurean October 21, 2022
It’s based on baking results; pictures shown.
Smaug October 21, 2022
Precisely. Among the many weaknesses of that process this assumes that whatever way the tester is accustomed to is the correct way- this usually results in whatever materials or equipment they are used to "wins" the test. As a matter of fact, when you change what you're using to make a recipe you often need to adjust your process.
Smaug October 21, 2022
"winning" the test- STILL no edit function.
Kim K. October 18, 2022
Great to know! I think it's only available regionally, but Kate's from Maine is devine!! Also, Challenge and Tillamook are great and more readily available. Happy baking!!
micki October 18, 2022
If Im not mistaken Trader Joe’s butter is by Challenge.
paseo October 19, 2022
Good to know, but I am in New England and am not sure where where the TJ butter comes from here since Challenge is (or used to be) a CA dairy conglomerate. But it is definitely on my list to try. I use Kerrygold or Kate's for a finishing butter but Kirkland unsalted for baking, etc and making ghee. Though I will pick up Cabot when it's on sale.
rob October 18, 2022
Too bad Challenge Butter wasn't a part of the investigation. Been using it for over 60 years. Creamy, very tasty, salted or unsalted, it NEVER fails.
Smaug October 21, 2022
I think Challenge is just west coast- F52 has always been relentlessly NYC oriented.
Rain October 18, 2022
Except I use only organic butter....
Lynnie October 18, 2022
Trader Joe's also has organic butter under its own house brand name ...
Rain October 18, 2022
I know.

I don't have any trouble finding organic butter; rather my comment bemoans the lack thereof in the article.

Nanda G. October 20, 2022
Same here. I wish the organic versions had been in the mix. I'll still keep buying the Trader Joe's organic unsalted but it would have been interesting to hear how it compared.