Mama, We're Out of Crisco! These Are The 5 Best Substitutions for Shortening
If you're anything like us, you always keep a jar of vegetable shortening in your pantry. Our Grandmas taught us that shortening is a stand-by in quite a few Southern recipes—particularly our baked goods. It's the secret ingredient that makes our pie crust extra-flaky and our dinner rolls ultra-tender.
Shortening has been a pantry staple for decades for a reason. But let's imagine a world in which, by some series of unfortunate events, you find yourself without a trusty jar of shortening. What are the best substitutes for shortening? We're here to help you troubleshoot—and save your weekend baking project.
First Thing's First: What is Shortening?
Shortening is made of hydrogenated vegetable oil—essentially, vegetable oil that's been converted from a liquid to a solid, prolonging its shelf life. Shortening has a neutral flavor and a higher melting point than butter, which makes it a popular choice for baking.
Of all the fats, from butter to canola oil, shortening most closely resembles lard, but it's made without any animal products. That makes shortening a great choice for vegan baking (just make sure to check the label—Crisco is completely vegan, but some shortening brands might include animal products).
When Should I Use Shortening?
When might you use shortening? Our Food Editor Lisa Cericola uses shortening in baked goods from cookies to frostings. "Cookies made with shortening have a soft, crumbly texture and won't spread too much on the baking sheet. Shortening also makes cakes more tender and pie crusts flakier. And when you're making buttercream frosting, shortening will give it a firmer texture that won't melt on a hot day," Cericola writes.
Best Substitutes for Shortening
If you find yourself without a jar of shortening, there are plenty of good substitutes you can use in your pie dough or your batch of cookies. Here are some of the best substitutes for shortening that you probably already have in your kitchen.
Butter is one of the most popular choices for baking for a reason. When you want to create flaky layers in your pastry—particularly when making pie dough—butter is a great substitute for shortening. It requires a little more finesse, as butter will begin to melt at room temperature, so be sure to allow your dough plenty of time to chill in the fridge or freezer. Butter can also be used in plenty of other recipes that call for shortening, from cookies to frosting—just note that butter brings a more distinct flavor than shortening, which is quite neutral in flavor.
As noted earlier, vegetable shortening is closest in structure to lard, just without the animal products. If you're baking something savory like biscuits, lard makes a particularly great substitute for shortening.
3. Coconut Oil
Similar to shortening, coconut oil is a hydrogenated fat that hardens at room temperature—plus, coconut oil is also vegan. Coconut oil makes a great one-to-one swap for shortening, but keep in mind that it might impart a subtle coconut flavor to your baked goods. Look for refined coconut oil, which has a neutral flavor.
4. Margarine or Vegan Butter
If you're using shortening to keep your baked goods vegan, consider margarine or vegan butter as an alternative. No matter what you're baking, these dairy-free spreads will do the trick. Use them as you would butter, but you might want to add a tablespoon or two extra, as these forms of fat are slightly less concentrated than shortening.
5. Bacon Grease
Did you really think we'd forget to include our favorite form of fat on this list? Bacon grease is the flavor-boosting ingredient Southerners utterly adore. Like lard, bacon grease also makes a fantastic substitute for shortening. Fry up some bacon and save the fat for your baking projects this weekend. Bacon grease has a very strong flavor, so it can also be used in conjunction with another fat, such as butter or lard.