Does Butter Need to Be Refrigerated? Well, It Depends.

February 23, 2022
Photo by Julia Gartland

Do you store butter in the fridge, freezer, or at room temperature?

When I floated this to home cooks on social media, the most common answer wasn’t, actually, any of the above. It was all of the above.

Yes, plenty of people store butter solely in the fridge. Because that’s what their mom did. Because they live in a warm climate. Because they don’t eat a lot of butter. Because their dog or cat would jump at the chance to eat a lot of butter.

But beyond fridge loyalists, more people, myself included, like to pick and choose. Because it’s fun to be picky! Because it’s fun to be choosy! It all depends on what you need the butter for: Sautéed kale? Pound cake? English muffin? Pie crust?

According to the USDA, “Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature. However, if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid so it's best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two.”

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“sticks of butter still in their wrapper in the breadbox on the counter for impromptu baking; I've found it keeps several weeks at room temp as long as it's still sealed. 2-4 sticks in the fridge.”
— Kim S.

Likewise, Harold McGee writes in On Food & Cooking, “Because its scant water is dispersed in tiny droplets, properly made butter resists gross contamination by microbes, and keeps well for some days at room temperature.”

This means that butter with a higher fat content, like a European-style variety, is a better bet to leave on the counter. If you want to be an overachiever, opt for a salted variety—more flavor, duh, but also because the salt acts as a preservative. And keep the butter in a dish that stamps out as much light and air as possible.

From a food-safety perspective, the least risky option is the freezer (where butter will keep for several months), followed by the fridge (where butter will keep for a couple months). But what about from a toast perspective? What about the toast?

Some math: Butter becomes spreadable at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter melts at 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The butter in my fridge is 43 degrees Fahrenheit. And the butter on my counter is 65 degrees Fahrenheit. All of which adds up to my own answer to my own question:

Where do I store butter? Anywhere and everywhere. Here’s my system:


Emergency butter so you never have to worry about running out of butter. Good for other people, usually unnecessary for me, because I plow through the butter in my fridge so swiftly.


At least two pounds of unsalted, American-style butter for cooking and baking. Plus backup butter for the counter.

Fridge slash counter

Butter that spends most of its life in the fridge but moves to the counter 12 to 24 hours before I bake a cake or cookies.


Salted, European-style, four ounces or fewer so it doesn’t have to be out for long. For noodles, rice, and, especially, toast.

Am I right or am I right? What’s your belief system when it comes to butter storage? Let me know in the comments below.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Kim S. February 27, 2022
My system is similar: I rotate from freezer to fridge to countertop to table. Several pounds of butter in the freezer (I bulk-buy when my favorite European brands go on sale). 1 stick of butter in a butter bell on the kitchen table; it's important to change the water each day and use a clean knife to avoid contamination. 2 sticks of butter still in their wrapper in the breadbox on the counter for impromptu baking; I've found it keeps several weeks at room temp as long as it's still sealed. 2-4 sticks in the fridge.
Rick B. February 27, 2022
Several pounds of each in the freezer (usually purchased on sale), one pound or so of each in the fridge and about 90 grams in the dish on the counter. Sometimes there will be some of the unsalted cultured variety in the fridge.
vaughan February 27, 2022
I keep a lot of butter in the freezer, easy long term storage. Also frozen butter is grated for biscuits and pastries.
I also make ghee as it stores forever in the pantry and is spreadable. I rotate and keep one jar in the pantry and one on the counter. Can't have too much butter!
Catherine February 24, 2022
JK February 24, 2022
Both. I have larger bulk/wholesale quantities in the freezer, and some on the counter [the recent addition of a kitten will lock this down a bit]. I guess, in theory it could go rancid, but room temperature butter doesn't seem to hang around long enough to have even had the issue, and have been doing it for years, probably against my inner Servsafe muscle memory. Buy good butter is probably my only other recommendation.
Lady B. February 23, 2022
I follow the same system that you use. I have a secure supply of butter stashed in the freezer, some waiting in the refrigerator for my next round of baking, and European salted butter sitting in a covered dish on the counter, waiting to be smoothly slathered on a slab of hot toast.
Smaug February 23, 2022
As I'm mostly stuck shopping at Safeway, where prices on my regular brand vary from $7 a pound down to $3 a pound on sale, I buy cheap and freeze- usually have 6-8 lbs. frozen. That's a lot, since I live alone and am not a real butter abuser on potatoes and toast and such. However, I bake a lot in the winter. This year the focus was on laminated doughs and apples; the rate at which I was bringing in pounds of butter got a bit alarming, but I now have a freezer full of turnovers and Danish, so it's all to the good.