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Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of trying to scrape off shavings of rock-hard, fridge-cold butter and then spread it, only to destroy your toast? Or struggled to grease a baking pan with stiff, crumbly butter? You can leave your butter out on the counter to keep it soft and spreadable, but when butter is exposed to light and air, it can go rancid in just a few days. Luckily, a solution to this problem exists, and it’s not a newfangled kitchen gadget, but rather a 19th-century invention. A butter crock (also known as a “butter keeper” or “French butter dish”) is a cleverly designed container, originally made in France of ceramic, designed to keep your butter soft yet fresh for several weeks at room temperature.
A French butter crock is made up of two parts: a bell-shaped top and a cup-shaped bottom, filled with a bit of cold water, which protects the surface of the butter from contact with light and oxygen. While they’re not maintenance-free (you’ll need to change the water once or twice a week), many who have tried a butter keeper for the first time wonder how they ever did without one.
Here are our picks for the best butter keepers in each category.
Best Overall: Butter Bell Antique Butter Bell Crock
Many choices of color and style
Butter can slide out if it gets too warm
Inspired by the original French ceramic pieces of the late 1800s, the California-based Butter Bell company offers crocks made of durable bone china. They’re available in a multitude of colors and styles—from retro to antique to contemporary—to match any kitchen decor, and they hold about 1 stick (½ cup) of butter. They’re available in either a shiny or matte lead-free finish and are dishwasher safe. One drawback to the models with a shiny glaze: If the room temperature gets too warm, sometimes the butter can get a bit too soft and fall out into the water.
Best Glass: SIDUCAL Glass Butter Crock
Easy to monitor the water level
Choice of color
Not as discreet as other models
While butter keepers made of opaque material are discreet and attractive, their “out of sight, out of mind” quality can make the required maintenance a bit mysterious. This contemporary-style crock, featuring a ceramic bell and a transparent glass cup, lets you monitor the water level in the crock, serving as a reminder to replace it every few days, while still shielding the butter in the bell from light. A drawback to this is that glass is more delicate than ceramic and more prone to chipping or breakage, but both parts of the crock are dishwasher safe.
Most Stylish: Emile Henry Modern Classics Butter Pot
Durable, with a 10-year warranty
Lid has no knob or handle
This sleek and understated butter pot, handmade in France from Burgundy clay fired at high temperatures, is quite durable and resistant to chips and scratches. It features a lead- and cadmium-free glaze, and it’s available in red, white, or blue. It’s dishwasher safe and can hold a whole stick (about 1 cup) of butter. It comes with a 10-year warranty, too, so you don’t have to worry about its longevity.
Best Handmade: Sawyer Ceramics French Ceramic Butter Keeper
One of a kind
A bit pricey
Lid has no knob or handle
These unique, wheel-thrown stoneware crocks are handmade by Sawyer Ceramics in California. They feature an unglazed exterior for a rustic look and a lead-free, pale-blue glaze on the inside. The large capacity holds 1 stick (½ cup) of butter, and they are dishwasher safe. Since they’re handmade, each piece is one-of-a-kind, and no two will be exactly alike.
Best Budget: Norpro Glazed Stoneware Butter Keeper
Easy to use
Not dishwasher safe
If you’re curious to try out a French-style butter crock but not keen to splurge, this simple, yet stylish crock from Norpro is a great option. Made of cream-colored stoneware accented with navy-blue stripes and finished with a lead-free glaze, it has a classic look and holds 1 full stick (½ cup) of butter. The only negative is that it’s recommended for hand washing, rather than the dishwasher.
Best Large-Capacity: Hawkins New York Simple Butter Keeper
Holds 2 sticks of butter (1 cup)
Easy to see how much butter and water left
Doesn’t protect butter from light
This minimalistic butter keeper, made completely of mouth-blown glass in Portugal, holds more than any other option we found: 1 full cup or 2 sticks of butter. It would be perfect for a large family or those who go through butter quickly. While the transparent glass is handy for monitoring how much butter or water is left in it—and reminding you to change the water every few days—it also potentially exposes the butter to light, which is one of the things that can make it go bad more quickly, so this crock would need to be kept in a dark spot, away from direct sunlight. On the upside, however, it is dishwasher safe.
Best Mini: Norpro Mini Butter Keeper
Comes in a set of four
Perfect for individual servings
Not dishwasher safe
At the other end of the spectrum, this miniature version of our budget pick is just 2 inches in diameter and holds just enough butter for a one-person serving. These adorable stoneware crocks would be great for serving breakfast in bed, offering individual butter dishes for guests at a brunch or dinner party, or serving several flavors of butter at once. The only drawback is that they’re not dishwasher safe, and it could be a pain to keep several of them in a kitchen with limited storage space. This set comes with four of the mini crocks.
Best Set: Butter Bell Original Crock and Alder Wood Spreader and Block Set
Makes a great gift
Spreaders aren’t dishwasher safe
It’s certainly handy to have softened butter right on your countertop, ready to spread whenever you need it. But what could make it even more convenient? This set from Butter Bell is the answer, pairing one of their antique-style, bone china crocks with a set of Alderwood-handled butter knives in a wooden block. It’s a compact and practical way to keep butter spreaders right next to your crock, so you don’t even have to search for a knife. The crock-and-spreader set is perfect for families and would also make a great gift.
Best Marble: Crate & Barrel French Kitchen Marble Butter Keeper
Keeps butter cool
Heavy and a bit cumbersome to clean
This sophisticated crock is carved from white marble, which is not only stylish but also practical. Marble is very sturdy and durable, and it absorbs heat better than other materials, which is why it always feels cool to the touch. That makes it great for a butter keeper because it will help keep your butter cool enough not to melt and slide out of the bell, yet still soft and spreadable. The slightly rough surface also helps hold the butter inside the upside-down bell a bit better than the smooth surface of a glazed ceramic butter crock.
Like most of our picks, this marble crock holds 1 stick (½ cup) of butter. The downside is that it’s not dishwasher safe, so it needs to be hand-washed, and because marble is so heavy, it’s a bit awkward to handle. But that’s a small price to pay for the style and convenience it offers.
What to Look for in a Butter Keeper
Most French-style butter crocks are made of ceramic, but you can find them made with everything from glass to marble. Butter keepers with a glass cup are less discreet, but they also make monitoring the water level easy, so you never forget to replace it. Marble is excellent at keeping heat out, which makes for a great butter crock, but it can be difficult to wash because it's so heavy. Clay and stone butter keepers that are handmade make unique gifts but often need to be hand-washed.
Most butter keepers hold enough for one stick of butter (about 1/2 cup), but there are some large-capacity versions if you are someone who goes through butter quickly. You'll want to factor in counter space before buying a large version, though. There are also single-serving sizes, which would be fun for breakfast in bed or giving guests individual butter servings at a dinner party.
A butter keeper serves a very important function, but because it will sit out on your counter, you'll want to make sure it's not an eyesore. Opt for a style that matches your decor. Handmade butter crocks and sets also make good gifts.
How does a butter keeper work?
It’s safe to keep butter unrefrigerated, but exposure to light and oxygen can cause the fats in the butter to go rancid, giving it an unpleasant smell and taste. The purpose of a butter crock is to protect your butter from both light and air so that it stays fresh for longer. You fill the bottom of the crock with a little cold water, and when you insert the bell full of butter, the water will rise and create an airtight seal against the surface of the butter. When used correctly, a French butter crock can keep your butter fresh yet soft and spreadable for 2 to 3 weeks, or even up to a month in cooler climates.
Note that if your room temperature is above about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to transfer your crock to the fridge until the weather cools off a bit; the crock will still protect your butter from picking up any “off” flavors and keep it fresher longer in the fridge than if simply stored in a paper wrapper.
How do you use a butter keeper?
First, you’ll need to leave your butter to soften at room temperature until it’s easy to spread. Then fill the bell with the softened butter, pressing down with the bottom of a spoon so that it’s firmly seated inside the bell. Fill the bottom of the crock with a bit of cold water—there should be just enough to touch the surface of the butter when the bell is inverted and placed inside the crock. The amount needed depends on the size of the crock, but it’s generally between ¼ to ⅓ cup of water. Some crocks feature small holes on the sides of the bell to allow any trapped air to escape. If you’re using unsalted butter, you can add a bit of salt to the water to keep the butter fresh for longer. Remember to change the water every 2 to 3 days, and wash the crock and bell in between butter refills.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This roundup was written by Danette St. Onge, a food writer and former features editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine (part of America’s Test Kitchen). A recent butter crock convert, she spent many hours researching all of the options before settling on a marble version, which has improved breakfast time in her house exponentially.