How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last? Do You Refrigerate It?

In this article, we talk all about storage, shelf life, and spoilage of BBQ sauce. Read on to learn how long yours (store-bought or homemade) will stay good for and if you should refrigerate it.

Found an old BBQ sauce that’s well past the printed date, and not sure what to do? Does BBQ sauce go bad?

Or maybe you have a half-open bottle in storage for a couple of weeks already, and you’re wondering if it’s still safe to eat.

Sounds familiar?

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

BBQ sauce in hand

Does BBQ Sauce Go Bad?

BBQ sauce contains lots of well-known natural preservatives such as vinegar, sugar, and lemon juice, which make it quite resistant to spoilage. So even after you open the bottle, it can still keep quality for a couple of months if you refrigerate it.

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

But that doesn’t mean that BBQ sauce cannot go bad. It can.

If it sits open for, say, more than a year, and it’s exposed to mold or other microbes along the way, it might spoil.

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

Now, let’s talk about how spoilage might look like for bbq sauce.

Dinner with BBQ chicken, rice, and grated carrots
Dinner with BBQ chicken, rice, and grated carrots

Signs of Spoilage

Signs of spoiled BBQ sauce include:

  • Too long storage time. If yours is open months past what the brand recommends (usually around four months), it’s better to err on the side of caution and discard it.
  • Bacterial growth. If there’s any fuzzy action going on the surface, the neck of the bottle, or the cap, the sauce is done for.
  • Off smell. If the sauce gives off a moldy, fermented, or funny smell instead of the usual sweet one, you know it’s no good.
  • Drastic texture change. Some separation is normal in BBQ sauce, especially if it’s an all-natural one, but if there’s a layer of liquid on top and the bottom is super dense, it’s probably better to throw it out. It’s not necessarily spoiled, but you never know.
  • Off taste. If your sauce doesn’t show any of the above signs, the last thing to do is to give it a taste. If the flavor is good enough, congratulations, your BBQ sauce is fine.

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

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

Let’s talk about why that’s the case.

Prepping chicken with barbecue sauce
Prepping chicken with barbecue sauce

BBQ Sauce Darkening

If your BBQ sauce contains chili peppers, it might darken or even turn brown if you store it open for a prolonged period. That’s because darkening due to oxidation is normal for chili peppers and doesn’t make them unsafe to eat.

The worst consequence of the changed color might be a slight alteration in taste, but that’s about it. That dark red BBQ sauce is still okay to use.

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

Now, if your BBQ sauce ingredients list doesn’t contain chili peppers or one of their varieties (e.g., tabasco peppers), be cautious 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 better to err on the side of caution and discard the bottle.

Barbecue shredded chicken
Barbecue shredded chicken

How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last?

 PantryFridge
BBQ Sauce (unopened)Best by + 6 months 
BBQ Sauce (opened) 1 – 4 weeks4 months
Homemade BBQ Sauce 7 – 14 days
Please note that the periods above are for best quality only. In most cases, the sauce will last longer, but its quality might not be the best.

BBQ sauce comes with a best-by date of 1 to 2 years and easily lasts for a couple of months past the printed date. Once you open the bottle, the condiment usually keeps for up to 4 months if you refrigerate it.

The 4 months of opening isn’t a hard rule by any means, but many BBQ sauce brands go with it.

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

Tip

Read labels. The general rules I outlined work in most cases, but some store-bought BBQ sauces available might recommend much shorter storage times than the mentioned four months.

A bottle of BBQ sauce
A bottle of BBQ sauce

After Opening

Once you open your BBQ sauce bottle, you typically have four months to finish the leftovers. As I mentioned above, some brands go with a much shorter period, while others have a vastly longer one.

Of course, the storage period given by the brand is only an educated guess on how long, at the very least, the sauce should keep quality. That means that, in most cases, you’re going to be okay if your bbq sauce sits in the fridge for a bit longer than the producer suggests.

How long, you ask?

That depends on how long is the recommended storage period. If it’s the regular 4 months, an extra 2 to 3 weeks shouldn’t be a big deal. But if it’s only a week or so, I wouldn’t store it for longer than, say, 10 to 14 days.

“Expiration” Date

The date on the BBQ sauce bottle is a best-by date, which is about the quality of the food, not safety. In other words, BBQ sauce doesn’t “expire” once it passes that date.

And as I mentioned earlier, as long as the condiment is unopened, it usually can last months past the printed date. Sure, it might separate a bit more in that time, but that’s about it.

Of course, when you open a BBQ sauce bottle that’s a couple of months past its date, you cannot expect it to keep quality for as long as a fresh bottle does. You should use it within 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.

BBQ chicken: closeup
BBQ chicken: closeup

Homemade BBQ Sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce lasts between 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the recipe, and you need to refrigerate it at all times.

If you’re following a recipe you found online, go with what the author suggests. In most cases, it’s going to be a week of storage, maybe up to 2 weeks.

If it’s a recipe you got from someone else, err on the side of caution and go with up to 7 days of storage.

(A bit of vinegar, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce, without pasteurization, won’t make your homemade bbq sauce last as long as the store-bought variety.)

If that relatively short period isn’t long enough for your needs, or you want to make a big batch and save some for later, you can freeze BBQ sauce.

Portion it so that each portion is enough for a single dish, or use an ice cube tray, whatever makes more sense for you.

Does BBQ Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated?

You should store BBQ sauce in the fridge after opening the bottle. The sauce, in most cases, stays safe to use if you leave it at room temperature, but doing so reduces the time it keeps quality to only a couple of weeks. Therefore, refrigeration is the better choice.

When it comes to storage temperature, BBQ sauce is somewhere in the middle between typical salsa (which requires refrigeration) and hot sauce (which usually doesn’t). You can leave it on the counter, but it’s far better to put it in the fridge.

That said, if you know that you’re going to finish the bottle you just opened within a week, feel free to store it in the pantry or kitchen cupboard.

(Unless, of course, the label says you must refrigerate it after opening.)

Having that out of the way, let’s talk about other storage practices for BBQ sauce.

Warning

Homemade BBQ sauce should always sit in the fridge.

Leftover barbecue chicken ready for storage
Leftover barbecue chicken ready for storage

BBQ Sauce Storage Dos and Dont’s

Once you first open the bottle, make sure you seal it tightly after every use. And if you don’t refrigerate it, place it somewhere away from direct sunlight.

Next, clean the cap and the top of the bottle every now and then. After you pour the sauce multiple times, it tends to form a crusty (and pretty gross) layer on the cap and near the top. Whenever it gets to the “gross” stage, that’s a good time for a bit of cleanup.

To do that, grab a moist paper towel and remove the crust and everything else. Then pat it dry so that there’s no excess moisture that might lead to spoilage.

Storing the bottle upside down helps retain the quality for longer. It does that by preventing air from getting inside the bottle, which slows down the oxidation process.

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

Last, if you need some BBQ sauce for people to dip their crackers and chips in, pour a bit into a dedicated bowl, and discard the leftovers. You can always pour some more if need be, but never transfer the leftovers back into the bottle. That’s a sure way to end up with spoiled BBQ sauce.