bbq sauce shelf life

BBQ Sauce Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Summer is around the corner. With a round of barbecue parties scheduled, it’s time to stock up BBQ sauces!

Apparently, you still have some unopened jars of BBQ sauce in the pantry. Too bad, some of them are past the “best by” date. The big question pops up: Does BBQ sauce go bad?

Or, you’re always curious about new barbecue sauce. Now, you end up with a few opened bottles of BBQ sauce. Fearing of the sauce going off, you’re wondering: How long can BBQ sauce be kept in the refrigerator?

Don’t worry. If one of these situations fits you, keep reading. In this article, we will share the nitty-gritty of BBQ sauce’s shelf life, storage conditions, and signs of BBQ sauce going bad. Sounds interesting? Read on!

How To Store BBQ Sauce

Barbecue sauce comes in a bunch of different varieties. Most of them are vinegar-based, added with tomato paste, sugar, spices, and some other ingredients.

Store-bought BBQ sauce is shelf-stable. The storage guidelines are similar, no matter if it’s a Louisiana style, Kansas City BBQ, Texas, Southern, or those ones infused with alcohol, like honey-bourbon or BBQ rum sauce.

Unopened BBQ sauce can be safely kept at room temperature. Pick a cool, dry area, out of heat or lights. Your pantry or kitchen cupboard is an ideal place. It’s pretty much the same as storing other sauces and condiments, such as mustard or mayonnaise.

If you decide to whip up your own recipes, homemade barbecue sauce should always be kept refrigerated. However, refrigeration is unnecessary for home-canned sauces.

If it’s a cooked sauce, wait until it cools down before transferring into the refrigerator. Keep the sauce in a sealed airtight container. 

Does BBQ sauce need to be refrigerated after opening?

After opening, you have two options for storage: inside or outside the fridge. The critical consideration is how frequently or how long it takes for you to finish off the bottle.

Similar to other sauces, refrigeration retains the flavor and freshness better for a much more extended period.

If you’re planning another barbecue party in a couple of days, or you’re sure the bottle is empty within a week or two, keeping outside the fridge is an option.

However, you should still check the storage instructions on the label. Kraft, for example, suggests putting the sauce back into the refrigerator after 48 hours.

Either way, it’s crucial to always tightly seal the bottle or jar when not in use. This simple, yet negligible habit is effective to keep contaminants at bay.

When it comes to food storage, practicing good hygiene is as vital as choosing the right place. Hence, only use a clean spoon or cutlery when scooping out the sauce. Never pour back the remaining sauce. Once it got out of the bottle, there’s no turning back.

It is not uncommon to see a tiny amount of sauce left on the cap. Clean it when you see it; otherwise, it may attract bacteria and other bugs. 

How Do You Tell If BBQ Sauce Go Bad?

Suppose you have both unopened and opened BBQ sauce. You’d better know how to tell if your favorite sauce has gone off.

Let’s start inspecting the jar. Don’t use the sauce if the container looks damaged in any way, whether it is leaking, dented, rusted, etc. Nobody can guarantee if the sauce is still safe to eat when the container is broken.

The sauce quality slowly degrades over time. You’ll likely notice the differences after keeping the sauce for months in the fridge.

It usually begins with darkened color, as a result of oxidation. This is not necessarily a sign that barbecue sauce is spoiled. But oxidation may impart the flavor. 

Check if that sweet, pungent flavor of BBQ sauce is still there. The same goes for separating liquid, which is also a normal occurrence with old sauce.

At this point, as long as no other spoilage signs are spotted, it should be fine to use the sauce. But, think again if you want to serve it for a big crowd.

The longer you keep the sauce, the more chance it goes bad. Several key indicators to examine whether a food item is spoiled are the look, smell, and taste.

  • 1. Be alarmed if the texture has changed. The change depends on the sauce variety. Any drastic changes such as thickened or slimy texture are often a sign that sauce has gone off.
  • 2. If you spot black, greenish specks or molds, there’s no better option than throwing out any leftover.
  • 3. Give the sauce a sniff. If it smells off or too acidic, that’s an apparent sign of sauce going bad.

How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last?

You might think that homemade sauce will last for long. Afterall, it contains vinegar, salt, and sugar that are known as self-preserving ingredients.

Sadly, the average lifespan of homemade BBQ sauce is only one week. If you’re so in love with your BBQ sauce, canning is a great way to extend the shelf-life. Home-canned sauce can last for 9 to 12 months in the pantry. (*)

Commercially-produced BBQ sauce typically lasts for a significant length of time. However, as with other foods, barbecue sauce also degrades in quality and eventually goes bad.

You’ll see a “best by” or “best before” date stamped on the package. This date is a rough estimate from the producer to indicate when the sauce should retain its peak quality, subject to ideal storage conditions.

Again, this date is more of a quality indicator rather than safety. Beyond this date, the product may still stay edible, although the quality is not the best. You can expect to use unopened BBQ sauce within several months after its recommended date.

After opening, BBQ sauce stays fresh for around one month. Keep it refrigerated for long term use. In general, it is good for 2 to 6 months when properly chilled. 

This period varies depending on the ingredients and brands. For example, Stubbs and Sweet Baby Rays suggest using the sauce within 2 and 4 months, respectively.

Types of BBQ SaucePantryRefrigerator
BBQ sauce (unopened)Best by date + 3 to 6 months
BBQ sauce (opened)2 to 4 weeks2 to 6 months
Homemade BBQ sauce1 week
Homemade BBQ sauce (canned)9 to 12 months

The periods above are general estimates. There is no one-fits-all answer to how long BBQ sauce lasts. The actual lifespan depends on the ingredients, preparation method, and storage condition.

As always, the best advice is to respect the expiry date. If you have expired BBQ sauce, check for signs of spoilage before use.


Can you freeze BBQ sauce?

Store-bought BBQ sauce is shelf-stable and lasts for a considerable time. After opening, refrigeration is sufficient to keep the freshness for the next few months. Freezing doesn’t really make sense for the store-bought sauce.

On the contrary, the homemade sauce has a limited shelf life. Canning is a safe way to prolong its lifespan. If canning is too laborious, freezing is your next option. Frozen sauce can extend the shelf life from only a week to 3 to 6 months.

Does BBQ sauce go bad if not refrigerated?

According to the USDA’s FSIS and Cornell University via Food Keeper, commercially-prepared, shelf-stable barbecue sauce is safe to be kept at room temperature. However, refrigeration is vital to maintain the flavor and freshness for a longer period.

How long is BBQ (leftover) good in the fridge?

If you have a leftover barbecue, you can keep it refrigerated for 3 to 4 days. Place the leftovers in a shallow container and chill it within 1 to 2 hours. If you don’t plan to eat the meats within those days, freezing is your best option. The shelf life is extended for up to 2 to 3 months.

Final Thoughts

BBQ sauce is a favorite for meats, chicken, pizza, and more. Keeping a few in the pantry won’t hurt. Sadly, BBQ sauce loses its flavor and freshness over time and eventually goes bad.

Store-bought BBQ sauce is shelf-stable. As long as unopened, keeping it at room temperature works perfectly. After opening, it can be stored in the pantry for a short time. But refrigeration is vital to preserving its freshness.

Homemade BBQ sauce should be kept refrigerated. Canning or freezing is optional to extend its shelf life.

Key indicators of BBQ sauce going bad include off smell and taste, change in texture, and growth of molds.

Up Next: How Long Does Mayonnaise Last?

bbq sauce goes bad

*Photo by fahrwasser/depositphotos

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