Butter, Shortening or Lard? We Found Out Which Makes the Best Pie Crust

The perfect pie starts with a great pie crust. So what's the best choice for your pie crust recipe: butter, shortening or lard? We put them to the test.

When it comes to the holidays, you’ve got to use the best pie recipes (we especially love to make these pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving). While these tasty treats come in many shapes and sizes, they all rely on a good, flaky crust to carry delicious fillings—while simultaneously providing an extra layer of flavor.

While it’s important to use the right pie baking tools, there still seems to be much debate about how to get that perfect crust. If you asked my grandmother, she’d tell you to use lard. My mom would tell you butter. Others swear by shortening to bind the ingredients together. To put this debate to rest, I gathered up a few foodies for a blind taste test of these three crust options. To make it a fair comparison, we had our Test Kitchen team mix up three crusts using the same recipe, just switching up the fats: butter, lard and shortening.

What Our Test Kitchen Has to Say

Here’s the real difference between butter, margarine, shortening and lard.

Butter vs. Shortening vs. Lard Pie Crust Taste Test

Pie crust with shortening taste test - cookie-shaped pieces shown on a baking sheet labeled with "shortening"Photo: Taste of Home

#3 Shortening

Average score: 2.5/10

“How disappointing!”

Of our three options, shortening got the lowest marks. Looking at the array of mini crusts, we could see that this one baked up the darkest and didn’t have much rise. In and of itself, this didn’t give us too much cause for alarm.

As we dug into the incredibly crumbly crust, however, we began to feel a little worried. Breaking our pie wafers in half was impossible—they just fell into a bunch of smaller pieces. This made us wonder if a shortening crust could hold up to the weight of heartier fillings. The thought of slicing into our favorite pies and having them fall apart in the pan definitely had us a little stressed. Would the flavor make up for the crumbly texture of this crust? Unfortunately, it did not. We found it to be pretty greasy both in taste and texture (we were definitely cleaning a film off our hands after this test). Flavor-wise, the shortening didn’t wow us, either. It was relatively flavorless, giving us a flat, gritty, bland crust.

Pie crust with lard taste test - cookie-shaped pieces shown on a baking sheet labeled with "lard"Photo: Taste of Home

#2 Lard

Average score: 3/10

“I feel like this would just fall apart.”

Ranking not much higher than shortening was our lard crust. In many ways, this crust was quite similar to the shortening version. It stands to reason, since both lard and shortening are 100 percent fat (as compared to butter, which is roughly 85 percent fat and 15 percent water) and behave very similarly.

As such, the lard also produced a flat, crumbly crust with noticeable greasiness. This one fared slightly better in the test because the lard provided more flavor than the shortening. We detected just a hint more richness in this sample. Still, we were unimpressed by the old-fashioned ingredient’s performance.

Pie crust with butter taste test - cookie-shaped pieces shown on a baking sheet labeled with "butter"Photo: Taste of Home

#1 Butter

Average score: 9/10

“This tastes like home.”

Knocking it out of the park with a near-perfect score was our butter crust. Judging by appearance alone, this one was a definite standout. The mini crusts had a lot of rise, were a light golden color and, when broken in half, revealed lots of gorgeous, flaky layers.

Taking a taste, we were all impressed. This crust gave us the rich, buttery flavor we had been seeking. We agreed that we could definitely eat these little discs plain (though one clever tester grabbed a jar of jam for a little extra oomph).

After munching through our fair share of buttery wafers, we also made note of how much body this crust had. It was airy and light, but never crumbled to pieces the way the shortening and lard crusts had. We finally found the perfect base for our favorite pies. We’re certain this sturdy, delicious rendition would keep all our favorite fillings in place. If you want to take it to the next level, learn how to make butter from scratch!

We’ve settled this debate, but what about salted vs. unsalted butter? Find out which one you should be using.

The Pie Crust Takeaways

When it comes to our blind taste tests, we usually find it’s a close race between a few contenders (check out our winner for the best store-bought pie crust!). This time, though, there was one very clear victor. Butter made a tastier, flakier, sturdier crust by far.

This isn’t to say that shortening and lard aren’t useful ingredients. Shortening is a great way to get incredibly tender desserts. It’s part of what makes these pumpkin whoopie pies so delectable. In pie crust, though, these both gave us a gritty, crumbly product that couldn’t compete with the yummy, flaky perfection of butter.

Pie crust taste test between butter, lard and shortening - key ingredients shown behind a tray of pie crust pieces in the shape of cookiesPhoto: Taste of Home

The Best Pie Crust Recipe

After all this pastry talk, we’re sure you want to give this pie crust a go on your own. Follow along for our Test Kitchen’s standard crust recipe. We definitely preferred butter, but you can substitute the same amount of shortening or lard—or some of each—for butter here.

You’ll need:

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
3-5 tablespoons water

Yield: One nine-inch pie crust

Combine flour and salt. Cut in cold butter until mixture is crumbly. Then gradually add the cold water, tossing with a fork until dough holds together when pressed. Form dough into a ball or patty, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a circle about 1/8 inch thick. Bake according to your pie recipe’s instructions.

I’m happy to have this debate settled. Want to conduct your own test? Try these homemade pie crust recipes and the perfect apple pie crust.

25 Homemade Pie Crust Recipes Like Grandma Used to Make
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.