The Butter Rule Ina Garten Never Breaks

For fans of Ina Garten's cooking and baking, it will come as no surprise that butter is one staple she always has on hand (via Bon Appétit). Many of Garten's recipes include lavish amounts of butter: Two sticks in her Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing, three sticks in her Raspberry Linzer Hearts, and a whopping pound of butter in the aptly named Outrageous Brownies. So if there's anyone who knows the best butter for recipes, it's her.

Garten has one premium butter, White Truffle Butter from Urbani, that she loves so much for pasta dishes that she includes a link for it on her website, Barefoot Contessa. But for everyday baking and cooking, Ina Garten says that even more important than the brand is her rule to always use unsalted butter.

She shares on the Ask Ina page of Barefoot Contessa that it's important in recipes to know exactly how much salt you're using. Because the quantity of salt in salted butter varies widely between brands, the only way to be certain of the salt content is to omit it, by using unsalted butter.

The difference between salted and unsalted butter

According to Sally's Baking Addiction, bakers often ask what the difference is between salted and unsalted butter, and if they can be used interchangeably in recipes. They agree with Ina Garten that because salt quantities in salted butter can be so different that it's best to stick with unsalted, and the site has another reason as well: freshness.

Salt serves as a preservative in butter, as it does for other foods like deli cold cuts. While making foods last longer is usually a good thing, the flip side is that salted butter in the grocery store cooler is likely less fresh than unsalted butter. Kitchn shares that unsalted butter also has a natural, mild sweetness that can be masked in salted versions. The salt in butter may also hide off flavors or even signs that the butter is turning rancid, flavors that will come through in the final dishes.

So what can you do with salted butter? Since salt enhances other flavors, enjoy it on bread or, as Taste of Home suggests, on roast meats and vegetables. If you're in the middle of a recipe that calls for unsalted butter, but only have salted on hand, the good news is you can still go ahead and use it. Kitchn advises to smell and taste the butter first to check for freshness, and then use a little less salt than the recipe calls for to compensate for the salt in the butter.