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Does BBQ Sauce Go Bad? Shelf Life and Expiration

Barbecue sauce lasts for one to two years. And since most of its ingredients either last a long time or are natural preservatives, it usually retains quality way past the printed date.

Once you open the bottle, you still get at least a couple of months of decent quality, if not more.

But that doesn’t mean that BBQ sauce can’t go bad and that it keeps its flavor forever. It doesn’t.

Want to learn a thing or two about spoilage, shelf life, or storage of BBQ sauce?

If so, this article is for you. Let’s jump right in.

Bottle of bbq sauce
Bottle of bbq sauce

Does BBQ Sauce Go Bad?

Barbecue sauce doesn’t easily go bad, but it doesn’t keep forever. Over time, the flavor and overall quality degrade, and at some point, you might want to discard it for quality purposes, not because it’s spoiled (as in unsafe to eat).

BBQ sauce lasts for a long time even after opening the bottle, thanks to its ingredients.

It contains several natural preservatives such as vinegar, sugar, and lemon juice. And many of the other ingredients, such as molasses, tomato paste, or mustard seeds, last quite a while too.

Overall, if you do everything right when it comes to storage (more on that later), your bbq sauce will more likely lose its quality much sooner than it will go bad.

That said, if your BBQ sauce sits in storage for a prolonged period, it might separate. Let’s talk about that.


Separation in BBQ sauce is normal. And by separation, I mean that there’s a layer of liquid on top, and the rest of the sauce is, understandably, denser.

If your sauce sits in the pantry for who-knows-how-long, it will most likely separate, and that’s okay.

To fix separated BBQ sauce, you give it a good shake before you open the bottle. It should help incorporate everything together into a smooth texture.

If your sauce sits untouched in storage for months and it doesn’t separate, it likely contains some artificial preservatives that help it keep its texture.

That said, if your sauce has separated completely, as in the bottom is pretty solid and the top liquid, assume that the sauce is done for. If things got to this point, I’m pretty sure it sat in storage for way longer than those mentioned two years and change.

Having that out of the way, let’s talk about actual signs of your barbecue sauce being spoiled.

BBQ sauce on a tablespoon
BBQ sauce on a tablespoon

Signs of Spoilage

Throw out your BBQ sauce if:

  • There’s mold on the surface or sides. It’s a sure sign the condiment is done for.
  • The sauce smells off. If it smells sour, kind of old and stale, or gives off a funny aroma, it’s time for it to go.
  • The texture has changed. You already know that some separation is fine, but if your BBQ sauce is super thick, slimy, or clumpy instead of smooth and spreadable, it’s no good.
  • It’s too old. If you’re not comfortable using barbecue sauce that’s as old as yours (e.g., a year past the printed date), it’s okay to toss it.

Now that you checked if the sauce is safe to eat, it’s time to assess the taste. Eat a little and see how that goes.

If your BBQ sauce is tasteless, there’s no point in pouring it all over your chicken, pork, or pizza (how long is pizza good for?). It’s time to let it go. But if it tastes good, congratulations, feel free to use it.

BBQ sauce can darken after prolonged storage (just like hot sauce, Tabasco, or Sriracha). As long as it smells and tastes okay, it’s safe to eat.

Bread with pulled pork and barbecue sauce
Bread with pulled pork and barbecue sauce

How Long Does BBQ Sauce Last?

Barbecue sauce comes with a shelf life of one to two years and easily keeps for a few months past the printed date. Once you open up the bottle, it retains quality for at least 4 to 6 months, often longer.

At the end of the day, the shelf life of bbq sauce is usually about its quality, not safety. As long as the sauce is safe to consume and tastes good enough, it’s fine to eat it, even if it’s out-of-date for a few months.

That’s the gist of it. Let’s talk about some specifics situations.

Expired BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce comes with a best-by date that’s one to two years from the day it was bottled. The important thing here is that it’s a best-by date, not an expiration date. It’s about food quality, not safety.

In other words, the brand informs you how long their bbq sauce should taste delicious. And that doesn’t say anything about if or when the condiment goes bad.

That begs the question: how long is bbq sauce good for after the expiration date?

A couple of months is a pretty safe bet, possibly more. That’s the best estimate one could give.

It all depends on a number of factors, such as the overall quality of the sauce, the amount of preservatives used, and what quality you deem acceptable. Based on those, it can be between a few months and more than a year.

An easy way to go about it is to make sure you’re comfortable with its date, then checking for signs of spoilage, and lastly assessing the taste. If all three tests get a pass, you’re free to use that barbecue sauce.

BBQ sauce: date on the cap
BBQ sauce: date on the cap

After Opening

Once you open the jar or bottle of BBQ sauce, the condiment should keep quality for at least a couple of months in the fridge.

When it comes to exact periods, some brands give you specific guidelines (e.g., that you should use open BBQ sauce within 4 to 6 months), while others leave you with the printed date.

If there isn’t any specific info on the shelf life of open BBQ sauce, assume that it should keep until the date on the label.

Of course, bbq sauce typically keeps for longer than the given periods, so if yours is open for a couple of extra weeks or months, it’s probably going to be okay. Just make sure it’s safe to use before actually using it, and you’re good to go.

BBQ sauce in a bottle
BBQ sauce in a bottle

Homemade BBQ Sauce

Homemade BBQ sauce is a bit different than its store-bought counterpart.

For starters, it stays safe for about a week, and that’s the period most recipes suggest.

Next, storing it for way longer than suggested isn’t a good idea. Your homemade barbecue sauce isn’t pasteurized, so you don’t really know if it’s free from microbes or not.

In other words, if you’re whipping your own bbq sauce, make only as much as you can use within a week. And if what you have in the fridge is more than a week old, assume that it’s gone bad.

Pulled pork with BBQ sauce
Pulled pork with BBQ sauce

How To Store BBQ Sauce

An unopened bottle of store-bought BBQ should sit in a cool and dry place, away from sources of heat. A cupboard in the pantry or in the kitchen works just fine.

Once you open the bottle, make sure it’s always sealed tightly and keep it in the fridge, the same way you store open tomato paste.

Those are the basics that work well for almost all BBQ sauces out there.

There are, however, some exceptions to these rules. For example, if the BBQ sauce you bought at a farmer’s market says it requires refrigeration, you definitely should refrigerate it.

Now, to make sure your barbecue sauce lasts as long as possible, always use clean spoons when scooping it. And if you need some for dipping, pour it into a dedicated bowl, and discard the leftovers after the meal.

For bonus points, you can store the half-open bottle upside down. This limits the amount of air that gets to the condiment and slows down the degradation process. The same trick works for ketchup.

As you can tell, these storage rules are pretty general and work for many other condiments (e.g., mustard).

Last but not least, remember that you should always refrigerate homemade barbecue sauce and keep it in a sealed container.