Clarified Butter: What It Is & How to Use It

Clarified butter is one of those magical secret weapons that chefs and in-the-know home cooks use to easily take their food to the next level. Ever watch a cooking show and wonder how the pros use so much butter and never set off the smoke detector? Or have you come across a classic recipe like hollandaise sauce that calls for clarified butter? Well, here's what it is and how to make it.

a photo of clarified butter in a wooden bowl with a spoon mixing it
Photo: Getty Images
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
15 mins

What Is Clarified Butter?

Clarified butter—also known as drawn butter—is simply butter that has been cooked to remove the milk solids and some of the water, leaving behind a clear yellow liquid. Clarified butter has the richness and flavor of butter, but it can be used for cooking at higher temperatures than regular melted butter since it's the milk solids in butter that tend to scorch.

Clarified butter has a clean, intense buttery flavor that can be a bit less sweet than regular butter since the milk solids have been removed. In its liquid form, clarified butter is clear yellow, as opposed to melted butter, which is paler and cloudy. When left to re-solidify, clarified butter is smooth but not as creamy as regular butter, and it will not get as firm as non-clarified butter.

Are Clarified Butter and Ghee the Same Thing?

While all ghee is clarified butter, not all clarified butter is ghee. Ghee, a style of clarified butter used in many South Asian cuisines, is cooked longer than French-style clarified butter. The longer cooking time removes more of the water in the butter, and ghee has a more concentrated, intense flavor with nutty notes. And while ghee doesn't need to be refrigerated, clarified butter does.

If you mostly want clarified butter for higher-heat cooking, ghee will be a good option, but if you want it for delicate sauces like hollandaise, you will want to clarify your own butter, as the nutty flavor of ghee comes through in sauces.

How to Make Clarified Butter on the Stovetop

The simplest way to clarify butter is on the stovetop. Regardless of how you clarify butter, it's worth seeking out European-style unsalted butter, which contains more butterfat and less water. Brands to look for include Plugra, Lurpak and Kerrygold.

While many recipes suggest using cheesecloth to remove the milk solids, you really don't have to if you have a good skimmer. These look like wide, flattened fine-mesh sieves on the end of a handle. They're useful for removing the milk solids, and can also be used for skimming the foam off soups and stocks.

The skimming method can be easier if you're clarifying larger amounts of butter, at least a half-pound or more, since you will have a greater surface area to use your skimmer on. When making small amounts, especially if you want to use the clarified butter in high-heat cooking, use the cheesecloth method to ensure all of the milk solids are removed so that the risk of burning is mitigated.

See below for instructions on making clarified butter on the stovetop.

How to Make Clarified Butter in the Microwave

Using your microwave can also make fast work of clarifying butter. While the stovetop method is a bit easier, the microwave can be a great option, especially when cooking with kids, since the risk of spattering grease is eliminated.

See below for instructions on making clarified butter in the microwave.

Is Clarified Butter Healthy?

As with any food that's high in saturated fat, you should consume clarified butter in moderation as part of a balanced diet. For those with mild lactose intolerances, clarified butter and ghee can often be eaten without negative effects, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Can You Clarify Salted Butter?

You can clarify salted butter, but remember that almost all of the salt will remain in the final product. This can actually be a benefit if you are clarifying butter to use as a dip for food like lobster, crab or artichoke leaves, since the salt will enhance the flavor of those foods. But if you intend to use it in sauces like hollandaise or for sautéing, you are better off clarifying unsalted butter so that you can control the amount of salt. If you choose to clarify salted butter, look for one labeled "lightly salted" or "slightly salted" like Lurpak.

What Is the Smoke Point of Clarified Butter?

One of the reasons to clarify butter is to increase its smoke point, or the temperature at which it will burn and impart off-flavors to your dishes. Regular butter has a smoke point of between 300°F and 350°F, while clarified butter has a smoke point of about 450°F. This makes clarified butter as easy to use in sautéing or other higher-heat applications as a high-smoke-point oil.

So you can sauté vegetables at high heat in clarified butter and get the buttery flavor without burning. You can also use clarified butter to sear burgers or steaks, where the butter flavor will enhance the meat, or even to cook delicate fish, where the flavor of oil can sometimes be too pronounced.

How to Use Clarified Butter

Whether you are using clarified butter as a dip for seafood or vegetables, to sauté proteins or fry eggs, or to make traditional sauces, it is a very useful product to know how to make. We love it in this Vori Vori (Corn Dumpling Soup) from Paraguay, where it makes a light fluffy dumpling, or in a classic Baklava, where it makes the pastry crispy with no risk of burning. You can also sub some or all of the oil in a vinaigrette with clarified butter for a new flavor sensation that's especially good with bitter chicories or root vegetables.

How Long Does Clarified Butter Last?

While ghee is shelf-stable at room temperature, regular clarified butter is not and will need to be kept in the fridge. But it has a longer life there with less risk of rancidity than regular butter because you have removed both the milk solids and the excess water. Clarified butter will keep for up to six months in the fridge. It also freezes well, so you can make a large batch and freeze in an ice cube tray and then pop the cubes out into a freezer bag or container to use as needed. Clarified butter will last in your freezer for over a year. Just be sure to keep it in a tightly sealed container so it doesn't pick up other flavors from the freezer.

What Can You Do with the Milk Solids and Water?

While there is minimal waste in making clarified butter, you still have milk solids and milky water to contend with. The water is a great addition to any soup or stock or stew, so feel free to save it and freeze it, and add to your next simmering potful for a bit of bonus flavor. The milk solids can actually be cooked in a skillet until browned and crispy—they make a delicious garnish for vegetables, pasta or rice, where they add little pops of nutty caramelized flavor. You can also stir them into cookie dough.

Bottom Line

If you love the flavor of butter, clarified butter will give you all sorts of new ways to incorporate it into your cooking. And you may find that because it has that richness, you need less of it to boost your dishes than you might with a less luxurious fat. Find the method that works best for you and start cooking with clarified butter!


  • 8 ounces unsalted butter


Stovetop Method

  1. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, without stirring or moving the pot, until the milk solids rise to the top. This can take 3 to 5 minutes—take care that the butter doesn't boil too vigorously. You want the milk solids at the top; if you see any dropping to the bottom or browning, remove from heat.

  2. If using a skimmer, carefully use it to remove the milk-fat solids from the top of the pot; discard them or save them to use in other recipes (see above for ideas). If using cheesecloth, line a fine-mesh sieve with the cheesecloth and set over a heatproof container. Ladle all of the butter, including the milk solids, through it.

  3. Let the clarified butter stand until the fat rises to the top, about 5 minutes. You will now have a layer of pure clarified butter, and any water will be at the bottom of the pot or container. Carefully transfer the fat into a clean container—glass containers with seal-tight lids are good for this, as are glass jars—leaving the water behind. Be sure to not get any of the water from the bottom into the container. (Alternatively, refrigerate the pot or container until the butter solidifies. Use a spatula to transfer the now-solid butterfat into your chosen container, easily leaving the water behind.)

Microwave Method

  1. Cut butter into chunks and place in a microwave-safe glass container or measuring cup that is taller than it is wide.

  2. Microwave the butter, setting the timer for 3 minutes, but do not leave the microwave unattended.

  3. Watch the butter melt and rise. When the foaming butter gets toward the top of the container, turn off the microwave.

  4. You are looking for three distinct layers: a foamy layer on top, a clear yellow fat layer in the middle and a milky-looking watery layer at the bottom. If you do not see these three layers, start the microwave again and let it rise again before stopping. This second heating should give you what you need.

  5. Skim off the foam, then carefully transfer the clear fat to a clean container, leaving the watery layer behind. (Alternatively, refrigerate the container until the butter solidifies. Use a spatula to transfer the now-solid butterfat into your chosen container, easily leaving the water behind.)

To make ahead

Refrigerate for up to 6 months or freeze for up to 1 year.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

112 Calories
13g Fat
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 12
Serving Size about 1 tbsp.
Calories 112
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 13g 17%
Saturated Fat 8g 40%
Cholesterol 33mg 11%
Vitamin K 1mcg 1%
Calcium 1mg 0%
Potassium 1mg 0%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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