An enamel butter warmer is the not-so-frivolous luxury I want for fall

From heating up coffee to warming up sauce, why dirty a big pot for a tiny job?

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published September 17, 2022 4:30PM (EDT)

Japanese Enamelware Butter Warmer (Courtesy of East Fork Pottery)
Japanese Enamelware Butter Warmer (Courtesy of East Fork Pottery)

When I moved out on my own, I spent the first few years living in a string of rented studio apartments with shoebox-sized galley kitchens. Cooking in places with minimal counter and storage space (and one particularly wonky oven) taught me a lot about the craft and provided me with some best practices I still regard as true: When cooking for a crowd, don't make a menu in which everything has to cook using the same appliance; vertical storage is a kitchen's best friend; and rolling bar carts are good for more than just booze.

One belief that I've slowly dropped, however, was my long-held conviction that cooking utensils should, largely, be completely utilitarian.

Perhaps it was growing up hearing Alton Brown warn against pesky "unitaskers" or the real-world realization that my kitchen was not set up to house both a bread machine and pasta maker, but I eventually built a roster of essential cookware.

There's my cherry-red Dutch oven — a beloved birthday gift from my mom — which is pretty enough to live permanently on my stovetop. There's also my dusty rose-colored Always Pan, which I eyed on Instagram for months before finally clicking "order." It quickly became my most-used pan.

When my boyfriend and I moved in together and had to consolidate our respective kitchens, he brought the good stuff: some stunning nesting mixing bowls, a black Kitchen-Aid mixer, an immersion blender and the only whisk I've ever enjoyed using. It was like the capsule wardrobe equivalent of cookware — practical, timeless, even elegant, in a way. But every outfit needs a good frivolous accessory or two, and if I had to choose one for my kitchen, it would have to be a butter warmer.

I regard butter, and all dairy, really, with an almost scholarly enthusiasm.

Some important backstory: I regard butter, and all dairy, really, with an almost scholarly enthusiasm. It's what inspired me to get my first cheese mongering certification (I'm now studying for my second!) and the reason why I've polled experts for their own tips on how to buy better butter and the best way to store it. For that reason, I tend to get served up recommended advertisements that pertain to my searches, such as a pair of earrings that look like dangling hunks of roquefort and so many butter dishes.

A few weeks back, I saw an online ad for a butter warmer, a tiny enamel pot that would be perfect for melting down a few knobs of butter.

Initially, I waved off such a thing as a frivolous waste of counter space, much in the way some rolled their eyes at Alice Waters' hand-forged $250 egg spoon — which she first showcased to the world in a 2009 episode of "60 Minutes" — dismissing it as more than a little bit twee. As Kim Severson wrote for the New York Times almost a decade later, some "viewed cooking an egg over a fire as the embodiment of food elitism and all that is annoying about the Slow Food movement."

However, Waters, who is known in some circles as the "Godmother of the Slow Food Movement" itself, had a different take.

"I liked that feeling of watching it and holding it," Waters told the Times. "It's not like cooking it in a pan. You just feel like you're really in charge of it. It's so elemental."

And I had a feeling that I would like the feeling of warming butter — for baked potatoes, to spread on toast, to drizzle over seafood — in one of these tiny pots. So, I reached out to Taylor Renn, the retail buyer for East Fork Pottery, which carried the exact model I wanted. (It turns out I wasn't the only one, as it had recently sold out by the time we spoke. The company's Kaico Enamelware Milk Pan is a tremendous dupe, though.)

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"The Japanese Enamelware Butterwarmer hails from Tokyo, from a company called Noda Horo that has been making professional kitchen goods since 1934," Renn said. "With everything we curate at East Fork, we want to ensure it has a use, a distinctive purpose in your home."

She continued, "This lil' pot is endlessly useful, minimal in design and made from quality enameled steel. There is nothing more annoying than having to lug out your medium-sized saucepan for a tiny cooking job, so this piece appeals to cooks who crave efficiency in the kitchen."

Despite its name, the butter warmer is not at all a unitasker, according to Renn.

"[It] can also be used to warm maple syrup, make a single cup of hot cocoa, reheat pasta sauce or soup, heat up milk for your coffee, make a quick, warm vinaigrette or whisk together a yummy chocolate sauce for ice cream," she said.

If an egg spoon or a bespoke butter pot is the thing that brings joy to the daily slog, so be it. I'm sure we can all clear a little extra counter space for that. 

Epicurious' Emily Johnson noted the same in her 2021 article "4 Reasons You Should Have a Butter Warmer," in which she sang the praises of Dansk's version of the petite cookware. From reheating a cup of coffee to toasting spices, the butter warmer had a distinct place in Johnson's kitchen.

Beyond the pot's utility, it has some real aesthetic appeal, too. As Renn said, "Everyone loves tiny cute things."

Johnson concurred in her article.

"Like most of the decisions I make in life, the choice to buy the mini pot was not rooted in any sort of practicality," she wrote. "It was about the cuteness factor."

And perhaps that is motivation enough to expand one's cookware collection beyond the wholly utilitarian. The world around us is bleak as it is, and let's be honest, we all found out during the pandemic just how monotonous cooking can be. If an egg spoon or a bespoke butter pot is the thing that brings joy to the daily slog, so be it. I'm sure we can all clear a little extra counter space for that.

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By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Alice Waters Alton Brown Butter Butter Warmer Commentary Cookware Food Kitchen Tools Unitaskers