Butter is such a staple that I always assume I have a stick in my fridge. But it's not uncommon for my assumptions to be entirely wrong, and on more than one occasion I've realized that I either don't have enough butter or have entirely run out of the stuff when I am halfway through a recipe.
If you've found yourself in dire need for a butter substitute, the first step is to stop panicking, because chances are good that you already have a few good butter substitutes in your pantry. We're not just talking about the most obvious butter substitutes though. Because of course you could substitute butter with margarine or some other dairy-free butter. But if you've run out of regular, dairy-full butter, chances are good you don't have vegan butter readily available either. (But hey, if you do, you really don't have a problem! Simple use as much vegan butter or margarine as you would butter.)
So what are some other easy substitutes for butter that'll do in a pinch? It really depends on how you're using the butter. If you're frying something—say, an egg—or sautéing vegetables, you can easily substitute olive oil for butter. So instead of a pat of butter in the hot pan, add a drizzle of olive oil.
Olive oil isn't great for baking though, because of its distinctive, and sometimes quite strong, taste. (There are plenty of recipes that make use of olive oil in baking if you want to give it a shot, though.) When you're making a batter, you generally want a more neutral fat to replace the butter as not to affect the flavor. This is why canola oil, a super neutral oil, works so well as a butter substitute. This replacement is especially handy if your recipe calls for melted butter, since canola oil is liquid at room temperature. And the swap is simple: Substitute one cup of melted butter for one cup of canola oil.
Coconut oil is another great butter substitute, especially because, like butter, it's solid when cool. And like canola oil, the substitution is one-to-one, coconut oil to butter. So if the recipe calls for a cup of solid butter, use a cup of coconut oil at room temperature.
If you have a little butter on hand, but not quite enough to finish the whole recipe, consider adding in some Greek yogurt. PopSugar recommends replacing half the amount of butter with a quarter the amount of full-fat plain Greek yogurt. "For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of butter, use half a cup of butter and one quarter cup of yogurt," they explain.
And if you want to go fully dairy-free or cut down on fat with your butter substitute, you absolutely can. Many vegan bakers swear by swapping in applesauce for butter. Use half the amount of applesauce as you would butter; that means using a half-cup of applesauce in lieu of a cup of butter.
The bad news is that it's much harder to find a good substitute for butter if you're just looking to spread it or a slice of toast. Sure, you could use coconut oil or olive oil or even cream cheese, but it's hard to replace the simple pleasure of spreading creamy, delicious butter on some good bread. So if that's your plan, you should just go to the store and get some more butter.