5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Brown Butter

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Rich and nutty brown butter is a powerful ingredient that can transform just about any recipe into something truly magical. Making it can be tricky, though, so it’s helpful to know about the pitfalls before you get started.

1. Using unevenly sized pieces of butter.

Even if you plan to use a whole stick for brown butter, it’s best not to add it to the pan without cutting it into pieces first. And how you cut the butter is just as important. If you don’t use uniformly sized pieces, the butter will cook unevenly, with small pieces cooking much faster than larger pieces.

Follow this tip: To ensure even cooking, cut the butter into even pieces.

2. Using a dark-colored pan.

You cast iron skillet is great for so many things, but making brown butter is not one of them. Dark pans make it hard, if not impossible, to see the change in the color of the butter as it begins to brown.

Follow this tip: Use a light-colored pan when making brown butter; stainless steel is a great choice. Making brown butter is a process that requires all your senses, and success is especially dependent on your ability to closely monitor the butter as the solids begin to cook and change color.

3. Setting the heat too high.

Brown butter can turn from perfectly colored to burnt in the blink of an eye, and can happen even faster than that when you’re working over high heat.

Follow this tip: The temperature setting is really what allows you the most control over this process. To avoid burning the butter, keep the heat set to medium. The butter will cook more slowly, and you’ll have more control over it.

4. Forgetting to stir the butter.

Brown butter isn’t one of those things you can start cooking and walk away from. It requires your total attention, which means stirring the butter every once in a while. Without stirring, the butter has more potential to cook unevenly, and the milk solids can stick to the bottom of the pan and eventually burn.

Follow this tip: As the butter melts, it’s important to stir regularly to ensure it cooks evenly. Stirring or swirling the pan will also allow you to see how the butter is progressing (especially as it starts to foam), and will prevent the milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

5. Keeping the pan on the heat too long.

Once the butter has finished cooking, it’s not only important to remove the pan from the heat, but also to pour the butter into a separate dish. Even off the heat, the residual heat from the hot pan will continue cooking the butter, and when left in there too long, it may actually burn the butter.

Follow this tip: Once the butter smells nutty and reaches the level of browning you prefer, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a separate bowl to cool. This will prevent the residual heat from the pan to continue cooking, or burning, the butter.