You found a great recipe for pan-seared steak and started getting it together.
Suddenly, you read that you need to add a “knob of butter.”
How much is that? Chefs do not agree over how much a knob of butter is, but it is usually less than five tablespoons, or less than a large dollop.
How Much is a Knob of Butter?
Knobs of butter are often called for to place on meat near the end of cooking or to help cook food in a pan. Measurements like knob, dollop, pat and schmear leave much to the individual cook’s discretion. There is no universally accepted amount for a knob, but it is often between half a tablespoon and four tablespoons.
Archaic Terms in Cooking
Having precise measurements in recipes is a relatively new thing.
Until then, anybody reading a recipe was familiar with how much of an ingredient was going to affect a dish, and if it would taste good to that particular reader and cook.
Recipes were not written for the common non-cooking folk.
The first popular cookbook to use precise measurements was The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer from 1896.
Due to the demand for more precise measurements that this and subsequent books recommended, companies started making measuring cups and spoons.
The Seattle Times explains that it was the cooking utensil companies that came up with some measurements to equal the arbitrary terms in recipes.
Such recipes used terms like:
- Pinch: This is about 1/16th of a teaspoon, which is not the same as what you can pinch between your finger and thumb.
- Dash: This is twice the amount of a pinch, or 1/8th teaspoon.
- Hint: A very tiny amount, even less than a pinch.
- Sprinkle: More than a hint, usually just enough to cover a food item, but the amount depends on what is being sprinkled. If it’s one cookie, you’ll only need a pinch. If it’s a stew, you may need at least a teaspoon.
- Schmear: however much cream cheese you want on your bagel.
- Cup: Although standardized today, it only meant whatever drinking utensil you preferred, from a teacup to a mug.
- Gill: About half a cup by today’s meaning of the measurement cup.
- Dollop: Larger than a knob, but smaller than a cup, usually measured out by a spoon for semi-soft foods like yogurt, sour cream or butter.
- Knob: It basically means a small, round blob of whatever. The size depended on the cook’s taste and the size of the dish. Today, it’s anywhere from half a teaspoon to four teaspoons.
Recipes then, and now, will also further confuse the modern reader and new cook by adding instructions like a “small knob” or “large knob.”
Uses for a Knob of Butter
Fortunately, knobs of butter are often called for in parts of a recipe where it doesn’t really matter if you are a couple of tablespoons off.
These are usually not baking recipes unless you are making pan cookies because precise measurements are a must for the beginner.
One instance is using butter instead of cooking oil in order to sauté stuff. In this case, you want to use enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan.
Just how much it is depends on the pan.
You also have to keep an eye on what you’re cooking.
If it starts to burn, you may have to add more butter.
Another popular use is to sear meat, especially steak. Unless your recipe specifically calls for butter in tablespoons or grams, the amount to use is up to you.
The trick is to add the butter right before the meat is done, otherwise, it burns. You can also sear vegetables this way.
Bon Appetit recommends using a small pan, so you cram as much of the food as you can into it, which also helps prevent the butter from burning.
Gordon Ramsay’s favorite breakfast is scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and tomatoes on toast.
He adds what he calls a knob of butter, but what looks to be at least 15 grams or a little over a tablespoon, in with the eggs before cooking them.
He claims this gives the eggs a “velvety finish”. Keep in mind that the UK scrambled eggs are much more liquid than North Americans prefer.
Cutting Knobs of Butter
Butter is usually sold in stick form, with tablespoon measurements on the label. You do have to make sure the label isn’t crooked or obviously too far forward or back.
Fortunately, these labeling mistakes are uncommon. You can always line up a stick of butter that’s correctly labeled with one that isn’t to figure out how large a tablespoon is.
If you’ve never used knobs of butter before, just use a tablespoon. If a recipe calls for a small knob, use half a tablespoon.
See if this is enough to cover your pan or sear your meat. If this does not seem large enough, add another tablespoon.
It’s up to you to choose between salted and unsalted butter, but if you have to watch your salt intake, stick with unsalted butter.
For sweet treats made with knobs of butter, like pan cookies (not to be confused with pancakes), use unsalted butter so the salt does not interfere with the taste of the other ingredients.
Frequently Asked Questions for How Much is a Knob of Butter
Can I Use a Knob of Margarine Instead of a Knob of Butter?
Margarine can often be used as a substitute for butter. However, stick margarine tends to work better in baking recipes than margarine from a tub. Stick margarine is more of the consistency of butter than tub margarine, which is usually softer.
How Much is a Dollop of Butter?
Dollop just means a “shapeless mass of something.” In cooking, it means only a small shapeless mass of something, like a heaped tablespoon. The word “dollop” may derive from a similar word in Norwegian, “dolp”, which means lump.
What is the Difference Between a Pat of Butter and a Knob of Butter?
In general, a pat of butter is generally considered to be smaller than a knob. Unfortunately, there is no standard measurement for a pat or a knob, since it depends on the restaurant or butter company that makes butter pats. The individual butter portion you get at a restaurant is the general size, which is about half a teaspoon.
The term knob originated long before standardized measuring cooking tools were made. There is no generally accepted amount for a knob of butter, but it can be around one or two tablespoons.
A small knob can be half a tablespoon, while a large knob can be as much as four tablespoons.
Knobs are often called for in parts of recipes that do not require precise measurements, such as adding butter to a pan before sauteing.