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Why Does BBQ Sauce Need To Be Refrigerated?

You’ve just cracked open that tempting bottle of BBQ sauce – but will it be ok to put it back in the cupboard, or will it need to go in the fridge?

Until opened, store-bought BBQ sauce will be fine in your kitchen cupboard until its use-by date. Once opened it needs to be refrigerated, and so does any homemade BBQ sauce you have left over. Once refrigerated, BBQ sauce will last 4-6 months in the fridge.

Let’s look at why we need to refrigerate BBQ sauce in more detail, and how long it lasts in the fridge – and also consider how you can tell when it’s gone bad. We’ll look at freezing BBQ sauce too.

Does BBQ Sauce Need To Be Refrigerated After Opening?

Most store-bought BBQ sauces contain plenty of natural preservatives like vinegar and sugar, and they may even have additional preservatives on top of these. This is why they tend to have long shelf lives and last for a long time after opening.

Until it’s opened, your bottle of BBQ sauce will stay in an ambient larder or kitchen cupboard until its use-by date. However, once opened, it needs to be refrigerated.

Why does it need to be kept in the fridge, if it contains so many preservatives? Firstly, the ambient temperature in the kitchen fluctuates, so your opened sauce could be exposed to warmer temperatures than you realise. The fridge is pretty stable, and you know it will be kept constantly cool.

Secondly, keeping the sauce cool extends its life. Producers like Sweet Baby Ray’s advise keeping it in the fridge to preserve its quality. If the manufacturer advises it, it’s definitely best to follow their instructions.

Does Homemade BBQ Sauce Need To Be Refrigerated?

If you’re one of those amazing people that make their own BBQ sauce, we salute you (and please, send us your recipes!). Homemade BBQ sauce definitely needs to go into the refrigerator. It doesn’t have as many preservatives as store-bought sauce, and hasn’t been made in the ultra-sterile environment of a food factory.

The best approach is to simply make the right amount of sauce, then you won’t need to store any. However, it’s not always easy to predict how much sauce everyone will eat, so in that case, you need a storage plan for your leftover sauce.

Refrigerate your sauce as soon as you can: you don’t want it sitting outside getting warm. Store it in a clean container with a good seal. A Tupperware tub is ideal for this. Store it away from raw meat and fish following the usual food storage guidelines.

How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last in The Fridge?

The jar or bottle of BBQ sauce should have a Use By date, as well as instructions about how long you can keep it unopened in the refrigerator. So, if you need to buy a big bottle to act as a kitchen staple (and just a spoon of BBQ sauce can really enhance many marinades and other sauces), read the label and go for the one with the longest life.

Looking at various labels, we reckon most sauces will keep between four and six months in the fridge, if kept at the right temperature and properly sealed. It’s also worth noting that a store-bought but artisan-style BBQ sauce may have a shorter life. It’s simply a case of reading the label.

A good tip is to keep the sauce bottle upside down, like ketchup (making sure it can’t tip or leak, of course). This prevents dried smears of sticking to the sides of the bottle or jar, which you have to spoon or squeeze past every time you get a fresh serving.

If you’ve refrigerated homemade sauce, it should last for up to a week, provided it’s stored in a clean and sealed container. However, its quality will decline pretty quickly, and the ingredients may start to separate.

BBQ sauce

How Do You Know When BBQ Sauce Has Gone Bad?

Trust us, you’ll know… It won’t smell very appetizing for a start, with a sour edge. Our noses are a great guide to if a food has gone off, as our senses of smell are designed to be repelled by potentially dangerous foodstuffs.

The clearest visual indicator that your sauce has gone off is mold. If you spot any growths on the top of the sauce or around the list, discard it (don’t think about simply scraping off the moldy bits, even if the sauce still smells OK).

Have the ingredients separated? If a bottle of BBQ sauce has been stored in the back of the fridge for too long, the ingredients may separate. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone off, but it certainly won’t be at its best and should be disposed of. Don’t forget, that in between a food being perfect and being inedible, there’s a “past its best” phase: it’s unlikely to hurt you, but it sure won’t taste as good as it should.

A major cause of BBQ sauce going off is cross-contamination. If a spoon has touched another food or condiment then is used to scoop out some sauce, it could introduce bacteria to the sauce. It may take a while for a vinegar-based sauce to go off on its own – however, a tiny crumb of bread or splash of mayo introduced into the jar will develop mold very quickly.

Avoid this by being careful with which serving spoons you use for which food. You can also buy BBQ sauce in squeezy bottles (just like plastic tomato ketchup bottles) that don’t need spoons or knives, reducing the risk of bacteria from cross contamination.

Can You Freeze & Reheat BBQ Sauce?

Yes, you can freeze homemade BBQ sauce, and this is a great idea. It makes sense to batch cook sauces if you have the freezer space, and then you’ve always got a serving ready if you suddenly decide to barbecue. It would be a real shame to hold an impromptu barbecue then find out that you don’t have any sauce to go with your meat.

After you’ve cooked your sauce, freeze it as soon as you can to prevent any bacteria developing. Airtight bags are the easiest containers for this. Write the date on the bags with a freezer-proof pen so you know how long you can keep it.

The general opinion seems to be that you can keep homemade BBQ sauce in the freezer for up to 3 months. There’s no point freezing commercial sauces, as they’d last longer than that in the refrigerator, anyway.

Do you need to reheat it? For the sake of caution, yes, you should. A quick blast in the microwave will turn it back into a gorgeous pouring sauce. However, the most common use will be as a marinade or basting sauce, which will be heated during the cooking process. In that case, you don’t need to reheat it separately.

One thing to bear in mind is that a frozen sauce doesn’t retain that lovely, gloopy glossiness and can be a thinner texture. As you’ll be using it as an ingredient or a marinade rather than as a dipping sauce, this is fine (try a spoonful in a bolognese or as a pizza topping). Try making a smaller batch the first time you try this, and see what you think.

If you want a safe dipping sauce that you can reach for whenever you need it, store-bought sauces are a better option, especially ones stored upside down in squeezy bottles.


So there you have it – BBQ sauce whether you buy it or make it must be put in the fridge after you open it.

You can then keep it refrigerated for between 4 and 6 months before it goes bad (and your nose will tell you when that happens).

You can also consider freezing your BBQ sauce (especially if it’s homemade), so you can reheat it and enjoy it at a later date.

After all – who wants to waste all that spicy deliciousness if they can help it 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >