How Long Boxed Chicken Stock Stays Fresh In The Fridge

A hearty flavored stock is one of the best ways to boost the flavor of almost any dish requiring a bit of liquid. There are many varieties: versatile chicken or vegetable stocks, meaty beef stock, and even fish stock or dashi for seafood-centric dishes. While we might like to be the kind of cooks who save all of our cooking scraps in the freezer to make our own homemade stock, sometimes we don't have the time. Enter the boxed chicken stock.

The light flavor of chicken stock is incredibly versatile; it's useful for a wide range of dishes, from chicken noodle soup to Moroccan-spiced couscous salad. And if you're vegetarian or vegan, some brands of boxed stock don't contain chicken; they're prepared without animal products and marketed as "no chicken" or "chicken-style" stock.

Usually sold in 1-quart boxes, store-bought prepared chicken stock is an essential pantry ingredient. This large size also means using up the whole box might take a while. Fortunately, boxed stock manufacturers usually give consumers two indications on the packaging as to the integrity of its contents. The first is the best-by date we are familiar with, which is how long the stock will last as long as the box stays unopened. The other indicator states how many days the stock will last once the box is opened if stored properly in the refrigerator. The number of days depends on the brand, but many last about five days.

Always use your senses

These indicators are great guidelines for the everyday home cook. They reasonably estimate when we can safely cook and consume these stocks. That said, you should always use your senses. J. Kenji López-Alt writes in The New York Times, "Expiration dates are not expiration dates."

This may sound like a bold statement until you realize that the wording is "best by" and not "will go bad by." Sometimes a well-stored intact can of tuna can be opened years later and still be edible. Sometimes a mishap during transportation pops the button seal and makes the contents rancid well before the stated "best by" date. Using your senses, you can smell if your box of chicken stock has gone bad before the stated five days is up. Conversely, it's been a week since the "best by" date, and it smells fine, so you take a little sip of the stock. If it tastes fine as well, it's a-okay to go ahead and use it.

Of course, combine your senses with reasonable judgment. If preparing the dish for a crowd or sale, chuck the stock once it's past its "best by" date, as it's not worth the risk of causing stomach issues to many folks. But if you're cooking at home, and it's just for one meal or for your household, chances are good that it's safe to use with little consequence.

Ways to stretch leftover chicken stock

What if you've opened a box of chicken stock and already know that you won't be able to finish it on time? The best option at this point is to freeze the leftover stock. Pour it into ice cube trays and let freeze, then pop the cubes out and store them in a freezer bag. This helps save space, reduce future thawing times, and enables you to use the exact amount you need for dishes. 

If you were making soup with the stock anyway, it's good practice to double the recipe so you can freeze the leftover soup. Ice cube trays are available with larger portion sizes so that you can have soup in a snap on a busy day. 

Another way to get around leftover stock is to purchase bouillon cubes or pastes instead. These powerfully flavored concentrates last much longer than prepared chicken stock and often work out to be cheaper in the long run. Simply reconstitute the needed amount in water and use it as you would regular chicken stock.