When it comes to baking and cooking, you’ll often see recipes call for “1 stick of butter.” But what exactly constitutes a stick of butter? Let’s take a closer look at this common kitchen measurement.
The History of the Stick of Butter
Before the late 19th century, butter was sold in large blocks and needed to be cut to size for use. This was inconvenient and made consistent measuring difficult. In the 1870s, dairy producers in the United States started packing butter into wooden boxes divided into pound portions. Consumers could cut off one of the pound sections as needed.
In the 1920s, butter companies switched from wood to cardboard packaging printed with measurement markings. These cardboard “sticks” of butter were much more uniform in size and made it easier to cut off a specific amount of butter by simply slicing across the stick at the measurement markings.
The standard American stick of butter became 1⁄2 cup or 8 tablespoons. Meanwhile in Europe, the metric system dominated and butter was packaged in 250 gram sticks. Over time, the stick of butter became the commonly accepted unit of measurement in recipes and is still used today.
Weight of 1 Stick of Butter
In the United States, one stick of butter weighs:
- 4 ounces or 113 grams
- 1⁄2 cup
- 8 tablespoons
- 2/8 pound or 1⁄4 pound
A full pound of butter contains 4 sticks or 2 cups. Most recipes in the U.S. calling for “1 stick” mean 8 tablespoons or 1⁄2 cup of butter.
Volume of 1 Stick of Butter
While a stick of butter weighs 4 ounces, its actual volume depends on the density and consistency of the butter. The more dense and solid the butter, the less space it will occupy. For example, cold butter straight from the refrigerator packs more tightly than warm, softened butter. Butter contains at least 80% milkfat, with the rest being water and milk solids.
In general, the volume of 1 stick of butter is:
- 1⁄2 cup
- 4 fluid ounces
- 1⁄4 pound or 2/8 pound
However, you may find variation in the actual volume depending on multiple factors about the butter itself and how it was measured.
Butter Packaging Sizes
In addition to the standard 1-pound box containing 4 sticks, here are some other common sizes that butter is sold in:
- 1⁄2 pound box with 2 sticks
- 1⁄4 pound box with 1 stick
- 500 gram European-style box with 2 sticks
- 250 gram European-style box with 1 stick
- 5 pound bulk pack with 20 sticks
Be aware that metric butter packaging from Europe contains slightly less butter per stick than American packaging. For example, a 250 gram European-style stick is approximately 7 tablespoons instead of the 8 tablespoons in an American stick.
Butter Stick Dimensions
In the United States, each stick of butter is required to be a specific size according to federal standards. This ensures consistency across brands and makes it easy to cut off the desired amount.
The dimensions of 1 American stick of butter are:
- Length: 4 inches
- Width: 1 1⁄2 inches
- Height: 1 1⁄4 inches
These dimensions are convenient because the length of 4 inches allows for 8 markings at 1⁄2 inch intervals, corresponding to 8 tablespoons. The width is ideal for fitting in most utensil handles for portioning out the butter.
Differences Between Salted and Unsalted Butter
You can buy butter in both salted and unsalted varieties. Salted butter contains around 1⁄4 teaspoon of salt per stick, while unsalted or “sweet” butter contains no added salt.
A stick of salted versus unsalted butter has some slight differences:
- Salted butter weighs 4 ounces per stick, same as unsalted.
- Due to the salt content, salted butter has a firmer texture and melts at a slightly higher temperature.
- Unsalted butter has a higher moisture content and smoother, creamier texture.
- For baking, using unsalted butter allows you to control the exact amount of salt added.
But in terms of volume and dimensions, there is no difference between sticks of salted versus unsalted butter. Either type can be measured out using the standard 1 stick = 1⁄2 cup = 8 tablespoons conversion.
When a Recipe Calls for 1 Stick of Butter
When you see “1 stick of butter” listed as an ingredient in a recipe, it means:
- 1⁄2 cup (4 oz)
- 8 tablespoons (1⁄4 pound)
- 4 ounces by weight
You can use either salted or unsalted butter, which won’t make a major difference unless the recipe relies strictly on unsalted for accuracy. The butter should be cut into 1⁄2 inch slices across one of the stick’s 4-inch sides. This will give you the 8 tablespoons needed.
Substituting Oil for Butter
In some cases, you may want to substitute vegetable oil or another fat for butter in baking. You’ll get slightly different results in taste and texture, but it can work. Here are the approximate substitutes for 1 stick of butter:
- 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
- 1⁄2 cup shortening
- 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup coconut oil (start with less coconut oil because of its strong flavor)
- 1⁄2 cup lard or beef tallow
For optimal results, look for a solid fat like coconut oil or shortening rather than liquid oil. The solid shape makes it easier to cream and mix into batter like butter. You can adjust the amounts as needed based on the recipe.
When You Need Less Than a Whole Stick
Recipes will often call for fractions of a butter stick such as 1⁄2 stick or 1⁄4 stick. Here are some common fractions and their butter measurements:
To measure out a fraction of a stick, first cut the full stick lengthwise into halves or quarters. Then slice across the portioned stick at the desired measurement markings.
When You Need More Than 1 Stick
Some large recipes call for multiples sticks of butter. Here are the amounts for larger quantities:
- 2 sticks = 1 cup = 16 tablespoons
- 3 sticks = 1 1⁄2 cups = 24 tablespoons
- 4 sticks = 2 cups = 32 tablespoons
Remember that 4 sticks makes up 1 pound of butter. So if you see a recipe calling for pounds of butter, you can substitute the stick equivalents. For example, 1.5 pounds of butter equals 6 sticks.
Storing Butter for Later Use
It’s handy to know how to store partial sticks of butter if you don’t use up the full amount called for in a recipe. Here are some tips:
- Cover tightly in plastic wrap or seal in an airtight container. Try to minimize air exposure.
- Submerge the butter in icy cold water in a container with an airtight lid. Change the water daily.
- Freeze the leftover butter for longer term storage. Defrost in the refrigerator before use.
- If storing at room temperature, use within 3-4 days. Refrigerate or freeze anything longer.
Properly stored, butter lasts up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator or 6-9 months in the freezer. Frozen butter holds its quality well, so you can freeze extra sticks purchased when on sale.
Common Butterstick Questions
Here are answers to some other common questions about sticks of butter:
Why are butter sticks marked in tablespoons instead of cups?
Butter is often measured in tablespoons because it’s easier to scoop out thin tablespoons rather than large cup portions. The markings go up to 8 tablespoons since most recipes call for 1⁄2 cup or 8 tablespoons of butter.
Can I measure cold butter straight from the fridge?
Yes, you can accurately measure sticks of cold, solid butter. However, room temperature, softened butter is easier to slice and incorporate into batters. So you may want to cut cold butter into recipes in advance so it has time to warm up.
What about European butter packs with 250 grams per stick?
Some imported European butter comes in 250 gram sticks instead of American sticks with 4 ounces (113 grams). When substituting, 250 grams equals approximately 7 tablespoons. So you’ll need slightly more than 1 European stick to equal an American stick.
How is whipped butter different from stick butter?
Whipped butter contains air beaten into it, giving it a fluffier, lighter texture. Avoid substituting equal amounts of whipped for stick butter since it will affect volume and density. You’ll typically need about 25% more whipped butter by volume to make up for the air.
Key Takeaways on 1 Stick of Butter
Here are some key points to remember about the standard butter stick measurement:
- One stick of butter equals 1⁄2 cup, 8 tablespoons, 4 ounces, or 1⁄4 pound. This applies to both salted and unsalted butter.
- The dimensions are 4 x 1 1⁄2 x 1 1⁄4 inches, an ideal size for portioning tablespoons.
- Recipes specifying “1 stick” are calling for 8 tablespoons or 1⁄2 cup of butter.
- You can substitute equal amounts of oils, shortenings, or other fats for butter in baking.
- Store unused butter tightly wrapped in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 9 months.
Understanding how to measure butter sticks makes baking and cooking much easier. Now that you know what a stick of butter really means, you can take on any recipe with confidence!