How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?

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Last updatedLast updated: February 01, 2021
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Smoked meats are quite the trend these days due to their delicious and unique taste. Smoking dates back to centuries ago when the process was used for food preservation along with drying and curing. As a result of technological advancements in this decade, preserving with flames is more of a hobby. But while refrigerators and fridges set the stage, smoking has its own space.

In this article, we’ll be telling you how long smoked meat lasts with and without refrigerating. We all love our smoked meat fresh, even if it isn’t day one. Preservation and vacuum sealing, coupled with smoking, retain their unique taste and prevent food poisoning. But storing at an optimal temperature won’t keep them forever. That’s why knowing their shelf lives is important to prevent wastage and regret for the time spent in preparation.

So how long does hot smoked meat last?

Varying factors affect the shelf lives of smoked meats — hot or cold. Improper storage will attract microorganisms like bacteria that thrive well in protein-rich foods. Smoking helps reduce the invasion of these meat spoilers, which isn’t enough to keep them for long.

Preserving over flames only chars the surface. The deep parts aren’t moisture-free and, thus, an ideal place for bacteria. This is where refrigerating comes in, but how long does hot smoked meat last in the fridge? What if it’s vacuum sealed? Let’s find out.

Without a refrigerator

How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?Hot smoking is the most common method of preservation with open fire. The smoker has to work at about 220° to 250°f to fit into the “hot” category. Even at that temp, it takes hours to get meat well smoked. In fact, you have to use a full day to hot smoke a big brisket.

Hot smoking typically increases your meat’s longevity, but the main aim is to add that woody flavor to it. The dehydrating and curing features, which are the main preservation techniques aren’t in place. That’s why it can only last for about 2 hours before being devoured by bacteria.

In the fridge

After smoking large chunks of meat during the day, you wouldn’t want to eat them all at once. But since all you did was hot smoke, you have to involve other preservative techniques. This is where a fridge comes in. Bacteria thrive at a temperature between 4°C to 60°C, so by keeping your smoked meat in a cold room, you’ve taken it out of the danger zone.

On this end, your hot smoked meat can last for 4 days if you put it in the fridge within 2 hours after smoking.

In the freezer

Freezers are designed to store frozen foods. They prevent your meats from spoilage by cooling them at a temperature much lower than a fridge. This means longer shelf life for your beef, pork, poultry, and other frozen foods. When your meat is preserved in the freezer a few hours after hot smoking, it stops the action of bacteria present but doesn’t kill them.

Proper handling and preparation are needed to ensure that your delicious smoked meat lasts for a long time, without fear of food poisoning. Meat wrapped using the appropriate procedure and kept in a freezer 2 hours after smoking will last for 3 whole months.

Vacuum sealed

How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?It is important to note that vacuum sealing is quite different from the wrapping technique before refrigeration. Wrapping basically helps prevent “freezer-burn” caused by dehydration. It retains moisture and stops your meat from drying out. This can be done with butcher paper, aluminum foil, and a freezer bag. The plastic paper is for easy removal when thawed, and the foil holds in moisture to stop the process of evaporation. The freezer bag is to secure the content and prevent thrashing them when moving items around your freezer.

As stated earlier, vacuum sealing is a bit different in that it involves airtight vacuum bags. You can even marinate it(brisket) before sealing. But food spoilers thrive in an oxygen-free environment, so ensure that freezing occurs immediately.

Vacuum-sealed smoked meat lasts for 4 days in a fridge and up to 3 months in a freezer.

Dehydrated

Dehydration is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Along with smoking and curing, it’s the surest way to give your meat a long shelf life. Since hot smoking is more like flavoring, using a dehydrator will remove excess moisture and prevent the action of enzymes.

After passing your meat through a pellet smoker or other regular types, the next recommended procedure is dehydration. Dehydrated smoked meat lasts for about two weeks if kept in airtight bags. If you take a step further by refrigerating, you’ll have it fresh after three weeks. By freezing, your smoked meat with its woody aroma is sealed in for six months.


How long does cold-smoked meat last?

Cold smoking isn’t as popular as the hot method; in fact, we do not recommend using the process if you’re not well informed. It’s an old preservation technique that dates back centuries ago. It involves different processes toward preventing food poisoning and achieving a long shelf life.

Curing—which is the first process involves dehydrating using just enough salt. This inhibits bacteria growth and lowers the risk of foodborne diseases.

Next up is the formation of pellicles, which are basically thin films developed by hanging your dehydrated meat in a place with maximum airflow. This seals in the smoky flavor and woody aroma, giving you the ultimate delicious taste. When cold smoking, the smokers include a firebox with wood chips and a smoking chamber. With this design, the meat is smoked at around 90°F without heat exposure.

Cold-smoked meat shelf life

How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?Meat lasts longer using the process of cold smoking than the hot type. The dehydrating and airing techniques literally turn bacteria’s ideal home into a living hell. While it is all nice and good, improper handling and wrong preparation step infection risks up the chart. The meat is prepared raw and at temperatures perfect for microorganisms’ growth.

Since cold smoking can be used on non-meat items, it is advisable to start with foods like cheese, vegetables, and eggs if you are a beginner. For experts, cold smoking your meat will preserve it for months. Some techniques performed with the right procedure will even keep it for a year. But generally, we recommend that you consume your cold-smoked meat within three months.

How to prolong your meat shelf life?

Smoked meat lasts for an average of 2 to 12 weeks based on the method used. This estimate, however, applies to only thoroughly and correctly smoked meat. If it’s partly raw or, on the contrary, too dry, its shelf life will be different.

Make sure your smoker creates consistent heat and has a built-in temperature gauge so that you could monitor it. A time-proven option like the classical Weber Smokey Mountain is the right place to start. You can bank on them for well-smoked meat that can last for a long time.

That being said, let’s check out neglected food safety guidelines that can prolong your meat shelf life:

  • Recommended by the Food Safety and Inspection Service are the optimum temperatures meat should reach to clear out bacteria. When smoking, a specific internal temperature has to be maintained. And this varies with the type of meat and the smoking method used.

Ground pork, beef, lamb – 160°F

Sausage with chicken or turkey – 165°F

Poultry – 165°F

Roasts, veal, chops – 145°F

Fish and beef – 145°F

  • Storing smoked poultry in a refrigerator will preserve it for two weeks. When properly wrapped or vacuum sealed before keeping in a freezer, it’ll last a year at most. Remember that refrigerating should occur immediately after smoking.
  • Smoked meat should be stored at a temperature of about 40°F after vacuum-sealing. Anything different will harbor microorganisms. Bacteria multiply in seconds if they’re in areas ideal for their growth.
  • Your refrigerator should measure 0.5°C to 2.2°C. For freezers, keep them below -17°C.
  • Chopping boards and utensils should be kept clean to prevent the risk of cross-contamination. Do not place your smoked meat where you keep the raw ones.
  • Wrap your meat with aluminum foil before refrigerating two hours after smoking. This prevents evaporation and freezer burn. Placing it in a freezer bag is also recommended, you can date it to be informed of its shelf life.
  • Although bacteria thrive without oxygen, using a vacuum sealer will help prolong your meat shelf life. It removes excess air and prevents more from getting in.

How do you know it’s already dangerous to consume?

With reference to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records, millions of people are diagnosed with foodborne diseases each year. Unfortunately, thousands get hospitalized, and hundreds die as a result. This is why being informed about your meat longevity, proper handling, and appropriate storage methods are essential.

As stated earlier, refrigerated smoked meat can only last for two weeks, anything after that is “no-touching.” But your meat can enter the “danger zone” before the estimated period, so here are what to look out for before consumption:

  • Smell: bad meat always has a nasty smell that makes you go “augh.” The absence of a rotten smell, however, doesn’t mean it’s safe for consumption. Bacteria could very much be thriving quietly with no aim for attention. You could smell your meat for ammonia’s scent to detect if it’s only putting on fresh masks.
  • Texture: that slimy feel when you touch your meat is a heads-up. If there are no nasty scents, you should check for stickiness.
  • Color: note the color difference in the inner part of your smoked meat, if any. A color change is a common sign of meat spoilage.

Final thoughts

We love smoked meats for their unique taste and that smoky aroma. A couple of hours is spent in preparing them so we could sit back and enjoy the delicious treat. You wouldn’t want to spend a whole day smoking a large chunk of meat only to have to eat them all at a go, yeah? That’s why it is essential to know the preservative methods and how long your smoked meat can last. Not only will this ensure that your hard work doesn’t end in the trash can, it’ll also reduce the risk of food poisoning, all in the name of smoked meat.

By using the right method and following appropriate procedures, your smoked poultry, meat, or fish will last longer and stay fresh all through. Don’t forget to follow the basic sanitation guidelines. They’ll go a long way in keeping your delicious smoked items safe to consume at a later date.

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