How to Make Biscuits: Butter vs. Shortening
Filed Under: Bread | How To | Savory

Butter vs. Shortening: Biscuits

By Tessa Arias
October 2nd, 2014
4.91 from 11 votes
4.91 from 11 votes

A kitchen experiment into how to make biscuits absolutely perfect by comparing an all-butter biscuit versus an all-shortening biscuit. Which is the best?

This post is sponsored by Clabber Girl. All opinions provided are my own.

How to Make Biscuits Butter vs. Shortening

Butter or shortening? It’s a debate I’ve heard among many bakers and even within the comments of my blog so I decided to tackle another round of baking experiments. Recently Clabber Girl challenged me to use their baking powder in a series of posts all about biscuits throughout the rest of the year. What better subject for baking experimentation? Also, how cool is my job? To kick off this month’s biscuit post I’m experimenting with one of the most important ingredients of the biscuit and that’s the fat. We wanted to find out which fat is better for making the perfect biscuit: butter or shortening?

I wanted to go beyond showing you how to make biscuits and help you understand how the ingredients impact your final product. It seems so simple to just substitute out one ingredient with another but baking is truly a science and every change you make can result in a totally different product! Keep reading to find out how butter and shortening impact everything from the dough, appearance, taste, and texture of your typical buttermilk biscuits and to find out which was my favorite!

Be sure to follow Clabber Girl on Facebook for tons of baking recipes and tips and stay tuned for more posts all about biscuits!

Biscuit ingredients
Perhaps the best aspect of homemade biscuits is just how simple they are with just a handful of staple ingredients and a few steps. I’ll never understand how those processed canned biscuits became so popular since biscuit dough takes just minutes to whip up! Sure, you’ll have a few more dishes to clean but there’s nothing that compares to the unadulterated goodness of a homemade biscuit.

To experiment with butter versus shortening, I used the standard biscuit recipe (below), which is my go-to. I used the same techniques, ingredients (except the fat of course), baking times and temperatures to ensure consistency between the two batches.

All Butter Dough

How to Make Biscuits - Butter Biscuits
The all-butter dough was slightly less cohesive than the all-shortening dough, and I attribute this to the fact that the butter’s texture is firmer than shortening. Even when both fats were chilled in the same freezer for the same length of time, the butter was significantly more solid which made it easier to retain chunks of butter while mixing the dough.

The cold chunks of butter are important because as they melt into the biscuit while baking they create tiny pockets of steam that puffs and lifts the dough. These pockets turn into that beautiful light and flaky texture we crave with biscuits. The steam comes from butter’s water content, which is usually about 15 to 20 percent.

Those chunks of butter, while as glorious as they become while baking, do make the dough a little loose and slightly difficult to work with. Not to mention butter’s low melting point makes it more difficult to work with as it needs to be cautiously kept cold.

Shortening Dough

How to Make Biscuits - Shortening Biscuits
The shortening dough, on the other hand, came together much more easily. In fact, it came together almost too much. If you overwork biscuit dough you run the risk of getting tough and dense biscuits. With the shortening being so sticky itself, even when chilled, it made it hard to retain any sort of looseness in the dough. Instead, it all came together in a slightly sticky, shaggy mass.

This doesn’t matter as much as it does with the all-butter dough, however. Where butter is only about 80 percent fat and the rest is milk and water, shortening is 100 percent fat. There is no steam created in shortening dough that lends the same light, airy flakiness as with butter dough. While the shortening dough was nicely cohesive, the stickiness made it difficult to roll out and shape.

Any type of biscuit dough, or even pie dough which is very similar, is going to be more difficult to work with than a soft, smooth, and supple yeast dough. The pay off, however, is that it only takes about a half hour to make biscuits from start to finish!

Baking the Biscuits

How to Make Biscuits - Butter Biscuits
So, what happened when the biscuits came out of the oven? Well, upon first glance the butter biscuits were significantly more browned with flatter tops. When bitten into, the butter biscuits were moist and slightly spongier than the shortening biscuits. The best part was the flavor and slightly more crunchy exterior texture contrasted by that ultra tender interior.

How to Make Biscuits - Shortening Biscuits
The shortening biscuits were much more pale, with slightly domed craggy tops. They also seemed a bit more irregular in height. The biscuits themselves were more crumbly when bitten into and lacked that characteristic butter flavor that simply cannot be replicated by anything artificial.

How to Make Biscuits Butter vs. Shortening
I offered two biscuits to Jared and made him guess which was butter and which was shortening and he got it right. You can definitely taste the difference and as a butter lover, I definitely preferred the butter biscuits. However, the shortening biscuits did remind me of biscuits I’ve had at Southern eateries in the past with their slightly drier, crumblier texture.

Since shortening has a higher melting point than butter, meaning it requires more heat to melt shortening than it does to melt butter, it makes shortening less challenging to work with. You don’t have to worry as much about it getting too warm in the dough and it brings together the dough more easily. However, that higher melting point can also be a very bad thing because it means that it doesn’t fully melt in the mouth like butter does, leaving behind an unpleasant waxy coating on the palate.

So what’s the final verdict?

Butter is the winner here. The butter biscuits were moister with that wonderful butter taste and melt-in-your mouth texture. I’d be curious to test out substituting half or just two tablespoons of the butter with shortening to see if you get the best of both.

Have you experimented with that? What do you prefer to use in your biscuits?

Like this post? Share it on Pinterest!

How to Make Biscuits Butter vs. Shortening - Which is better?!

This post is sponsored by Clabber Girl. All opinions provided are my own.

4.91 from 11 votes

How to make
Biscuit Recipe

Cook Time: 15 minutes


  • 2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Clabber Girl baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter OR vegetable shortening, very cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled


  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter or the shortening and pulse the food processor several times to cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You can also do this by hand with a pastry blender. The faster you do this the better, you want the fat to remain cold. Stir in the buttermilk until just combined. DO NOT overmix, the dough will be slightly sticky.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and dust the dough with flour. Gently pat the dough out until it’s a 1/2-inch in thickness. Use a 2-inch round biscuit cutter to push straight down through the dough to cut out circles, try not to twist the cutter. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet, spacing 2-inches apart. Reform the scrap dough into 1/2-inch thickness, being sure to work with it as little as possible, before cutting out more circles. You should get 10 to 12 biscuits.
  4. Bake the biscuits until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Course : Breakfast
Cuisine : American
Keyword : biscuits
Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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Recipe Rating

  1. #
    James — August 2, 2022 at 5:52 am

    Nice Biscuits, my twins loved them. Can this recipe be scaled for large family breakfasts?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — August 3, 2022 at 11:57 am

      So glad to hear that, James! Yes, if you have a large enough bowl or food processor, you can double this recipe. I’m always weary of doubling recipes, because it’s easy to forget to double an ingredient, and it’s also more difficult to ensure everything is mixed the appropriate amount. I often advise that people simply make a recipe twice, and refrigerate/freeze the dough in between batches. I hope that helps! Happy baking 🙂

  2. #
    Kathy — May 31, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    I fit better and shortening in my biscuit and they turn out wonderful

  3. #
    Jeff Follett — May 22, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    I wanted to comment on splitting the butter and shortening in the recipe 50/50. I have been doing that for some time now, resulting in retaining the buttery taste and the cohesiveness of the shortening. I also mix my dough the night before, cover with plastic, and place in the refrigerator overnight. Makes baking biscuits a breeze in the morning and gives the glutons a chance to relax, for a more tender biscuit. The recipe you included is very similar to the one that I use, but does add a little more buttermilk than mine.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — May 23, 2022 at 7:46 am

      So great that you have found a recipe and techniques that work perfectly for you, Jeff! Happy baking!

  4. #
    Tom Zuehlsdorff — October 9, 2021 at 10:29 am

    My Mom and I used this as a guide to make a dairy free version since I’m allergic to whey. We used vegan sour cream and almond milk in place of the buttermilk. Plant based butter as well, and OMG! Some of the best biscuits we’ve ever had! And it was my Mom’s first time not using shortening lol. Thank you very much!

    • #
      Emily — October 11, 2021 at 9:58 am

      Amazing!! Thanks for sharing your results, Tom! So happy to hear that 🙂

  5. #
    Mimi — July 29, 2021 at 2:17 pm

    BUTTER BABY!! Thank you for a great recipe!

    • #
      Emily — July 30, 2021 at 9:52 am

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback, we appreciate it!

  6. #
    Jackie — February 3, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    Absolutely delicious! I have looked forever for a biscuit recipe for a pliable, not flaky and crumbly biscuit. These are the bomb!

    • #
      Tessa — February 4, 2021 at 2:04 pm

      So glad you enjoyed!

  7. #
    Elsa Shelton — January 4, 2021 at 10:13 pm

    I am so glad that I found this recipe. I want to use it for chicken and dumplings. I have been using Southern biscuits formula l for dumplings but I want to learn to make the dumpling from scratch

  8. #
    lisa — November 9, 2020 at 6:14 am

    Where is the recipe? Don’t see anything below the title of the recipe.

    • #
      Tessa — November 9, 2020 at 12:27 pm

      The recipe is updated now!

  9. #
    Kimberly Mallard — September 30, 2020 at 5:53 pm

    I totally agree. Butter is better. I also brush the tops and bottoms of the biscuits with butter. This keeps the tops and bottoms of the biscuits moist and soft. Everything is better with more butter!!!

  10. #
    Bob King — September 10, 2020 at 10:17 am

    I make a similar biscuit all the time, but my go-to is margarine. It splits the difference between shortening and butter and I prefer to save the butter for spreading directly onto the biscuit.

    I would love to see how that works in this recipie.

  11. #
    Trish — July 24, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    Shortening for sure. Easy to work with. Melted some butter on top after. Mmm mmm good!

  12. #
    Peg Peterson — July 8, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Tried printing this but the only thing that printed was the title

  13. #
    Cindy page — December 21, 2019 at 8:53 am

    If you have to make 30 biscuits do you need to make each batch separately.. tha ks

  14. #
    Doris — August 10, 2019 at 4:30 am

    Butter is much better when it comes to taste and texture. Many of my Southern friends (I’m A Southerner, too) say LARD makes the best. NOT, they are tasteless to me, I tried just yesterday and made my biscuits with LARD. They are light, and fluffy,not as brown, and smooth as my BUtter Biscuits. Butter is definitely better, in my book.

  15. #
    Sandra Coley — July 25, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Can I use margarine or do I have to use butter?

  16. #
    cott Foxx — March 31, 2019 at 7:13 am

    I cannot imagine using anything other than self rising White Lily for a biscuit, but a recent article informed me that like good wine from Spain, you just cannot get the best of it elsewhere. Something about the season and the winter wheat and magical spells that only work in Dixie. Regardless, there is a simple solution to your ‘keep it cold’ problem which is (drum roll) put em back in the refrigerator. It’s so easy it eluded me for years. Make up the biscuits and mix and fold to your hearts content (why on earth are you doing this in a food processor? You can’t ‘feel’ the texture properly.) It’s a wet mess right out of the bowl and thats fine as you reserve some flour to incorporate by hand on your counter. Fold til it doesn’t stick so much anymore and is cohesive. The puffing of the butter/dough does no good if there’s no layers to expand within- this is basic ‘puff pastry’ logic after all. The throw them in the fridge while the oven heats to a scorching 415 and as soon as it hits that temp., throw them biscuits in- you also have to make them touch, they need friends for support after all, just like people do. They will start to rise as they rest and expand to puffy magnificence in the oven.

  17. #
    Tracy Hall — March 3, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Air fryer! (that was suppose to read.)

  18. #
    Tracy Hall — March 3, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I finish/reheat these in sir fryer a couple of minutes for the ultimate taste and texture!
    thank you!

  19. #
    Dan — February 17, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I used all butter but didn’t have buttermilk so just used regular whole milk- this is the BEST biscuit I’ve ever made! Two thumbs up

  20. #
    Bayou Andy — February 12, 2019 at 6:39 am

    Tessa, look into White Lily Flour. Many (many, including me) think it is the very best to use for biscuits and breads. It’s a soft winter wheat. I really enjoyed your biscuit lesson.

  21. #
    RICHARDCALVIN — February 5, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Should I freeze the butter and shortening? I’m using both 4TBLS Butter 2 TBLS of Shortening

    • #
      S Howton — July 31, 2019 at 4:50 pm

      You may like the results from mixing in the butter/shortening and then put it in the freezer for 30 minutes (or as I do, mix it the night before, and freeze over night.)

  22. #
    Sterling James McGee III — January 4, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Very informative biscuit recipe , I used 4 tsp of butter & 2 tsp shortening. The biscuits came out great, flaky and soft. I added a little more buttermilk which help completely to wet all my dry ingredients. Thanks for sharing this information.

  23. #
    Biscuit Packing Machine — December 10, 2018 at 5:09 am

    It’s wonderful amazing love it thanks for recipe keep posting like this 🙂

  24. #
    Sue Hunt — July 26, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Why do you use sugar?

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