Does BBQ Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated?

Have you fished a bottle of BBQ sauce out of the fridge that is past its expiration date and you wonder if it’s still good to eat? Or do you have an unopened bottle in the pantry and wonder if it is okay?
If yes, you have come to the right place. Like most food, BBQ sauce does go bad after a certain point in time. It can differ based on how it is stored. BBQ sauce also has a lot of ingredients that make it last longer than other sauces, so it can be a little confusing.
Don’t worry, we’ll tell you exactly how long your BBQ sauce will last in different conditions and how to store it the right way.

Can BBQ Sauce Spoil?

There is a common misconception that BBQ sauce doesn’t spoil because it has a lot of ingredients like lemon juice, sugar and vinegar, which are great preservatives. While they increase the shelf-life of BBQ sauce, they don’t make it last indefinitely.
Tabasco sauce and sriracha sauce also have incredibly long shelf lives for the same reason.
If you leave the BBQ sauce open for a long time or if it is contaminated with mold or harmful microbes, it will definitely spoil. Even if it is safe to eat, the quality of the sauce will reduce drastically.

How to Tell If Your BBQ Sauce Has Gone Bad?

Let’s take a look at how to identify spoiled BBQ sauce. If you see any of the following signs, the BBQ sauce is no longer safe to consume:

  • Has Been Open for Too Long: If your bottle of BBQ sauce has been open for a lot longer than the stipulated time mentioned on the label, you should probably dispose of it. It might still be okay to eat but it is best not to take unnecessary risks.
  • Bacteria: Bacteria are the most common threat to food items. Thankfully, it is easy to identify bacterial growth. It usually presents as a fuzzy layer on the surface of the food. If you see anything like that on the bottle or in the sauce itself, it is not safe to eat anymore.
  • Bad Smell: BBQ sauce usually smells a little sweet. If the sauce has a fermented or strange smell, you should go ahead and get rid of it.
  • Strange Texture: It is common for sauces to separate a little, especially if you made the sauce at home. But if there is a drastic separation, like the bottom layer is thick and dense while the top layer is runny, it is better to throw it away.
  • Bad Taste: This is the last step. If your BBQ sauce doesn’t show any of the above signs, but you are still apprehensive about it, you should give it a taste test. If there’s anything wrong with the sauce, the taste will give it away.

What Does It Mean When BBQ Sauce Darkens?

Sometimes BBQ sauce can darken in color when it spoils, but it is not included in the list of signs above because it is very common for BBQ sauce to darken to a deeper red or brown if it was opened a long time ago.
This occurs as a result of the chili peppers in the sauce changing color due to oxidation. Although the flavor may somewhat alter, it is still safe to consume.
To see if peppers are included among the ingredients, look at the label. If the sauce darkens despite not containing any peppers at all, it may have spoiled.
Most times the label will also mention that a darkened color is normal after extended storage time. If the ingredient list doesn’t include peppers and there’s no mention of darkening on the label, you should get rid of the sauce to stay on the safe side.

Shelf-Life of BBQ Sauce

Most BBQ sauces have a best-by date 1 or 2 years away from the date of packaging. They usually stay good for about 2 months after the mentioned best-by date.
Opened bottles of BBQ sauce stay good for about 4 months in the fridge. This isn’t necessarily a rule of thumb and there can be exceptions but most brands use it as a standard rule.
There are many different recipes and brands, so don’t be surprised if you find that some are good for up to a year after opening while others only last a few months. Make sure to check the label for an exact time period.
The standard rule is right in most cases, but you should always read the label of the BBQ sauce because it might have different storage requirements or a much shorter shelf-life.

Related: How to Thicken BBQ Sauce (7 Easy Ways)

Opened BBQ Sauce

As we’ve mentioned, opened bottles or jars of BBQ sauce stay good for about 4 months. There are always outliers, so check the label to see what time period is stipulated by the producer.
The stipulated time period isn’t set in stone. It isn’t an exact figure and the BBQ sauce is usually good for a little while after the period of time mentioned on the label ends. Most times it can sit in the refrigerator for longer and still be safe to consume.
For example, if the label says the sauce is good for 5 months, 2 or 3 more weeks shouldn’t hurt. But if the label says the sauce is good for only 2 weeks after opening, you shouldn’t keep it longer than 20-22 days.

When Does BBQ Sauce Expire?

The date on the label of BBQ sauce is actually not the expiry date. It is the best-by date, so it only pertains to the quality or taste of the sauce and not food safety. BBQ sauce isn’t considered an “expired” product once it passes the best-by date.
Unopened bottles of BBQ sauce can last a lot longer than the best-by date on the label. There might be a little darkening or separation, but it is still safe to consume.
If you are opening a bottle of BBQ sauce after its best-by date, don’t expect it to be of the same quality as a fresh bottle. It also won’t last as long after being opened, so it is best you use it up as soon as possible.
While using BBQ sauce that’s past its date, always check for the signs of spoilage listed above. If you are doubtful, just throw it away and get a new bottle.

BBQ Sauce Made at Home

BBQ sauce made at home tastes great, but it doesn’t have the same longevity as store-bought ones. It doesn’t have as many preservatives, so you need to always keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a couple of weeks at most.
The recipe makes a difference in how long the sauce can last. If you are following an online recipe, always follow the storage period specified by the author of the recipe. 1 or 2 weeks is the most common storage period for BBQ sauces made at home.
If you just remember the recipe and don’t have any way of knowing the storage period for that particular recipe, stay on the safe side and use it within a week.
Ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice are preservatives, but they are no competition for the preservatives used in store-bought varieties. 2 weeks is the most you can expect from homemade sauces.
If you want to keep BBQ sauce for a longer period of time, don’t look for a new recipe or go looking for better preservatives. Just make the sauce using your usual recipe and freeze it.
It will last for much longer. Store it in smaller portions, so it is convenient to thaw and use; you shouldn’t thaw the entire batch just to use a small portion. You can also store it in an ice tray.

Do You Need to Keep BBQ Sauce in the Fridge?

Whether it is store-bought or homemade, BBQ sauce should always be stored in the fridge. It can be stored at room temperature, but the quality will reduce drastically.
If you are sure that you will use up the entire bottle within a week or so and it is a store-bought BBQ sauce, you can leave it out on the kitchen counter. However, if the label specifies that the sauce should always be kept in the fridge, it is best to follow the instructions.

Tips for Storing BBQ Sauce

Here are a few tips for storing BBQ sauce the right way:

  • Always close the lid as tightly as possible and keep it away from sources of heat.
  • After a few uses, a crusty layer of the sauce gets stuck to the mouth or neck of the bottle. Clean it out every now and then. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria. Just use a wet paper towel to clean it and make sure to dry it afterward.
  • Air can’t get inside the bottle if you keep it upside down. Hence it doesn’t get oxidized, so the sauce won’t darken quickly and maintain quality for a long time.
  • Don’t try to put the leftover sauce into the jar or bottle again. It will contaminate the entire batch and reduce its shelf-life.

Also, check: 5 Mop Sauce Recipes to Give Your BBQ the Edge

The Bottom Line

BBQ sauce is a very common condiment. Most homes have it at hand, which is why it is important to know how to store it and how long it lasts.
Thanks to its ingredients, it has a long shelf-life and can stay good for months in the refrigerator. Some versions have shorter shelf lives, so always check the label to be sure.

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