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Is there any reason one should prefer one over the other?

I've always used shortening (probably because that's what my mom always did), but my fiancee has always used butter.

There's no significant difference I can think of (for this application), but I thought I'd ask.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Both will do the job of greasing a pan but there are some differences. One of the big differences is that butter will add a very desirable flavor to whatever you are cooking—which especially complements sweet baked goods.

Shortening is pure fat whereas butter is only about 80% fat by weight. Butter may bring additional flavor to your recipe (even by greasing the pan) but it also adds some water which may not be wanted.

One final difference is that butter burns/browns more easily than shortening.

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In what circumstances would the tiny amount of water in a thin coating of butter actually matter? Seems like a pretty rare concern. – Jefromi Oct 7 '11 at 23:48

You may get a slight amount of extra browning using butter due to the extra proteins, but it's normally such a small amount of butter being used I wouldn't think it would be very noticeable. The water in butter may also have an effect on very delicate items, but I don't think it would have a discernable effect on items like muffins, quickbreads, etc.

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