How to Store Butter

Storing butter properly is essential for maintaining its taste, freshness, and safety.

Whether it’s salted, unsalted, or whipped, the method of storage can impact the quality and shelf life of your butter.

High in fat content, pasteurized butter has a reasonably stable structure that allows it to be kept at room temperature for a short period.

However, the duration and conditions under which you can leave it out will depend on the type of butter as well as the climate of your kitchen.

A butter dish sits on a kitchen counter, with a stick of butter inside covered by a lid. The dish is placed away from direct sunlight and heat sources

At room temperature, butter is convenient for spreading and often used in baking, providing a richer flavor and better consistency.

In a cooler environment, butter can generally be left out for a few days without spoiling, usually in a butter dish or a cover that limits its exposure to air and contaminants.

For longer-term storage, refrigeration is the key to extending the life of your butter.

It’s crucial, though, to wrap the butter well to protect it from absorbing other flavors and from exposure to air, which can lead to rancidity.

When considering longer storage periods or to retain freshness for several months, freezing butter is an effective option.

Ensuring it is tightly wrapped and sealed can protect it from freezer burn.

Once you’re ready to use the frozen butter, defrosting it in the refrigerator will maintain its quality before it’s brought to room temperature for use.

Understanding Butter

In approaching butter storage, understanding its composition and the differences between types is crucial for maintaining quality and safety.

Composition and Types

Butter primarily consists of fat (usually about 80%), water, and milk solids.

There are several types of butter, each with varying fat content and culinary uses:

  • Salted Butter: Typically contains added salt which acts as a preservative, lending it a longer shelf life.
  • Unsalted Butter: Also known as sweet butter, it has no added salt, giving you control over the flavor and sodium content of your dishes.
  • Ghee: This is clarified butter with the water and milk solids removed, resulting in a pure butterfat that’s highly resistant to spoilage.
  • Clarified Butter: Similar to ghee but not cooked as long, which makes it less nutty, and it’s used for cooking at higher temperatures.
Butter TypeFat ContentSalt ContentUsage
Salted Butter~80%YesGeneral cooking, spreading
Unsalted Butter~80%NoBaking, flavor control
Ghee~99%No (or very low)High-heat cooking, shelf-stable
Clarified Butter~99%No (or very low)Sauteeing, sauces, higher smoke point

Both the FDA and USDA recommend that all butter be made from pasteurized cream, which ensures safety from foodborne pathogens.

Food Safety Considerations

When you store butter, improper management can cause quality loss or health risks.

Butter can become rancid from oxidation or spoil from the growth of bacteria. Here are your safety considerations:

  • For salted butter, the salt content offers a slight protective barrier; however, it does not make the butter immune to spoilage.
  • Always store unsalted butter and flavored butters in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling, as they lack the preservative effect of salt.
  • Pasteurized butter is safer than unpasteurized due to its reduced bacterial content, which is important since butter is an animal product.
  • Ghee and clarified butter, with lower water content, have a longer shelf life and can often be stored at room temperature.
  • Regardless of the type, always ensure butter is stored away from light and heat sources to minimize the risks of rancidification.

Storage Basics

When you store butter, maintaining its quality and freshness hinges on the correct storage conditions. Whether you opt to refrigerate your butter or keep it at room temperature, specific steps and precautions ensure its longevity and flavor.

Ideal Storage Conditions

Refrigerated Butter: For long-term preservation, your refrigerator is the best option.

Butter should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C).

Keep it in its original wrapping or in an airtight container to shield it from absorbing flavors and odors from other food items.

Room-Temperature Storage: If you prefer spreadable butter, a butter dish with a lid can protect it from air, light, and contaminants.

However, only store the amount of butter you will use within a few days to prevent spoilage – particularly in warmer climates.

Butter Storage Tips

  • Butter Dishes and Keepers: Use a butter dish or a butter keeper for to maintain the quality of room-temperature butter.
  • Butter keepers can also contain a small amount of water to create a seal, keeping the butter fresh while out of the refrigerator.
  • Sealing for Freshness: Whether in the fridge or on your counter, keep your butter tightly sealed.
  • This prevents it from taking on the smells and tastes of other food and protects against drying out.
  • Freezing Butter: For extended storage, you can freeze butter in its original packaging or airtight freezer bags. This can keep butter usable for several months.

Countertop Storage

Storing butter on the countertop keeps it soft and spreadable. However, to maintain its freshness and ensure its quality, specific storage methods and conditions must be followed.

Room Temperature Storage

Your butter remains soft at room temperature, which is typically around 67°F (19°C), but it’s crucial to keep it below 70°F (21°C) to maintain its form and prevent melting.

  • Temperature: Keep your kitchen below 70°F (21°C).
  • Consistency: Butter stays soft and spreadable.

Maximizing Freshness

Minimizing exposure to light and air is key to extending the butter’s shelf life.

A French butter dish, also known as a butter bell, made from materials such as ceramic or stoneware, is an excellent option to create an airtight seal that keeps butter fresher for longer.

  • Container: Use a French butter dish or a covered dish.
  • Material: Prefer ceramic or stoneware containers.
  • Air-Tight: Ensure the container provides a tight seal.

Refrigerator Use

Maintaining the quality and freshness of your butter is paramount, and the refrigerator is a safe haven for long-term storage.

You can confidently keep butter in your fridge to prevent spoiling and bacterial growth for up to a month past the expiration date printed on the packaging.

Butter in the Fridge

Storing refrigerated butter correctly is key to avoiding rancidity and preserving its flavor.

The fridge keeps the butter at a constant, cold temperature between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 to 4 degrees Celsius), which inhibits bacteria growth and keeps the butter safe for consumption.

When placed in the fridge, ensure the butter is in the main compartment, away from the door, where temperature fluctuations are more common.

Proper Wrapping Techniques

To wrap the butter:

  1. Begin with the original packaging if it’s intact, as it’s designed to protect butter from absorbing other flavors and odors.
  2. If the original package is compromised, use plastic wrap or aluminum foil for a tight seal that prevents exposure to air and potential contaminants.
  3. For added protection, place the wrapped butter in a hard-sided container. Options include plastic, glass, or even a dedicated butter dish with a lid.
  4. Label the container with the current date to keep track of freshness.

Freezing Butter

Properly freezing butter ensures its high fat content maintains quality over extended periods, safeguarding against freezer burn and off flavors.

This practice is especially beneficial for preserving the butter’s taste and texture.

How to Freeze Butter

To freeze butter effectively, you should initially wrap your sticks of butter individually. Employ parchment paper, as it provides an excellent moisture barrier, then overwrap with aluminum foil to secure against odors and prevent the fat molecules from absorbing unwanted flavors. Here’s a step-by-step approach:

  • Wrap each stick of butter in parchment paper, ensuring full coverage.
  • Overwrap the parchment-covered sticks with aluminum foil to provide additional barrier protection.
  • Seal the wrapped butter in a freezer-safe bag, pressing out any extra air to protect against freezer burn.
  • Label the bags with the date of freezing—butter can be stored for 6 to 9 months.

Thawing and Usage

When you’re ready to use your frozen butter, it’s important to thaw it correctly to maintain its consistency for cooking or spreading. Follow these simple thawing guidelines:

  • Refrigerator Thawing: Transfer the desired amount of butter from the freezer to the refrigerator and let it thaw overnight.
  • Quick Thawing: If you need it faster, grate the frozen butter using the large holes of a box grater and let it sit at room temperature until it softens.

Once thawed, the butter should be used within a few days for the best quality and flavor. Always avoid refreezing thawed butter as this can deteriorate the fat molecules, affecting its taste and performance in recipes.

Butter for Cooking and Baking

In cooking and baking, the type of butter you choose and how you store it can greatly influence the flavor and texture of your dishes. It’s important to select the right butter for the right purpose to ensure the best results.

Cooking with Butter

When cooking, salted butter is often your go-to for adding a richer flavor to savory dishes. The salt in the butter acts as a preservative, maintaining its freshness over time. Use it for sautéing vegetables or creating a golden crust on toast. Here’s how to ensure your salted butter is ready for your culinary adventures:

  • For optimal spreadability, keep a small quantity of salted butter at room temperature if you’ll be using it within a few days.
  • Chilled butter straight from the refrigerator is perfect for cooking methods like sautéing or pan-frying, as it melts steadily for even distribution.

Baking with Butter

Baking requires more precision, and unsalted butter is typically preferred for its ability to let the true flavors of your baked goods shine through. From flaky pie crusts to delicate biscuits, unsalted butter should be:

  • Cold and firm, straight from the fridge for pie doughs to achieve flaky layers.
  • At room temperature for cakes and other baked goods where creaming the butter is necessary for a light and airy texture.

Remember to store unsalted and whipped butters in the refrigerator and only bring them to room temperature when you’re ready to bake. This maintains the proper texture and freshness, ensuring your treats turn out perfectly every time.

Advanced Butter Storage Methods

When considering advanced butter storage methods, you need to address both preservation for longevity and handling of different butter forms for optimal quality.

Butter Preservation Techniques

For enhanced food safety and to prevent your butter from becoming rancid, storing it properly is vital. You can minimize the risk of spoilage by implementing these techniques:

  • Temperature Control: Keep butter in the refrigerator at temperatures below 40°F (4°C) to maintain freshness. For long-term storage, the freezer is your ally; store butter at 0°F (-18°C) up to six months. MasterClass suggests wrapping the butter in wax paper or plastic wrap before placing it in an airtight container to guard against freezer burn and moisture loss.
  • Portioning: Divide butter into smaller portions before freezing. This way, you only thaw what you need, which maintains quality and limits exposure to varying temperatures.
  • Ghee Making: Ghee, a type of clarified butter, is a preservative in its own right due to the removal of milk solids, which allows for a longer shelf life and a higher smoke point. To make ghee, melt butter over low heat until the solids separate and the remaining liquid (clarified butter) can be stored safely at room temperature for a considerable period.

Butter Alternatives and Derivatives

Beyond traditional butter, consider these options for extended storage and varied applications:

  • Whipped Butter: Incorporating air into butter makes it more spreadable, especially when cold. While whipped butter can be stored in the refrigerator, its increased air content could make it more susceptible to becoming rancid sooner than traditional butter.
  • Butter Alternatives: For those looking to store butter with less hassle or seeking a butter substitute, options like plant-based spreads often come with a longer shelf life and more resilience at room temperature due to the presence of preservatives. Always check the packaging for specific storage instructions.

Remember that each form of butter or its alternatives may have specific requirements to maintain optimal freshness and quality.

After Opening

Once you’ve opened your butter, maintaining its freshness and quality becomes your priority. You need to balance between keeping it refrigerated to extend its lifespan and achieving the right spreadability for daily use.

Keeping Butter Fresh

When you’ve opened a stick or block of butter, keeping it refrigerated is key to preserving its quality and freshness. It’s ideal to store your opened butter in the refrigerator at a temperature of about 32-40°F (0-4°C). Doing so can extend its shelf life up to several weeks and ensure that it remains safe for consumption.

  • To prevent flavor contamination:
    • Wrap the butter in its original wax paper or aluminum foil.
    • Use an airtight container to inhibit the absorption of odors from other foods.
  • For spreadability:
    • Remove the amount of butter you’ll need approximately 10-15 minutes before use to allow it to soften.
    • Consider a butter bell or crock if you prefer to keep small amounts at room temperature for short periods.

Handling Leftovers

For any leftover or partially used butter, the approach is similar to unused butter, with added caution to prevent contamination.

  • Avoid cross-contamination:
    • Always use clean utensils when scooping or cutting the butter.
    • Keep the exposed surface of the butter clean to avoid introducing any bacteria.
  • To store small amounts:
    • If the original packaging is damaged, transfer the leftover butter to a small container or wrap it tightly in clean parchment paper.
    • Refrigerate promptly after each use to maintain quality.


A butter dish on a kitchen counter with a lid, surrounded by a loaf of bread, a knife, and a small dish of salt

When it comes to preserving the freshness and quality of your butter, understanding proper storage methods is key. Refrigeration is the staple for your butter’s longevity; it should be kept at a cool temperature, ideally between 32°F (0°C) and 55°F (13°C). Here, it maintains its consistency and avoids rancidity.

Countertop storage offers convenience for spreadability but has limitations. Keep butter at room temperature for no more than four hours at a time to ensure safety and freshness. Types like unsalted and whipped butter are more susceptible to spoilage due to lower preservative content, thus requiring extra care.

For extended storage, the freezer is an excellent option. Butter can be frozen for several months without losing quality. Just ensure it is well-wrapped to prevent freezer burn and odor absorption.

Use these guidelines to manage your butter’s condition:

  • Refrigerator: Consistent storage for everyday use.
  • Countertop: Short-term softening for immediate consumption.
  • Freezer: Long-term preservation beyond a few weeks.


  • Store in airtight containers or original packaging.
  • Avoid places with strong odors or direct sunlight.
  • Keep an eye on expiration dates and sensory changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Proper butter storage maximizes freshness and flavor. Here’s how to tackle common butter storage queries to keep your butter at its best.

What is the best way to store butter in the refrigerator?

Store your butter in the refrigerator between 32°F and 40°F (-1°C and 4°C). Keeping it in its original packaging or a butter dish minimizes exposure to air and contaminants, preserving its quality.

Can you store butter on the counter, and if so, how?

Yes, you can store butter on the counter using a covered dish to protect it from air and contaminants. Ensure the temperature is below 70°F (21°C) to prevent the butter from becoming too soft.

What are the optimal conditions for storing butter without refrigeration?

Without refrigeration, store butter in a cool, dark place. A butter bell or crock can also maintain its freshness by creating a water seal that keeps the butter spreadable yet shielded from air.

How can butter be stored in the freezer for extended periods?

Wrap the butter tightly in wax paper or plastic wrap, then place it in an airtight container or freezer bag. This prevents freezer burn and moisture loss, appropriate for long-term storage.

What are the advantages of using a butter bell for butter storage?

A butter bell keeps butter soft and spreadable without refrigeration. It also uses water to create a seal, protecting the butter from air and maintaining its freshness for a longer period.

How do you maintain the quality of butter when stored long term?

For long-term quality maintenance, store butter in the freezer wrapped and airtight.

In the refrigerator, keep it in its original packaging, away from strong-smelling foods to avoid flavor absorption.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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