How To Store Butter Outside Of The Refrigerator

“Can you please get me the butter from the cabinet?” she asked.

How To Store Butter Outside Of The Refrigerator |

Imagine my surprise when I opened up my mother-in-law’s kitchen cabinet and found a covered butter dish inside. I grew up in a house where we refrigerated everything we consumed. I don’t think my mother would have touched a stick once it had warmed on the table for more than an hour or two.

My husband grew up in a different environment. Excess butter was stored in the fridge, but otherwise a dish or crock of it was kept in the cabinet. The result was a product that’s soft and easy to spread, unlike those solid lumps that one normally has to contend with.

Surprisingly to me, it tasted fine.

Since this globally endeared dairy product with a rich history is made from pasteurized milk, the chance of potentially harmful bacteria forming is slim. Also, the water content is low and the salt content is adequate to impede the growth of bacteria.

That being said, unsalted or whipped varieties will have a greater chance of spoiling if left out.

How to store butter on the countertop |

There is always a risk that your unrefrigerated product can go bad, but as long as you keep it covered, it is highly unlikely that anything will happen before you can finish it. I don’t know how long a stick lasts at your house, but it doesn’t usually last that long around here.

When butter becomes rancid, you can tell immediately by the taste and smell. In order to reduce the chances of your unrefrigerated stock going bad, you should always cover it when leaving it out to soften, so that as little air possible comes into contact with it.

Here’s a guaranteed way to make this work:

You can easily find a number of covered dishes and ceramic crocks in which you can store nature’s golden gift. These crocks were the go-to storage devices before the days of refrigeration.

Using a French crock or a butter bell is an almost foolproof way to keep your unrefrigerated supply fresh, yet soft and spreadable. These “bells” work by immersing a small pot in cold water, creating an airtight seal.

Foodal recommends the Le Creuset Stoneware Butter Bell Crock. It’s available in all of the standard Le Crueset colors.

The cooled water keeps the contents at a cooler temperature than when it is simply sitting the kitchen counter. The product stored in the crock will not melt or spoil, but will be soft enough to spread easily.

These devices work quite well and can keep your spread good for a week or more, sitting right on the countertop, in the cabinet, or in some other convenient space.

Use common sense and always rely on your senses to let you know if your stash has spoiled. Does it smell bad? Does it taste rancid?

During the summer months when temperatures rise above the norm, especially if you don’t have the A/C on, it might be best to refrigerate your supply whether or not you have a covered crock.

Otherwise, you can safely leave your butter out on the counter as long you take the proper precautions.

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About Jennifer Swartvagher

Jennifer is an experienced journalist and author. Her work has been featured on TODAY Parents, The New York Times Blog, BlogHer, Scary Mommy, and scores of other parenting and cooking publications.

39 thoughts on “How To Store Butter Outside Of The Refrigerator”

  1. The strange thing is in the UK everyone keeps it in the fridge and when I lived in the US, people always had the butter in a dish on the counter top.

    I remember my landlady telling me she doesn’t put it in the fridge (and it was summer and 100 degrees) and I was a bit surprised. It was always okay, but after a lifetime of putting it in the fridge it was strange.

    I think a smell test whether it’s in the fridge or not is always wise.

  2. We actually keeps ours outside the fridge for some reason. I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s convenient since the product is already melted a little bit. The only time this is a problem is when the temperature is high outside, which makes the butter melt into a pool of…well, you know. We store it in a stainless steel container, and nothing bad ever seems to happen!

  3. I’m in the same boat as you are: growing up, our butter was ALWAYS in the fridge unless we took it out for baking. When I first when over to my boyfriend-now-husband’s house, I was pretty surprised to see one of those crocks on the counter! Of course, when I realized how much better it tastes OUTSIDE of the fridge than inside, I started following what they’re doing as soon as I moved into my place.

    I guess there’s just something about room temperature verses those fridge-temperature-spreadable products.

    Plus isn’t it cheaper to get it by the stick than it is to get those container spreads?

  4. Growing up, we used margarine (under my protest), not butter, and that was kept in the refrigerator. My Grandmother used butter though, and it was often kept on the table or counter in a glass covered butter dish. I’ve wondered about this myself, since I was never sure whether my Grandmother actually put the dish in her fridge at night, but regardless, with all the traffic in and out of her home, I doubt it lasted long enough to spoil. I’m glad you specified that unsalted and whipped need to be refrigerated, since I often have those on hand, as well as the salted variety.

    • I made some margarine canna butter and left in a metal pot covered for 2 days . It looks good and nothing of mildew. Is it still good to use to make brownies?

  5. And here I was, worried about leaving the butter out for a few hours last week by accident! I always assumed it must be refrigerated , especially after opening.

    It’s good to know these tips – I do like it much better at room temperature so it’s much easier to spread. It’s also a hassle having to slightly microwave a bit, without it melting, for some recipes.

    A stick doesn’t really last too long in my apartment so there wouldn’t be a chance of it spoiling. Thanks for this tip – I’ll be trying this out. 🙂

  6. I can’t imagine it having time to go rancid in my house growing up. Four kids eating pancakes or eggs with toast. It was always on the table and I had the honors of buttering the pancakes for my mom. 🙂 Recently my mom has upgraded to storing it in water upside down. I am even more impressed that my Dad swears by the brands made from grass fed cow.

  7. This is actually a great post on such a simple question. I ask myself this all the time when deciding on whether or not I should stick it in the refrigerator. Is it safe to leave it out? Now I know. What’s amazing about it out is that it makes it softer and so much easier to spread on bread/anything else!

  8. Whilst I cannot abide keeping butter out on the countertop, I agree that it is much more convenient for spreading. it’s virtually imposssible to spread butter straight from the fridge without tearing your bread.

    I tend to take my butter out of the fridge aroung half an hour before I want to use it, gives it a chance to soften slightly.

  9. SALTED!
    I always leave my butter out but I also buy unsalted.
    Salt is a preservative, I didn’t think to just buy the salted variety!
    Sometimes something so simple can get missed.
    Thank you for posting this!

  10. Since I have to share one refrigerator with everyone in the building, this is a really good tip! have to go and buy some of those jars now.

    Although, I guess I should still have to refrigerate them in summer, since it goes to about 40-45 degrees (celsius) here? That’s around 105-115 farenheit

  11. Salted butter! Ahh, that makes so much sense! Even though I grew up in an un-refrigerated household I’m a bit of a germophobe, and always keep my all of my dairy refrigerated. I’m constantly getting after my mom to put hers away. I will admit, it does taste better. I’m going to share your advice with her of switching to salted. Maybe I can even convince her to store it in one of these cute crocks!

  12. I also grew up in a house with butter in the fridge, which I thought was the way to go. Imagine my absolute shock when I discovered that my husband stores it in the FREEZER. I grew up in a house where we used way too much in our cooking and then as an added topper maybe every other night or so. But to store it in the freezer? That just seemed plain crazy until he told me that not every family consumes it at the rate that my family did. I hardly eat any form of high fat dairy products or the fake stuff (i.e. margarine) now because of this, and strangely enough, I don’t miss it.

    I guess storing it in a cupboard and cabinet makes sense though since people had been doing it for years before inventions such as the refrigerator came around. I don’t eat nearly as much anymore but I might add a little back into my diet if I’m able to be able to keep it out in a cupboard without it going bad. And I have to say…that cute little Le Creuset butter dish just might push me into it as well.

  13. I like this one. Some people like to keep their butter out on the table but this is a great idea. I’ve always kept it in the fridge and it is always hard as a rock. What a great gift for the lazy ones who forget to put it away. They won’t have to worry about it. This would be my Mom and sister, they are going to love this.

  14. Even I would leave stick of butter out to thaw out or softened before using it for baking. The majority of the time would have butter in the fridge but I do have an aunt that would leave butter on a dish.

  15. Whilst there’s nothng better than hot buttered toast, I’ve always found bspreading butter straight fromm the fridge to be a fruitless task. I would never have considered leaving it out though – I had no idea that these cooling crocks were available.

  16. I can see how keeping butter out on the counter could be great, especially for recipes that call for room-temperature butter. Not to mention spreading it on your morning toast. I’m just not sure I can bring myself to believe this is okay. I’m sure it IS fine, but now it has just become habit to put it in the fridge!

  17. I must admit I keep mine in the fridge. Just force of habit, but I know people that leave it out as well. I like it warm and spreadable. Not sure why I haven’t started leave out a small bowl of it myself. I really should do it because I love bettered bread.

  18. I grew up with “tub” margarine in the fridge. It wasn’t until my early 40’s did that change. I received my mother-in-law’s china after she passed and it came with a butter dish. I started using the real thing during this time as well. I started putting a stick on the dish and leaving it on the counter. The result? A nice, smooth, soft texture that was easy to spread on bread. After ten years I’ve never had any spoil.

  19. Wow! I guess this shows me where I went wrong. My butter was unsalted and I had it in a plastic container that was probably not great with sealing either. You sure could tell it wasn’t any good, it had a strange taste and smell….but it would happen in a matter of hours for me so it was a real let down.

    I will definitely have to look for one of these, I’ve never heard of them before now! In America butter comes in sticks but it doesn’t in Australia. We have big blocks that are closer to 4 sticks in size…it makes finding an airtight container for it very hard. Not sure how I will get that big block in the bell but it’s worth a try!

  20. I used to leave my butter out in an air-tight container. It softened, but never melted all the way. It was especially ideal when I wanted to bake and needed my butter to be as soft as possible.

    I had no idea these crocks existed. Thanks for sharing the tip with us. I’ll be sure to try it out very soon.

    Now, I’d better go see if I can find it anywhere in my country, if not, I’m going to order it online.

  21. My parents always had the butter refrigerated, but my grandma always had one stick out on the counter, in a covered dish. I like the spreadability of the butter kept unrefrigerated, and I think it tastes better too. However, I don’t believe we go through butter quick enough to keep it on the counter all the time. If I bake that week, then we go through butter quick, and I always forget to soften it before hand, which is a pain, but then we’ll go over a week with the same butter in the fridge. I think I just have to get better at remembering to let butter sit out long enough to soften, before I want to bake something, or use it for pancakes/toast/etc. Good information though. I always wondered how those butter bells worked.

  22. My host parents from America also used to keep one stick outside and the rest was in the fridge.. But here in Czech, we always leave it in the fridge.. Maybe it’s because we don’t use butter for anything else than cooking and baking, so we don’t really need it to be soft for spreading on bread or anything like that..:) Great article though!

  23. Growing up in the country, we always had room temperature butter. It wasn’t even pasteurized back then, as it was always acquired from a neighbor’s farm. It wasn’t yellow either, because no food coloring was added to it, so it was a slightly off-white color. We always used a little dish made of pottery or a small crock, like the author suggests, to keep it in on the table. There’s nothing quite like room temperature butter with hot bread!

  24. Growing up, sometimes the butter would be kept in the fridge and other times it would sit on the kitchen table. I never really thought much of it as a child, except that I welcomed the soft creamy consistency over the solid state. I think I will be keeping mine unrefrigerated from now on.

  25. I never thought about storing butter outside my fridge. I always thought of butter as strictly dairy and 100% perishable if left out for too long. I remember one time I went shopping and forgot to put away the perishables. I was completely picnicked the next morning. I smelled the milk and yogurt and to my relief it hadn’t spoiled but then I thought to myself “how do I tell if the butter has gone bad”. I cautiously used the butter over the next week wondering if the next dish I added it to was going to be the dish that sent me running to the restroom the whole day. Looking back I realize how silly that was(there was no way my butter was going to spoil from one day out in the open) and this article just makes it seem even sillier. I’ll be on the lookout for foul smells next time I forget to put my butter in the fridge. I don’t think I’m brave enough to put it in a crock yet.

  26. I remember my grandmothers’ used to do this, and my maternal grandmother used to make butter at home. So, we always had fresh butter around the house and it was delicious. The funny thing is, my mother grew up on a farm and grew up doing lots of stuff like this, but when she left home to have her own family, she didn’t do many of those things anymore.

  27. I feel silly for finding this pretty amazing. It’s not exactly cutting edge technology, but I’d never actually heard of it.

    I love butter (who doesn’t?) but haven’t used much in years because of what the fridge does to it. I practically only used in in winter anymore, when we deemed it safe to keep it outside. Not using much might sound good to the more diet-minded, but buttered toast is still likely to beat sugary cereal even in that regard.

    I’m actually gonna look for one of these. Not sure how easy it will be to find one in my country, but hey, worst case scenario i can probably come up with a ridiculous looking contraption involving bowls and Tupperware… and then the rest of the household will think I’ve gone nuts.

  28. I’ve never had a problem with leaving butter out. I like it both refrigerated and left out on the counter, but I’ve never had a problem with it going bad if left out. My boyfriend’s family buys Country Crock and leaves it sitting out on the cabinet next to the toaster or oven for days at a time, with the lid on of course. It makes it easy to spread, and it tastes just as delicious as if it were out of the fridge! Before moving in with his family I had never done something like this, my family always kept it in the fridge, but it’s really not as bad as some people might think it is.

  29. I must say I’m surprised at what a revelation this seems to be for many readers. How on earth did you think people kept butter before fridges were invented! As a child, the butter dish was kept in a saucer of water on the slate slab that was the shelf in the larder. I never keep the currently-in-use package of butter in the fridge – it’s on the table in a butter dish, which in this household is just a glass dish with a glass lid. Admittedly I live in the temperate UK, but the butter in the dish has never gone bad, ever.

  30. I’ve never thought about storing my butter outside, shamefully, but it does make a lot of sense. I’m willing to bet it also tastes even better than the butter stored in the fridge.
    I’ll keep thsi in mind for the next time!

  31. Well, we don’t really buy butter sticks here, we usually buy it on the kind of large bottles and let me tell you that it seems low last forever, lol. But it has to do completely with the amount of butter that it’s there. I had no idea that the main reason why the butter went bad it was because it wasn’t covered, but it actually makes a lot of sense, I will take this on count, I’m pretty sure it’ll be useful.
    Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  32. I always leave half my butter in the fridge and half of it outside of the fridge. I do this because basically there are reasons that butter is better cold and reasons that the room-temperature version works best. For instance, for some dough, cold butter must be utilized to get the right consistency. However, some cookie recipes call for room-temperature butter and rushing the process by melting it quickly in the microwave ruins the texture.

  33. Putting butter in a butter bell does not keep the butter cooler. The water will in the bell, and the butter itself, will quickly warm up to room temperature. What the bell does very effectively is, prevent air and light from coming into contact with the exposed surface of the butter (which is covered with water). Air and light are what tend to cause spoilage.

  34. This just shows the pervasive Northern US bias. Leaving butter unrefrigerated in many areas of the South would be a terrible idea for two reasons… one, insects, such as ants and roaches are much more common unless you are very persnickety about kitchen cleanliness. I’ve been to some houses in the north and people commonly leave food items, crumbs, etc., on counters… there’d be bugs all over that in the Southern US. Two, what Northerners call “room temperature” is downright refrigeration. It is not unusual for Southern homes to have a room temperature of 78-84 degrees Fahrenheit. Your on-the-counter butter will go bad in a half day at best.

    • That’s a tricky one, JR. I used to agree completely, until I met my mother-in-law. She swears by leaving butter out for extended periods as she did when she was growing up in India – where it was generally rather warm, without A/C. Of course, they may have also been consuming a lot more butter on a given day than the average US household does today… Short of keeping it in direct sunlight, many butter lovers around the world do in fact store it without refrigeration.

      Thanks for your comment!

  35. I live in Austin, Texas, and I always have a stick of butter out, in a covered dish. Salted or unsalted. Never had a problem. HATE hard butter for table use!

  36. Can anyone help resolve a problem I have with the Butter Bell Crock – our butter bell is no longer retaining the butter in the bell – no matter how hard I try to compress the butter into the bell, it fails to stick in the bell and falls out once I upend the bell into the water dish…any solutions out there???

  37. I detest margarine and its chemicals, so I always use butter. As I live alone, I cut a stick of butter in half (or buy the half size sticks), and keep the half out on the counter in a covered dish. I’ve never had a problem with it. By the time it is gone (1-2 weeks) the dish needs cleaning, so I clean and dry it and put the other half out to soften.

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