The best garlic butter recipe uses a whole head of garlic

Did you know: On the counter, garlic can last for months and, in the refrigerator, butter can also last for months. Which means that even when other ingredients are scarce, homemade garlic butter can rush in and save the day. Add it to some hot pasta, maybe with a handful of that wilted arugula in the crisper, and you have dinner. Spread it on crusty bread, bake until golden brown and you have the best side dish in the world. Rub it on your elbows and call it a moisturizer. Paint it on a canvas and call it art. The world is yours when it comes to garlic butter, thanks to how easy it is to make.

What is the best garlic/butter ratio?

Many recipes recommend 1 stick of butter for a modest 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. There are plenty of occasions when 1 or 2 cloves are enough, like this one Creamy Lemon Pappardelle where Sesame Tofu with Broccoli. (Notice how I didn’t say Garlicky Lemon Pappardelle or Garlicky Tofu with Broccoli.) But modesty has no place in garlic butter.

For a garlic butter that does what it promises, we use 1 whole head of garlic. The number of cloves this represents varies – figure between half a dozen and a dozen, although the size of these also varies. It’s perfect. It’s not brain surgery. Achieve a small head or a huge head or somewhere in between, depending on your mood.

Some recipes use garlic powder instead of or in addition to fresh garlic. But because we use so much to start with and use it two ways (raw and fried), there’s no need to drag another ingredient around.

What is the best salted or unsalted butter?

Salty, hands down. Not only does this simplify the process (it’s already seasoned), but the salted butter has an awesome complexity that its unsalted counterpart lacks. That said, if you only have unsalted in the fridge, just add a pinch of kosher salt to the butter.

And what about American style versus European style?

Excellent Q. But first, what is the difference between American and European? The American style has a slightly lower fat content, is often uncultured, and is usually a neutral beige. The European style has a richer, tangier taste, and some brands have a sunny yellow hue.

In many recipes, the type of butter makes no difference. Homemade garlic butter is not one of them. A good rule of thumb is: if you don’t feel like eating plain butter, it’s not the butter for you. My go-to is kerrygold for its beautiful buttery flavor.

Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, Salted, 8 oz

Any tips for peeling garlic?

A lot. My favorite method is to flatten each clove with the side of a chef’s knife, then use my fingers to pull the broken skin off. Keep a cup of warm water nearby to rinse off your fingers when they get sticky. You can also place the garlic cloves in a container, close it, and shake, shake, shake until the skins begin to peel. You could too use a paring knife to cut off the end, then peel from there. Whichever route you choose, it’s not a quick task. Turn on a bouncing playlist or chatty podcast. Prep time can also be a fun time.

Can I use pre-peeled garlic?

Who am I to tell you what to do? There’s no denying that freshly peeled garlic packs more punch. But when you use a dozen cloves, even pre-peeled, you’ll get garlicky garlic butter. If this shortcut is a game-changer for you, by all means. Just try to avoid pre-chopped garlic; it may taste artificial.

Here’s how to make golden garlic butter:

  • ½ cup salted butter, preferably European style
  • 1 head of garlic
  • Finely chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, dill and/or parsley (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes (optional)