Butter is a staple ingredient in my pantry and is found in many a recipe but most home cooks are likely to just use regular, sweet, salted butter almost exclusively. This though is more often than not a mistake and you should be using more unsalted butter when cooking.

For years, I too was guilty of this simple goof. I started to notice that if I paid attention to recipes they were specifying the unsalted variety, but I would just ignore that and use what was on hand. Then one day, I made chicken and dumplings from Cook’s Country for the first time. The recipe calls for 1/2 a stick when cooking off the onions and carrots. I didn’t have unsalted butter and went with what I had. It turned out good, but was quite salty. I reflected on the recipe and did everything right except for the unsalted butter.

It turns out that a single 1/4 lb stick of salted butter can contain as much as 3/4 tsp of salt. Since I use kosher salt that can be an equivalent of my adding over another 1/2 tsp into the recipe. No wonder it was saltier than I’d have hoped.

Now, the simplest solution would be to reduce the amount of salt called for later in the recipe which is after adding the onion and celery to the melted butter to cook down. However the salt here has a specific job to do – to sweat out the moisture and it just doesn’t work as well when the bulk of the salt is dissolved in the butter.

The next time I made the recipe I was sure to have unsalted butter on hand, and what a difference! Yes, I added additional salt at the end to get it to taste, but that’s when you can control the salt level, which is exactly when you should be.

So, the moral of the story – always have unsalted butter on hand when you cook, and unless the recipe calls specifically for salted butter, or you’re slathering it into bread, a muffin, a stack of my French toast or fresh corn in the cob, stay away from it and use unsalted as your go to butter of choice when you cook. And the easiest way to not get caught off guard is to just make sure you grab some next time you’re at the market.