Does Butter Need to Be Refrigerated? Here’s the Truth

There are two types of people in the world: Those who keep butter in the fridge (and who nearly destroy their toast while trying to spread it on), and those who keep butter out on the counter, ready to lather the salty goodness wherever they please with ease. But does butter need to be refrigerated? Not necessarily. Here, we explain.

Is It Safe to Leave Butter Out?

Butter, indeed, goes bad—eventually. Much like hot sauce, ketchup and other pantry essentials, it’ll last at room temperature longer than you think: ten to 14 days, actually. 

Why? Butter’s high fat content makes it less susceptible to bacteria, which keeps it from spoiling right away (and is why most parts of the world keep their butter out). But because dairy in the U.S. is pasteurized, there's a misconception that butter needs to be refrigerated. Long story short, the U.S. uses high-temperature short-time pasteurization (HTST) on milk, which kills bacteria in big batches. It's cost-efficient for manufacturers, but also makes refrigeration necessary. But because of butter's comparatively high fat content, it doesn’t actually need to be stored as strictly as milk.

Of course, if your butter has a sour smell or taste, mold or discoloration, play it safe and toss it away. Until then, it’s probably good to eat. 

How to Make Room-Temperature Butter Last

When kept in the fridge, most butter will last as long as the expiration date (about four months). On the counter, it’s closer to two weeks. Here’s what you can do to make room temperature butter last all 14 days:

  • Minimize light, heat and air exposure. Air exposure will oxidize the fat in butter, making it more susceptible to spoiling. Light and heat can also break up the fat molecules, a recipe for rancidity.
  • Keep it in an opaque, airtight butter dish. A French (and super adorable) butter crock will protect against all exposure.
  • Leave salted butter out (keep unsalted in the fridge). Salt has preservative qualities, so salted butter consequently has a longer shelf life on the counter. Much like pasteurization, it also protects against bacteria.
  • Soften only half a stick at a time. Be realistic about how much butter you go through in a day or week, so you don’t end up spoiling more than you need to. The less you leave out, the less you’ll end up accidentally wasting.
  • Know when to call it quits. If your home is hotter than usual or you’re going away for a few days, put your butter in the fridge. (Unless your pet knows how to use the toaster, we guess.)

How to Freeze Butter

Room temp butter is divine for everyday use, but it’s good to have a reserve for the bake sales your kids forget to tell you about and your late-night banana bread cravings. The best place to store long-term? Your freezer. Butter will keep for a whole year in the freezer if stored correctly—it’s sealed and in the original packaging, store as is. If you want to freeze a stick of butter that’s partially used, take off the wax paper, wrap the butter in plastic wrap, recover the whole thing in the wax paper and freeze. For butter that’s in a tub or container, take the lid off, put a piece of plastic wrap over the butter, put the lid back on and store the whole thing in a freezer bag.

To gradually soften frozen butter, leave it on top of the oven while it’s preheating or move it to the fridge overnight. If you need to soften one or a few whole sticks quickly, use a cheese grater. The small slivers will warm up to room temp in no time. And, of course, there’s always the microwave.

4 Substitutes for Butter

Butter is special and beloved for its unique way of making anything and everything taste better. The FDA’s minimum milk fat requirement of 80 percent for all products sold as butter might have something to do with how freakin’ awesome it tastes on toast, in baked goods, melted on steak and beyond. While it’s tough to find its true equal, there are plenty of substitutes for butter if you realize you're all out in the middle of tackling that dreamy croissant recipe. Here are a few alternatives we trust:

1. Coconut Oil

The Best Vegan Alternative

It’s super versatile with a milky coconut taste that shines in sweets. It may make goodies like cookies and pies crunchier and crumblier, but cake and soft baked goods will be basically the same. It’s a great replacement for recipes that call for melted butter, like pie crust. Vegan butter is also an option, but a little more on the pricy side.

2. Vegetable Shortening

The Best for Baking and Deep Frying

Because it’s made from vegetables, it has essentially no flavor. That means it can disappear behind the scenes in just about anything. Recipes that call for cold or room-temperature butter will work best with this swap.

3. Greek Yogurt

The Best for Cake or Bread

Use this for unbeatably moist treats that call for one cup of butter or less. If there’s too much moisture in the mix, it’ll come out dense, so just adjust the other liquids in the recipe to accommodate the yogurt.

4. Olive Oil

Best for Sautéing: 

 Its flavor is so distinct that it works best with savory foods. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy replacement for melted butter and can be used in desserts if needed.

RELATED What the Heck Is Ghee (and Why Is It Better Than Butter?

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...