How to Use Compound Butter to Elevate Your Grilling


Every backyard chef has a secret ingredient they swear by, a mysterious key that unlocks delicious flavor in everything they cook. It could be a special spice blend handed down over generations, a multi-layered sauce divinely inspired during a BBQ pilgrimage, or a brining technique guarded more tightly than the Federal Reserve. Those make for great stories, but do you know what makes virtually everything taste incredible with minimal effort? Compound butters.

Don’t just take our word for it — pitmaster Rasheed Philips of Philips Barbeque Co. has wholeheartedly embraced homemade compound butter as one of his not-so-secret weapons on the grill.

“Compound butter is versatile and simple,” Rasheed says. “People are always asking how to step up their cooking, and compound butter is the easiest, most affordable condiment you can make at home to your own personal tastes. There’s no dish it cannot elevate. Shrimp, chicken, beef, you name it. Every cooked meat, every protein, benefits from a good compound butter because it allows the fat to baste and add additional flavor. It’s typically incorporated with fresh or fragrant aromatic herbs. As it heats up, the oils and fat heat up, releasing the oils and aromatics for an additional depth of flavor.”

It may sound too good to be true, but these butter blends really do take dishes (even those of the non-meat variety) to the next level despite their simplicity. Today we’re going to teach you all about them with help from our good friend Rasheed, who showed the world his culinary chops as a contestant on Netflix’s “The American Barbecue Showdown.” From compound butter’s many applications to a step-by-step guide on making and storing your very own, you’ll leave this Master Grillabilities® lesson saying, “I can’t believe I’ve never used compound butter!”

Rasheed applying butter to lobster

What is Compound Butter?

No need to sit down for this, because compound butter is exactly what it sounds like: softened, unsalted butter creamed and combined with other ingredients. Yep, that’s all there is to it! The real magic comes from the ingredients that turn an ordinary stick of butter into a flavorful butter mixture. Garlic, cilantro, parsley, bleu cheese, curry powder, lemon juice, cane syrup, Greek seasoning blends, and even fruits can be put to good use in a homemade compound butter! The list goes on and on, resulting in endless combinations of flavors. To hear Rasheed tell it, “It’s just butter, and then the limit is your imagination and preference.”

The History of Compound Butters

Like many other strokes of culinary brilliance, compound butter originated in France as beurre composé. The most notable among them is Beurre Maître d’Hôtel, which incorporates minced parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. It was traditionally prepared tableside by the restaurant’s maître d’ — when’s the next flight to Paris? — and set atop freshly seared steaks while they briefly rested. As the Beurre Maître d’Hôtel melted, it would impart flavor notes from the infused herbs and citrus to balance the butter’s natural richness, elevating the dish in the process. That’s the idea behind all compound butters, regardless of their use and overall flavor profile.

“Regular butters aren’t designed to impart too much flavor. Butter just tastes like butter, but a compound butter really allows the dish to come together harmoniously,” Rasheed says. “You’re taking from one area and creating a whole new flavor profile. By adding something like fresh lemon zest or lime juice and letting it solidify, it turns the butter from one thing into another. It’s part of the alchemy of cooking.”

Rasheed microplaning garlic into his compound butter

Uses for Compound Butter

Simply put, you can use flavored compound butter for just about anything you’d put regular butter on. It adds depth to grilled proteins and veggies, serves as an excellent spread for baked goods, and makes for a complex base for stews and pan sauces. (Plus, a dollop or slice looks incredible as a melty garnish atop piping-hot plates.) Even a simple bowl of rice or noodles gets taken over the top with the right butter flavorings! The components and flavors will differ from butter to butter, but you can incorporate them in literally any style of cooking.

However, this doesn’t mean you should apply the same butter blend to everything in sight — remember, it’s there to enhance a dish through complementary flavors. A sweet strawberry compound butter will sing on freshly baked scones, yet would be an unwelcome addition to grilled shrimp kebabs; a pesto and sundried tomato butter elevates chicken parm, but might not make much sense on a ribeye. “You really have to build compound butters in conjunction with building your dishes,” Rasheed says. An understanding of layering flavors is an indispensable tool if you’d like to develop personal compound butter blends.

We’ll walk you through making your own in a bit, but first let’s look at some examples of compound butters and their applications from our recipe creators. This should get the gears turning in that culinary mind of yours. Most homemade compound butters are either sweet or savory at their core, though it’s perfectly fine to play around with elements like spiciness and acidity — as Rasheed and the always-brilliant Chef Tony did with the butters listed below — to increase the depth of flavor.

Compound Butter Intended Pairings

Bleu cheese compound and lemon curry compound butter

Filet mignon and seafood, respectively

Greek-style compound butter

Chicken, fish, veggies, steak, breads

Creole-style compound butter

Seafood, breads, marinades, pasta sauces

Vanilla cane syrup compound butter

Waffles, pancakes, cornbread

Mango ginger compound butter

Breads, desserts

Again, these are just examples from recipes you can find on our site (practice makes perfect!). But let’s say you want to elevate your next steak with a compound butter and don’t care for the funkiness of bleu cheese. In that case, you could try a classic garlic-and-herb blend, or make one with Roquefort cheese instead, or kick it really old-school with that Beurre Maître d’Hôtel we described above. Let your personal tastes guide you on this journey of buttery discovery.

You may have noticed that a few of the compound butters we mentioned have multiple uses, like Chef Tony’s Greek-style compound butter and Creole-style compound butter. Developing a versatile butter blend to enhance everything from whole chicken to grilled corn to toasted bread is a shortcut to better all-around cooking. And while our main focus is on using compound butters for grilling, sweet mixtures like our vanilla cane syrup compound butter or mango ginger compound butter take brunch and desserts to the next level in a similar fashion.

Compound Butters: More Than Just a Finisher

Though compound butters are sometimes referred to as “finishing butter” in recognition of their most common use, they can be applied at any point throughout the cook. A great example of this is Rasheed’s elevated surf ‘n’ turf recipe, which uses separate compound butters at different stages of the cook to individually enhance the surf and the turf.

He starts off preparing a lemon curry compound butter that includes hints of cilantro and turmeric, then slathering it on his lobster tails. This acts as a base layer of flavor within the seafood, similar to how a traditional French mirepoix or Cajun holy trinity sets the stage for stews and sauces. As the lobster cooks over indirect heat, the curry butter melts and imparts all of its incredible flavors — the spiciness of the herbs, the citrusy brightness from the lemon — to the meat within the shell.

For the post-cook application, it doesn’t get any more classic than topping filet mignon with a blue cheese compound butter. (Once again, shout out to Beurre Maître d’Hôtel!) The butter not only bastes the meat as a complementary finisher, but also imparts mouthwatering aromas from the incorporated parsley and rosemary; Rasheed points out that the result is “a great contrast of flavors.” But why wait until the end of the cook to make the magic happen?

“When you apply compound butter at the end of a cook, you’re getting into the meat, and more specifically, the fat,” Rasheed says. “Fat will absorb all that butter, and everyone loves the bite with that little bit that’s been rendered down by the grizzle. It encapsulates all the smokiness and saltiness, so it takes everything over the top.”

Of course, you can always use butter mid-cook, too. The most common example is basting steak as it sears, as Rasheed does with regular butter instead of a compound mixture in his surf ‘n’ turf recipe. He holds back during mid-cook in this instance because he’s using the blue cheese compound butter as a finisher, but it might make sense for you to baste your steaks with a compound blend. You may even find that your own butter blend is a superior basting liquid because of its low fat content and smoke temp relative to oil, along with the aromatics that immediately activate when exposed to high heat. There’s no harm in giving it a try and seeing how the dish turns out!

Buttered lobster grilling

How to Make Homemade Compound Butter

Now that you understand the many wonders of compound butters, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of how to make your own. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to churn it yourself.) It’s an incredibly simple process that can be completed in less than half an hour and calls for only as many ingredients as you deem necessary. Whether you’re following one of our recipes listed below or trying a compound of your own creation, get ready to discover one of the best cooking hacks around!

What you need before getting started:

  • Unsalted butter

  • Your flavoring ingredients

  • Knife, fine grater, mortar and pestle, or other prep tools as needed

  • Spatula or pastry scraper

  • Stand mixer or food processor (optional)

  • Parchment or wax paper (for storage in the freezer)

Step 1: Soften the Butter

It’s important that you start with softened butter so it’ll be malleable and blend well with the other ingredients. You can achieve this by simply taking your butter out of the fridge an hour or two before you intend to make it. Before you get started, ensure the butter you're using is unsalted — this allows you to control the salt content and avoid an oversalted mixture. As Rasheed points out, “No one’s going to break off a piece from a stick of butter and taste it for salt.”

Step 2: Prepare Your Other Ingredients

While your butter softens to room temperature, begin preparing the additional ingredients that put the “compound” in compound butter. This will obviously vary from one butter to the next; perhaps you need to finely grate garlic, zest a lemon, mince cilantro, mash basil in a mortar and pestle, or dice mangoes. Again, the possible combinations are endless.

No matter your ingredients or method, make sure the additions are in small quantities so they can be well-dispersed in every slice. (Especially if it’s something like garlic, where a big chunk in any single bite would be disastrous.) Also take this time to prepare accompanying spices like salt, pepper, or turmeric. Generally, a pinch or two of salt is enough for any butter mixture, but remember to taste if you’re unsure.

Step 3: Carefully Cream Your Butter & Ingredients

  • You’ve got your “compound” and you’ve got your softened butter… now all that’s left to do is blend everything together! How you do so is a matter of personal preference: Rasheed likes a fork and a bowl, Chef Tony is fond of food processors, and others use stand mixers to get the job done. Whatever you decide, whip the butter until it’s creamy but be sure to avoid breaking the emulsion. “Just let it bind and set,” Rasheed says. “You’re not looking for peaks like when you whip egg whites, but you still have to make sure you do it thoroughly.” Master Grillabilities® tip: you’ll know the compound butter is properly creamed when you can smoothly spread it with the back of a fork.

    You can slightly whip the butter until it’s fluffy and then add your ingredients, or you can add everything at once and let it roll. Many people whip their butter with salt before anything else to monitor saltiness, while certain recipes call for slow incorporation of a specific ingredient. This may take some experimentation on your part, but experimenting is half the fun of cooking! (The other half? Eating.)

  • Creamed compound butter

Step 4: Use or Store Your Compound Butter

Once creamed, you can immediately use the butter or store it in the fridge or freezer (more on that below). Some advocate for putting the butter back in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors meld, but the fact is you’ve already done most of the work. “As you microplane or break down ingredients, you release the oils and get ahead of things,” Rasheed says. “Then, as you whip, you spread it thoroughly to fully meld. By the time it’s done in the bowl or wrapped, it’s ready to be used or good to go in the fridge or freezer. Besides, the real magic happens when the butter gets exposed to heat — the oils get activated, and you immediately smell aromatics.”

Unless you get in the habit of making exactly as much compound butter as you need each time you cook, you’ll eventually need to store your mixture for later use. That goes double if you’re the type who likes to prepare in advance or in bulk (strongly recommended because it takes a bit of stress out of cooking days.) If anything, knowing how to store compound butters will prevent you from scarfing it all down at once — that’s not a fun discussion to have with your doctor. Short- and long-term storage options are available, depending on how soon you plan to break out the butter again.

How Long Can I Store Homemade Compound Butter?

Fresh butter can be stored in the refrigerator for about 2–3 weeks in a sealed container, while Chef Tony has found that frozen butter will last up to 6 months if properly packaged as a rolled log in the freezer. We’ll cover that technique in a moment, but it’s important that you don’t repeatedly take out and refreeze a butter blend because that’ll invite freezer burn and ruin the integrity of the mixture. Fortunately, the method for freezing compound butter takes that into account!

How to Roll Compound Butter into a Log for Freezing

Once the butter is thoroughly creamed and blended with the additional ingredients, follow these steps to roll it into a freezer-ready log:

  1. Use a spatula or pastry scraper to transfer the butter to a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper, keeping it in a straight line down the center of the sheet.

  2. Fold one half of the sheet over the other, with the butter still in the center.

  3. Use your hands to roll the butter into a sausage-shaped log about 2–3 inches in diameter, continuing to fold the paper as you go.

  4. Tightly twist the ends of the sheet to remove air pockets and solidify the butter in its log shape.

  5. Wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then move the roll to a flat surface in the freezer. Leave it in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

  • From here, you can do a few different things with the butter. Many people choose to leave it as a log, which they can either serve all at once or remove from the freezer to slice off rounds as needed to put on steak, pork chops, bread, or whatever else is on the menu. If you go this route and serve slices over time, be sure to promptly return the whole log to the freezer once you’ve cut off what you need.

  • Compound butter in a log being spread
  • Chef Tony, on the other hand, likes to let his roll of butter fully freeze before cutting the whole thing into rounds ¼“ to ½“ thick ahead of time. He then returns them to the freezer in a sealed container, from which he can pull slices as he sees fit. No matter your preference, it’s best to remove your butter from the freezer and let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before use.

  • Compound butter cut into slices

Top 3 Mistakes When Making Compound Butter

Sounds easy enough, right? “It’s so simple,” Rasheed agrees, “yet people overcomplicate it because it seems so simple.” You might experience some trial and error when first making compound butters even if you keep it simple, so we wanted to help you troubleshoot those potential issues before they even occur.

  1. The butter isn’t appropriately softened. Butter that’s fresh out the fridge will be too solid and won’t spread well; butter that’s too soft or is microwaved in an attempt to speed up the softening process will lose its emulsion, preventing it from creaming properly.

  2. Your ingredients are too chunky. We also touched on this above, but it’s worth mentioning again. A slice containing a large chunk of garlic, bleu cheese, or similarly bold ingredients leads to an unpleasant flavor and mouthfeel, not to mention that finer components are easier to blend evenly throughout the butter.

  3. There are too many wet ingredients. Perhaps it’s adding the juice of 2 or 3 lemons when a recipe calls for only half, or getting a little heavy-handed with Worcestershire sauce. The bottom line is that a watery butter that’s stored in the freezer will freeze throughout, meaning it won’t bind or melt as intended.

Finished curry butter in dish

How Much Compound Butter Should I Make?

We’ll answer this question with a one from Rasheed: “How often do you use a whole stick of butter in a dish?” It really does come down to how much you foresee yourself using over a certain period of time. If you’re finding that hard to estimate at first, keep in mind Rasheed’s advice and base it on how much regular butter you’d put in a meal. You might make small portions of single-use butters for certain dishes, or you could prepare several larger logs for meals you commonly eat or to be used in multiple ways (such as a steak finisher, a base for stews, an addition to fried rice, etc.). As always, keep your personal tastes and habits in mind.

What about Ingredients?

When just getting started making your own compound butter, we recommend using a single stick of unsalted butter so you can better figure out your ingredient ratios. That’ll involve experimentation based on your preferences, but remember to keep the strength of ingredients in mind when determining their quantities. Pungent components like garlic, turmeric, or ginger don’t need to be incorporated in huge portions to leave a mark. Besides, compound butter is there to complement, not to steal the show. “You need to make the butter so it doesn’t overpower whatever you’re putting it on,” Rasheed says.

You’re Ready to Make Your Own Homemade Compound Butters

Now’s the time to get in the kitchen and put everything you’ve learned to use! The next time you see eyes light up at the BBQ and field questions about your secret ingredient, you’ll take pleasure in knowing just how easy it is to elevate your grilling. Whether you reveal the truth about compound butters or spin a yarn to add some mystique to your skills is entirely up to you.

Putting compound butter on filet minon, with lobster and shrimp on plate