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The Right Way to Brown Butter Without Burning It, According to a Chef

Although the process is simple, it does require some focus and attention.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard
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If you love baking or cooking, chances are you've come across recipes that call for browned butter over regular butter. But what does this mean, and how can you do it? Browning butter gives a recipe a nice toasted, nutty flavor that you can't get with regular butter. You can use brown butter in really any type of dish, but it's especially popular in recipes for pasta dishes, sauces, and baked goods.

When you put butter in a skillet or pan and add heat, the milk solids in the butter begin to separate from the fat and fall to the bottom, according to Kitchn. These milk solids then begin to cook and turn a brown color—and voila! You have deliciously browned butter.

The only issue people tend to run into is the fact that it is so easy to burn your butter as you attempt to lightly brown it. Though in theory browning butter is a simple, fast cooking technique, it can also be easier said than done. An imperfect touch can lead to a skillet of burned butter, leaving many a home chef frustrated.

To help you avoid this fate, we sought advice from Tiffany Swan, founder of multipurpose culinary platform Salt & Sage, chef, and food scientist. Swan, who has over 25 years in professional and development kitchens, shared some of her top tips for how to brown butter the right way. Here's her advice on how to achieve nutty, flavorful browned butter—without burning it.

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Use a stainless steel Saucepan

butter in pan

To get started on the right foot, begin by grabbing a stainless steel pan to brown your butter.

"Using stainless steel allows you to see the color in the bottom of the pan, whereas non-stick hides the browning," says Swan. "The sides of the sauce pan also allow the bubbles to form without much worry."

Control the heat

Controlling the heat is a crucial to successfully browning butter without burning it. Be sure to keep your eyes on both the stove and your pats of butter as they melt.

"You will want to melt the butter over medium heat; a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1–10," says Swan. "If [your butter] starts to melt too quickly or is moving slowly, you can adjust the heat up or down [as needed]."

Don't walk away

butter in a pan

Browning butter can be a quick and easy process, but it's one that requires your full attention. Because of this, Swan says this isn't the time to walk away and do other cooking tasks.

"The bubbles will start to form when the water in the butter begins to boil off. This is when things start to get risky, because water protects from burning," explains Swan. "So when you see the bubbles, stay put and watch the butter. Give it a little swirl to see what is happening at the bottom of the pan or to knock down the bubbles that are getting out of control."

Use your nose

You can trust your own senses to help you along as you cook. When it comes to browning butter, the smell will let you know when it's done.

"The browning happens when the protein solids begin to react with the sugar and heat present, much like getting grill marks on a steak. This is when it will begin to smell nutty and delicious," says Swan. "As soon as you smell this aroma, the bubbles are likely dying down, and it is time to remove it from the heat."

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Place the butter in a separate dish

brown butter

When your butter is successfully browned, you'll want to not only turn the burner off, but also you'll want to remove the butter from the pan. According to Swan, this step is crucial because "the pan is hot and so is the butter fat in the pan. So, it will continue to cook the solids, resulting in burned butter."

As you remove your butter from the heat, be sure to keep a dish on hand where it can cool without continuing to cook.

"Pour the butter into a shallow dish—like a pasta bowl—to cool it quickly," suggests Swan.

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Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha
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