How to Make Clarified Butter

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2015

Here's our preferred method for making clarified butter.

Butter is mostly made up of fat, but it also contains small amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals (the milk solids), and water, all of which are distributed throughout the fat in an emulsion. When butter is heated, this emulsion is broken, causing the different components to separate according to density and chemical predisposition. The pure fat left standing is called clarified butter.

Since clarified butter has a higher smoke point than whole butter (ranging from 350 to 375 degrees, while whole butter ranges from 250 to 300 degrees), food can be seared in it without the danger of milk solids burning and becoming bitter.

Our preferred method of clarifying butter is to cut it into 1-inch chunks and then melt it in either a small saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave at 50 percent power. Let the melted butter sit for 10 minutes and then skim off the milk solids floating at the top with a soupspoon. Cover and refrigerate until the fat solidifies, which will take at least 4 hours. The solidified butter can then be popped out of the bowl, where the water (and trace amounts of other dissolved ingredients) will remain. Blot the bottom of the fat dry with paper towels and store in the refrigerator. If you need clarified butter immediately, you can skip the refrigeration step and instead skim the fat off the layer of water using a spoon, but this approach is less effective at removing water.