Does butter go bad? Yes! Though many people leave butter out on the counter to keep it at that nice, spreadable consistency, it’s a much better idea to keep your butter in the refrigerator, protected from heat and light. If your butter tastes stale, bitter, or has a strong smell, it’s probably rancid. Rancidity is the result of the fat oxidizing. This process is accelerated by exposure to the elements (think: the sunlight hitting your kitchen counter, your butter-loving friends and family, and contact with certain metals—for example, a butter knife). Room temperature is the idea temperature for butter that you’re keeping out of the refrigerator, but American homes are generally warmer than their European counterparts so in the USA it’s much more common to consider butter a product that needs immediate refrigeration.
Butter usually can be kept out for several days without going rancid (salted butter will keep longer because salt acts as a preservative). Exactly how long butter will stay fresh at room temperature depends on how much heat and light it gets and whether it’s wrapped. Ceramic butter crocks or “bells” extend butter’s life span because they keep it cool and protected. Chowhounds have discussed the “Refrigerate, or not to refrigerate?” dilemma actively over the years:
That said, the California Milk Advisory Board recommends keeping butter wrapped and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator for optimal freshness and flavor, and to keep it from picking up unwanted odors. Butter producer Land O’Lakes advises against storing butter in the butter keeper on the fridge door, as the temperature there may be higher than elsewhere in your refrigerator.
In a typical fridge, butter will keep for as long as four months. It can also be frozen for up to a year (longer freezing may impair flavor and texture).
Room temperature, refrigerated, and frozen butter all should be stored tightly wrapped or in a covered dish, advises Emily Luchetti, executive pastry chef at San Francisco’s Farallon restaurant. “Butter can pick up so many flavors, regardless of whether it’s in the fridge or not,” Luchetti says. “Even if you leave it out, it’s best to cover it with aluminum foil.”
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not to refrigerate your butter, but you can’t make the wrong choice with any of our recipes for flavored butters that will spice up any meal, below.
This compound butter made with two teaspoons of red wine is amazing with red meat, and you can add in any fresh herbs that you have on hand. Get our Chianti Butter recipe.
2. Chive Butter
This fresh chive butter with sea salt is just as good as a sandwich spread to change up your lunchtime routine as it is served on a hot biscuit. Get our Chive Butter recipe.
This flavor-packed butter combination packs a kick and is absolutely amazing when spread on seasoned, grilled corn-on-the-cob or melted on a sizzling steak. Get our Chile-Lime-Tequila Compound Butter recipe.
If you’re looking for something special to spice up grilled fish, this orange parsley butter is a fresh and easy take to add some flavor and a hint of color. Get our Orange Parsley Compound Butter recipe.
This decadent combination really takes grilled vegetables to the next level and is unstoppable as an indulgent way to top a burger. Get our Blue Cheese and Chive Butter recipe.
7. Honey Butter
Hardly a recipe, this honey and butter combination is a sweet spread for any baked good. Get our Honey Butter recipe.
Original post by Tara Shioya in 2007; updated by Caitlyn O'Shaughnessy in 2016.
Head image: EnkiVillage