How long does barbecue sauce last? Does it refrigerate?

In this article we will talk about the storage, expiration and deterioration of barbecue sauce. Read on to find out how long yours will keep (store-bought or homemade) and whether you should refrigerate it.

Have you found a barbecue sauce that is past its expiration date and don’t know what to do? Does the barbecue sauce go bad?

Or maybe you’ve had a half-open bottle sitting around for a couple of weeks, and you’re wondering if it’s still edible.

ring a bell?

If so, this article is for you. Let’s get right in.

barbecue sauce in hand

Does the barbecue sauce go bad?

Barbecue sauce contains many well-known natural preservatives, such as vinegar, sugar, and lemon juice, which make it quite resistant to spoilage. So even after opening the bottle, it can maintain its quality for a couple of months if you refrigerate it.

(Most hot sauces, like Tabasco and Sriracha, last even longer.)

But that doesn’t mean barbecue sauce can’t go bad. Yes you can.

And even if it doesn’t become unsafe for consumption, its quality will likely deteriorate to the point that it’s no longer good enough to use.

Now, let’s talk about how barbecue sauce could go bad.

dinner with rice with barbecue chicken and grated carrots 2

signs of deterioration

Signs of deterioration of barbecue sauce are

  • Storage time too long. If yours is open months later than the brand recommends (usually about four months), it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw it away.
  • Bacterial growth. If any type of diffuse action occurs on the surface, the neck of the bottle or the stopper, the sauce is finished.
  • Bad smell. If the sauce gives off a moldy, fermented, or funny smell instead of the usual sweetness, you know it’s not good.
  • Drastic change in texture. Some separation is normal for barbecue sauce, especially if it’s all-natural, but if there’s a layer of liquid on top and the bottom is super thick, it’s probably best to throw it away. It’s not necessarily broken, but you never know.
  • Unpleasant taste. If your sauce isn’t showing any of the above signs, the last thing you should do is taste it. If the flavor is good enough, congratulations, your barbecue sauce is fine.

Now, let’s say your barbecue sauce has turned dark red or even brown, and you’re not sure if you can keep using it or not.

I haven’t mentioned color change in the list above, and for good reason. In most cases, the sauce will darken if stored for a long time after opening, and that’s (usually) perfectly fine.

Let’s talk about why that is.

barbecue chicken preparation

Barbecue Sauce Darkening

If your barbecue sauce contains chillies, it can darken or even turn brown if you keep it open for a long time. This is because browning due to oxidation is normal for chili peppers and does not make them dangerous to eat.

The worst consequence of color change may be a slight alteration in flavor, but that’s about it. Dark red barbecue sauce is still good.

(I wrote about it in more detail in the hot sauce article, if you’re interested.)

Now, if the ingredients list for your barbecue sauce does not contain chiles or any of their varieties (for example, tabasco chiles), be careful if the sauce turns brown. And if the label doesn’t clearly say that browning is a normal side effect of prolonged storage, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and throw the bottle away.

shredded bbq chicken 7

How long does barbecue sauce last?

Pantry Fridge
BBQ Sauce (unopened) Preferred consumption + 6 months
BBQ Sauce 1 – 4 weeks 4 months
Homemade BBQ Sauce 7 – 14 days

Please note that the above periods are only for the best quality. In most cases, the sauce will last longer, but its quality may not be the best.

The barbecue sauce comes with a 1-2 year expiration date and easily lasts a couple of months beyond the printed date. Once the jar is opened, the seasoning usually keeps for up to 4 months if refrigerated.

The 4 months of opening is not a rigid rule by any means, but many brands of barbecue sauce stick to it.

Of course, there are outliers at both ends of the spectrum. So don’t be surprised if the label says yours will last up to a year after opening, or that you should finish it within a week.

Read the labels. The rules of thumb I’ve outlined work in most cases, but some store-bought barbecue sauces may recommend shelf life much shorter than the listed four months.
barbecue sauce bottle

after opening

Once the bottle of barbecue sauce is opened, you usually have four months to finish off the leftovers. As I said before, some brands recommend a much shorter period, while others go much longer.

Of course, the conservation period indicated by the brand is only a rough estimate of how long, at least, the sauce must maintain its quality. That means that, in most cases, nothing will happen to you if the barbecue sauce stays in the fridge a bit longer than the manufacturer suggests.

How long?

It depends on the recommended storage time. If it’s the usual 4 months, 2-3 more weeks shouldn’t be a big problem. But if it’s only a week or so, I wouldn’t store it for more than, say, 10 to 14 days.

Date of Expiry

The date on the bottle of barbecue sauce is an expiration date, which refers to the quality of the food, not its safety. In other words, barbecue sauce does not “expire” after that date.

And like I said before, as long as the seasoning is unopened, it can typically last for months after the printed date. Sure you can separate a little more in that time, but that’s about it.

Of course, when you open a bottle of barbecue sauce that’s a couple of months past its expiration date, you can’t expect it to maintain quality for as long as a fresh bottle. You should use it in a couple of weeks to get the most out of it.

Last but not least, always check your “expired” BBQ sauce for signs of spoilage before consuming it.

barbecue chicken closeup

homemade barbecue sauce

Homemade barbecue sauce lasts 1-2 weeks, depending on the recipe, and should always be refrigerated.

If you’re following a recipe you found online, follow what the author suggests. In most cases it will last a week in storage, maybe up to 2 weeks.

If it is a prescription that someone else has given you, err on the side of caution and keep it for up to 7 days.

(A little unpasteurized vinegar, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce won’t make your homemade barbecue sauce last as long as store-bought.)

If that relatively short amount of time isn’t enough for your needs, or you want to make a big batch and save some for later, you can freeze the barbecue sauce.

Portion it so that each serving is enough for a single dish, or use an ice tray, whichever makes the most sense for you.

Does the barbecue sauce need to be refrigerated?

You should store the barbecue sauce in the refrigerator after opening the bottle. The sauce, in most cases, is still safe to use if you leave it out at room temperature, but doing so reduces the time it retains its quality to just a couple of weeks. Therefore, refrigeration is the best option.

In terms of holding temperature, barbecue sauce falls somewhere between salsa típica (which requires refrigeration) and hot sauce (which usually doesn’t). You can leave it on the counter, but it’s much better to put it in the fridge.

That said, if you know you’re going to finish the bottle you just opened in a week, feel free to keep it in your pantry or kitchen cabinet.

(Unless, of course, the label says to refrigerate after opening.)

With that cleared up, let’s talk about other barbecue sauce storage practices.

Homemade barbecue sauce should always be kept in the refrigerator.
barbecue chicken leftovers ready to save

The Do’s and Don’ts of Storing BBQ Sauce

Once you open the bottle for the first time, be sure to close it tightly after each use. And if you don’t refrigerate it, put it somewhere out of direct sunlight.

Afterwards, clean the cap and the top of the bottle from time to time. After pouring the sauce a few times, a crusty (and pretty gross) coating tends to form on the stopper and near the top. When you get to the “gross” phase, it’s a good time to clean up a bit.

To do this, take a damp paper towel and remove the scab and everything else. Then pat it dry so that there is no excess moisture that can spoil it.

Storing the bottle upside down helps preserve quality for longer. It does this by preventing air from entering the bottle, which slows down the oxidation process.

(That only works if your bottle can stand on its stopper, of course.)

Lastly, if you need barbecue sauce to dip people into their crackers and chips, pour some into a dedicated bowl and discard any leftovers. You can always add a little more if necessary, but never add what’s left in the bottle again. It’s a surefire way to end up with spoiled barbecue sauce.

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