Is it possible for BBQ sauce to go bad? Is it safe to eat sour BBQ sauce, and how can you tell if it’s bad? This article offers the answers to these questions.

You’ve had a cookout where your favorite BBQ sauce was used on practically every dish. So you save it till the next time you need it.

Today is the big day. You’re getting ready to make some handmade burgers. You’re concerned, however, about how long it’s been since you’ve used your BBQ sauce.

Looking at the best-by date on the bottle of the BBQ sauce, you wonder, “Has my BBQ sauce gone bad?” How long is it going to last?

So, here’s what you need to know about your BBQ sauce’s shelf life. Because it is high in preservatives, an opened container of store-bought BBQ sauce will last 4-6 months.

However, if you make your BBQ sauce, it will only last 7-10 days.

What is bbq sauce?

Barbecue sauce is used as a marinade, condiment, basting agent, flavoring sauce, or meat topping (typically beef and pork ribs or chicken).

Salt, sugar, sweeteners (honey or molasses), tomato paste, vinegar, liquid smoke, mayonnaise, mustard, onion powder, and black pepper are common ingredients.

The early barbecue sauces were often created with only salt, vinegar, and pepper. Later, sugar, ketchup, and other additives were added.

It’s worth noting that evidence of early grilled meat dates back to 700 BC! In addition, many recipes for grilled meat can be found in English and French cookbooks from the early 1900s.

Let’s take a look at the nutritional information for BBQ sauce per 2 tbsp (36g):

Fat0 g
Sodium300 mg
Carbohydrate17 g
Sugars 15 g
Fiber0 g

As you can see, BBQ sauce contains a lot of sugar and salt, which can harm your health in large amounts.

On the other hand, BBQ sauce contains trace amounts of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

Although you are unlikely to reap significant health benefits, there are some. BBQ sauce contains tomato sauce, which contains an antioxidant known as lycopene.

This antioxidant can lower blood pressure, minimize the risk of some malignancies, and protect the skin.

Furthermore, the sauce lacks fat, as plant-based ingredients typically lack this macronutrient. As a result, it is a fantastic way to add flavor to foods without adding fat.

Is it past its prime, or has it spoiled?

Barbecue sauce with basting brush over stone table with room for copy space.

You should be aware that there are two stages to BBQ sauce. It will first pass its prime; it is still safe to eat in this stage, but it is not as flavorful or high quality as it once was.

Then, it starts to spoil or ferment. At this point, it will begin to smell and taste strange, and it is no longer safe to eat.

While it’s fine to keep BBQ sauce past its prime, you should probably throw it out because the flavor won’t be the same after this point. You’ll lose many rich, sour, and spicy flavors that make barbecue sauce so special.

Check the expiration date on the store-bought sauce and keep it for no more than a month or two past the best-by date for the best flavor.

It’s important to note that if you leave a BBQ sauce out on the counter or in the sun for an extended period during a cookout, it will spoil or ferment in the bottle.

This will result in bubbliness and a pungent vinegary odor. Even if the sauce is brand new, this will happen if left in unfavorable conditions for an extended period. When it reaches this point, it should be discarded.

How long does bbq sauce last?

BBQ Sauce (unopened)Best by + 6 months 
BBQ Sauce (opened)1 – 4 weeks4 months
Homemade BBQ Sauce 7 – 14 days

Please remember that the times listed above are just for the finest quality. 

The sauce will remain longer in most circumstances, but the quality may be subpar.

BBQ sauce has a best-by date of 1 to 2 years and can easily be stored for a few months past the printed date. If you refrigerate the condiment after opening it, it can last up to 4 months.

The 4 months after opening isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s one that many BBQ sauce brands follow.

Of course, outliers exist at both extremities of the spectrum. As a result, don’t be shocked if yours lasts up to a year after opening or if yours should be finished within a week.

Read the labels. The general rules I mentioned should work in most circumstances. However, certain store-bought BBQ sauces may recommend far shorter storage dates than I mentioned.

After opening

When you open a bottle of BBQ sauce, you usually have four months to finish the leftovers. As previously said, some brands have a considerably shorter term, while others have a much longer one.

Of course, the storage term provided by the brand is merely an informed guess as to how long the sauce should hold its quality, at the very least. That implies you’ll be fine if you leave your barbeque sauce in the fridge for a little longer than the manufacturer recommends.

How long, you might ask?

That is determined by the suggested storage period. If it’s the typical four months, an extra two to three weeks shouldn’t be a problem.

However, I wouldn’t keep it for more than 10 to 14 days if it’s only a week or two.

“Expiration” date

The date on the BBQ sauce bottle is a best-by date, which is concerned with food quality rather than safety. In other words, once that date has passed, the BBQ sauce does not “expire.”

And, as previously stated, as long as the condiment stays unopened, it can usually last months past the printed date. Sure, it might separate a little more over that period, but that’s all.

Of course, if you open a BBQ sauce bottle a few months past its expiration date, you can’t expect it to hold its quality for as long as a new bottle.

To get the most out of it, you should utilize it within a few weeks.

Before consuming “expired” BBQ sauce, always check it for signs of spoilage.

Homemade bbq sauce

Barbeque sauce with ingredients on the table

Homemade BBQ sauce has a shelf life of 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the recipe, and must be kept refrigerated at all times.

Following a recipe you found online, follow the author’s advice. It will be a week of storage in most instances, possibly up to two weeks.

If you got the recipe from someone else, err on caution and store it for up to 7 days.

(Without pasteurization, a little vinegar, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce won’t let your homemade bbq sauce last as long as a store-bought one.)

You can freeze BBQ sauce if that relatively short period isn’t long enough for your purposes or if you want to prepare a large quantity and save some for later.

Use an ice cube tray to portion it out so that each amount is enough for a single dish (whatever makes more sense for you).

Does bbq sauce need to be refrigerated?

After opening the bottle of BBQ sauce, keep it in the refrigerator. In most situations, leaving the sauce at room temperature keeps it safe to use, but it only keeps its quality for a couple of weeks. As a result, refrigeration is the better option.

When it comes to storage temperature, BBQ sauce falls between regular salsa (which requires refrigeration) and hot sauce (which typically does not). You can keep it out on the counter, but it’s far preferable to store it in the refrigerator.

However, if you know, you’ll finish the bottle you just opened within a week, store it in the pantry or kitchen cabinet.

(Unless, of course, the label specifies that it must be refrigerated after opening.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let’s talk about various BBQ sauce storage practices.

Homemade BBQ sauce should always be kept in the refrigerator.

Bbq sauce darkening

If your BBQ sauce contains chili peppers, it may darken or even turn brown if left uncovered for an extended time. This is because oxidation-induced darkening is natural for chili peppers and does not render them harmful to eat.

The worst effect of the color shift may be a tiny change in flavor, but that’s about it. That rich crimson BBQ sauce can still be used.

Now, if the ingredients list of your BBQ sauce does not include chili peppers or one of its variations (e.g., tabasco peppers), be cautious if the sauce becomes brown.

And if the label does not explicitly state that browning is a natural side effect of long-term storage, it’s usually best to err on caution and toss the bottle.


It is typical for BBQ sauce to separate. And by separation, I mean that there’s a layer of liquid on top, with the rest of the sauce being noticeably denser.

If your sauce has been sitting in the cupboard for a long, it will most certainly separate, which is fine.

Before opening the bottle of separated BBQ sauce, give it a good shake. It should aid in blending everything into a smooth texture.

If your sauce has been sitting unused in storage for months and has not separated, it most likely contains some artificial preservatives that help maintain its texture.

However, if your sauce has entirely separated, as the bottom is solid and the top is liquid, presume that the sauce is finished.

If things got to this stage, I’m pretty confident it stayed in storage for longer than the two years and change reported.

Now that we’ve gotten that out let’s talk about the signs of bad bbq sauce.

Signs that your bbq sauce is expired

Chicken nuggets dipping in a BBQ sauce container and french fries

If you check in your pantry or refrigerator and notice any of these warning signs, throw it out right away!

1. Off-putting smell

BBQ sauce should have a tangy, sweet, and/or smoky aroma. That irresistible aroma is one of the reasons we love the sauce!

However, if that smell becomes intense, off-putting, or plain nauseating, throw it out. This odor is your first warning sign that your BBQ sauce has gone bad.

2. Change in Appearance

Several visual changes will occur as your BBQ sauce degrades over time:

  • Color – Pay attention to the color of the BBQ sauce. You’ll notice a richer, darker tint as it draws closer to expiration. This is due to oxidation, which occurs once the bottle is opened.
  • Mold – Do we need to explain this one? Please don’t eat BBQ sauce or any other meal with visible mold.
  • Liquid Separation – While some separation is natural, this change, combined with a color difference, is another clue that your BBQ sauce is nearing the end of its life. If separation occurs before the expiration or best by date, shake the bottle to re-mix the ingredients.

3. Altered texture

When produced correctly, BBQ sauce should have a smooth, spreadable, and dense texture.

If your BBQ sauce becomes thick, slimy, or clumpy, it’s time to toss it. A change in texture indicates oxidation or moisture, both of which initiate the process of diminished flavor and quality.

How to store bbq sauce

Barbecue sauce comes in a plethora of flavors. Most are vinegar-based, with tomato paste, spices, sugar, and other ingredients.

BBQ sauce from the store is shelf-stable. The storage instructions are the same whether it’s a Louisiana style, Texas style, Southern style, Kansas City BBQ style, or the alcohol-laced style, such as honey-bourbon or BBQ rum sauce.

BBQ sauce that has not been opened can be securely stored at room temperature. Choose a cool, dry location away from heat and lights.

Your pantry or kitchen closet is an excellent location. It’s the same as preserving other sauces and condiments like mustard or mayonnaise.

If you opt to make your recipes, keep your homemade barbecue sauce refrigerated. However, refrigeration is not required for home-canned barbeque sauce.

If it is a cooked sauce, allow it to cool before transferring it to the refrigerator. Store the sauce in an airtight container.

Can you freeze bbq sauce?

Barbecue sauces can be frozen, and they do so extremely well. If you won’t finish the bottle of barbecue sauce within six months or if your fridge is limited in capacity, freezing the BBQ sauce is an excellent choice.

When freezing barbecue sauce, you can store it in an airtight container or a plastic bag. An airtight container is preferred for many sauces, whereas a plastic bag is ideal for small amounts or individual servings of sauce.

It is important not to freeze the sauce in its original bottle, whether plastic or glass. The sauce will begin to expand as it freezes.

Both glass and plastic bottles will crack as a result of this expansion.

Pour the sauce into a jar with a securely sealing lid for storage in an airtight container. If not, the sauce will be exposed to air throughout the freezing process and develop freezer burn. Also, allow about a half-inch space at the top for the barbecue sauce to expand.

The best way to store the sauce in plastic bags is to freeze it beforehand. Simply pour the barbecue sauce onto an ice cube tray and freeze it until all cubes are frozen.

Transfer the frozen barbecue sauce cubes to the plastic bag. Before sealing the bag, squeeze out as much air as possible. Then place the sauce bags in the deepest part of the freezer.

Aside from plastic bags, you can store the barbecue sauce cubes in an airtight container. Either way, the barbecue sauce will stay fresh for up to a year.

How to keep bbq sauce lasting longer

Buying bbq sauce

When buying barbecue sauce at the grocery store, it is important to check the printed date on the bottle. Some manufacturers will stamp the bottle with the best by, use by, or expiry date.

Each has a somewhat different meaning, but all dates indicate that it will remain fresh until the written date.

When buying barbecue sauce, search for ones that have recently been made and placed on the shelves. Most supermarkets keep new sauces in the back. BBQ sauces that have recently been created will taste the best.

You have several options regarding size, depending on how long you plan to keep the sauce. A big bottle is a good choice if you’re doing a lot of barbeque cooking.

On the other hand, small bottles are intended for folks who cook only sometimes.

Handling bbq sauce

When handling BBQ sauce, it’s critical to use clean utensils when scooping the sauce or putting any inside the bottle.

Of course, most people will use “dirty” utensils to handle the barbecue sauce since they forgot or were too lazy to get a clean tool. In any case, it’s not a big concern because the sauce won’t spoil.

However, using dirty utensils with the same bottle of BBQ sauce repeatedly may lead it to spoil. As a result, it’s advisable to be safe and always use clean utensils.

Another thing to remember is that any leftover barbecue sauce should never be poured back into the bottle. Bacteria will begin to grow on the sauce after sitting at room temperature for a while.

Pouring it back into the bottle will contaminate the entire sauce with bacteria and cause it to spoil.

The bottom-line

Always inspect your BBQ sauce for signs of spoilage by tasting it, smelling it, and looking out for mold. If properly stored, this sauce can last for quite some time.

Remember, if it’s unopened, keep it in the pantry; if it’s opened, keep it in the fridge alternatively, if your BBQ sauce did expire and want to know what alternative you can use than BBQ sauce for your ribs.