Shortening Substitute

Shortening Substitute. Photo © Erin Huffstetler
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Have a recipe that calls for shortening but you don't have any, or would prefer to avoid it? There are simple substitutes that are commonly used, depending on which qualities of shortening are desired.

Why do recipes call for shortening rather than other oils or fats? Shortening is used in baking for short doughs - ones where they don't want a stretchy dough to form as gluten is produced. If you want a flaky pie crust, for example, you don't want the gluten forming in the dough or it won't have the right texture. The fat in shortening coats the flour and keeps water from activating the compounds that form gluten.

Before vegetable shortening was invented, lard was commonly used for this purpose in baking. Both are almost entirely fat, without water that would activate gluten formation. Another advantage for flaky, tender pie crust and baked goods is that as solid fats, shortening and lard don't mix as completely with the dry ingredients as oils do. This leaves streaks of solids in the dough. When they melt during baking, they produce that light and flaky result.

Lard is a perfectly acceptable substitute for shortening in most recipes. It got a bad rap, in part by the marketing efforts of the shortening producers. But lard is an animal product and if you want to eliminate animal fats from your diet, you may have switched to vegetable shortening. Meanwhile, shortening got its own bad reputation as it was high in trans-fatty acids. Manufacturers such as Crisco and Cookeen reformulated their products to reduce trans fats. 

Both lard and shortening are used in deep-frying. They have a high smoke point than butter and spatter less because they contain less water. 

Some recipes call for shortening just to grease a pan. In that case, you can substitute cooking spray or use oil, butter or lard to grease the pan.


  • Butter, margarine or lard


Lard is the best equivalent substitute for shortening. You can use slightly less lard than you would shortening, about two tablespoons less per cup. It will generally give you the same result for texture and deep frying.

Butter or margarine can be used instead, adding a couple extra tablespoons of them per cup of shortening as called for in a recipe. Butter has a lower melting point than shortening, and may change the texture of your recipe slightly – making it more or less crisp, less flaky or less fluffy.

It shouldn't be used for deep-frying, but works fine for greasing a pan.

Another substitution is cooking oil for frying,  you can substitute one to one for shortening.