Does butter go bad? Yes! Does butter need to be refrigerated? Ideally. So how long can you leave butter out before it goes rancid? That depends. Read on for everything you need to know about storing butter. (And know that Chowhounds have discussed the “Refrigerate, or not to refrigerate?” dilemma actively over the years.)
Does Butter Need to Be Kept in the Fridge?
A stick of butter that’s bound to be melted can start off ice cold straight from the fridge, but if you need softened butter for slathering on toast, creaming with sugar, or whipping into a fluffy buttercream frosting, you may prefer to leave it out on the counter indefinitely to keep it at that nice, spreadable consistency.
However, it’s a much better idea to keep your butter in the refrigerator, protected from heat and light.
In a typical fridge, butter will keep for as long as four months.
Stainless Steel Butter Knife, $9 on Amazon
The holes on this butter knife make thin ribbons out of cold butter for even spreading on toast.
How Long Can You Leave Butter Out of the Fridge?
Butter usually can be kept out for several days without going rancid (salted butter will keep longer than unsalted butter because the 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.
Room temperature is the ideal temperature for butter you’re keeping out of the refrigerator, but American homes are generally warmer than their European counterparts, so in the U.S. it’s much more common to consider butter a product that needs immediate refrigeration.
Ceramic butter crocks, or “bells,” extend butter’s life span because they keep it cool and protected.
Butter Bell Ceramic Butter Crock, $24.95 on Amazon
Store butter at room temperature with this ceramic crock; you add water to form an air-tight seal.
If you have ghee, you can keep it in an air-tight container for up to three months at room temperature, or a full year in the fridge. (Since the milk solids are strained out in the process of making ghee, it lasts much longer than butter at room temperature, but it will go bad eventually.)
How Do You Tell If Butter Is Bad?
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).
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Butter and Margarine?
Can You Freeze Butter?
Yes! Butter can be frozen for up to a year (longer freezing may impair flavor and texture), so if there’s a sale and you want to stock up, toss those extra sticks in the freezer—but see below for another important tip.
How to Store Butter
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.”
The California Milk Advisory Board recommends keeping butter wrapped as well (to keep it from picking up unwanted odors), and advises storing it in the coldest part of the refrigerator for optimal freshness and flavor. 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.
How to Use Butter (Besides the Obvious)
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 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.
Related Reading: Learn How to Love Blue Cheese
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.
Header image courtesy of Souders Studios / Photolibrary / Getty Images Plus