Does butter need to be refrigerated? Well, it depends
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.”
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.