I'm an avid baker. The people who know me well know that I say that a lot, but it's true. Part of being an avid baker includes being really interested in the chemistry of baking. Understanding it helps me adapt recipes to my own preferences and make them the best they can be.
So, when I started making pies often, I realized that there is an obvious battle going on in the recipe world over one simple question: which fat should you use in your pie crust?
Some people swear by all-butter crusts, some people swear by all-shortening crusts, and some people go somewhere in between. Some even use lard, which you probably will only use if it's your grandmother's recipe passed down. Here's the difference between the four fats.
Butter is by far the most flavorful of the four fats, but needs to be properly handled to make a flaky crust because it has a higher melting point. However, this also means it melts nicely in your mouth and the milk fat in butter allows for it to brown more than the other fats.
So if you know how to handle butter in a piecrust well, it's probably the best choice.
Shortening is harder to over-mix in your pie crust so it is easier to get flaky layers in your crust, but it also has little flavor to add. Because of this, a lot of people will make a pie crust with half butter and half shortening. Be wary when using shortening though, some have trans fat which can be very bad for your body.
Lard is kind of gross. It's literally pig fat. But if you can get over that, it actually makes great pies. Like shortening, it's much harder to over-mix this and therefore makes a very flaky crust, but it doesn't have as much flavor as butter.
Oil is nice to use in a pie crust because it is extremely easy to use, since it's a liquid. However, for the same reason, it creates very little flakiness because there are no layers in your crust. Oil is not the best choice, but it's great for making vegan pies.
And the winner is...
In my opinion, butter is your best bet. It has the most flavor and can give your pie great, flaky layers if you know how to use it correctly.
#SpoonTip: Always use cold butter, water, and eggs (if the recipe calls for them) in your pie crust to get the flakiest layers.