Although smoking is a longer process than grilling, there’s no denying how much everyone loves a piece of delicious and flavorful smoked meat. From the smell alone, you’ll surely feel hungry immediately.
Because everyone loves smoked meat, we always tend to cook more, leading to more leftovers than usual. The good thing is, smoking meat also cures it, allowing the meat to stay longer than usual.
With this in mind, you’ll be happy to know that your leftovers won’t go to waste. However, proper storage and how you cook the meat can still play a huge part here.
In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into how long smoked meat lasts. We’ll also tackle topics on:
- Safely preparing meat for storing
- Different smoking methods and how they impact your meat’s life
- How to prolong meat life
How Long Can Smoked Meat Last
Smoked meat can easily last for four days after you have cooked it. However, you must store the meat inside the refrigerator within 2 hours after it’s cooked. And if you want the meat to last longer than four days, let’s say, up to three months, then wrapping it tightly, placing it in an air-tight container, and freezing it will help
Basic Safety When Preparing Meat For Storing
Yes, smoked meat can last for a very long time. However, how you store it would play a huge part. You need to make sure that you handle the meat in the safest way possible from preparation, cooking, and storing.
Here are the four basic steps to follow:
First and foremost, you must make sure that everything is clean. This way, your food won’t get contaminated in any way.
Because you’re handling food, hand washing is very important. If you’ve touched any surfaces, make sure to watch your hand before you handle the meat. On top of that, you must make sure that work surfaces are also clean and dry to prevent bacteria or fungi build-up.
If you’re using tools that will go in direct contact with your meat like your things or thermometer, wash that, too. If you’re going to measure the temperature of two different slices of meat, use a separate meat thermometer for both, or rinse the thermometer before using it for the other meat.
Any kind of contamination can reduce your meat’s shelf-life, making this step a crucial part of your whole process.
Next, you need to make sure that you separate your raw meat from other food items to prevent possible cross-contamination.
Don’t put your cooked meat on a plate where you placed your raw meat. This goes the same when it’s the other way around. Even if it’s a plate you used for vegetables, don’t put your raw or cooked meat there without washing that plate.
During the smoking process, you also need to make sure that you’re using the proper cooking temperatures. You need to make sure that the meat is thoroughly cooked on the inside to be guaranteed safe for consumption.
Having said that, the ideal internal temperature of your smoked meat should be 145 °F. Although smokers usually come with meat probes, it’s highly recommended to buy a good quality one to make sure that you get the proper temperature.
Lastly, if you have leftovers, make sure that you refrigerate them within two hours after you cooked them. This is because, after two hours, bacteria already starts to form.
Proper refrigeration is the key to making your smoked meat last longer. And because bacteria grows between 40-145 °F, it’s important to ensure that your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below.
When you keep your meat in the fridge, it needs to be consumed within four days. After that period, the meat is no longer safe for consumption.
If you have a lot of leftovers and you think you can’t eat them all within four days, vacuum-sealing the meat should help. This way, you get to remove excess air that helps bacteria grow and still keep the flavor inside the meat. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can simply wrap the meat tightly and place it inside an air-tight container.
For this, don’t simply chill the meat but keep it inside the freezer instead. If you follow the storage practices above carefully, you can keep the meat inside the freezer for up to three months.
Different Methods of Smoking and How They Impact How Long Meat Will Last
Now that we know how to prepare and store meat properly to last longer, let’s go back to the third step that can influence the meat’s shelf -life – cooking it.
Although smoking is a process that can cure meat and make it last longer, there are three different smoking methods that you can try:
- Hot Smoking
- Warm Smoking
- Dry Smoking
These smoking methods use different temperatures, giving you different results, and therefore, different storage times.
First, let’s start with hot smoking, the most common smoking method used.
It’s cold hot smoking mainly because the internal smoker temperature runs at 225 to 250 °F. However, even if the smoker runs at this temperature, meat can still take hours to cook.
With this method, the main goal is to intensify the flavor of your food. In other words, using the hot smoking method doesn’t make your meat last longer than the standard. It just stays within the four days in the fridge and three months in the freezer time frame.
Next, we have warm smoking, which uses lower temperatures than hot smoking. With this smoking method, the smoker runs at 77 to 104 °F.
This method is commonly used to smoke delicate meats like fish to help better preserve their texture. It can also be used for pre-cooked meats like bacon and sausage to help enhance their flavor by adding that smoky stage.
As for poultry and pork, we don’t advise you to use this method. 77 to 104 °F is a danger zone for these two types of meat, as bacteria already starts building up. In other words, you’ll be risking yourself and your family from getting food poisoned.
Dry smoking or popularly known as cold smoking is probably the best smoking method for preserving meat. It’s a similar method that our ancestors used way before modern technology was invented.
This process involves curing the meat with salt to dehydrate it. You simply cover the meat with salt so it absorbs all the moisture out of the meat, creating an environment where bacterial growth is impossible.
After the curing process, the meat is then hung and left to dry for 1 to 12 hours until it develops a pellicle, a thin, sticky coating. It’s best to make sure that the area has good airflow for this pellicle to form well.
Once the pellicle is created, you can now smoke the meat at a temperature of 90°F in a cold smoker (smoker designed perfectly for cold smoking).
This process usually takes days, but your effort will surely not go to waste as it enables you to preserve the meat a lot longer, thanks to the process of curing.
With cold smoking, the meat can stay edible for months, not just days. Well, that is given that you’ve properly cured and smoked the meat.
The key here is doing the curing process correctly. Because if that’s not done well, bacteria will grow. And since you’re going to smoke it at a low temperature, those bacteria won’t be killed, which can lead to food poisoning.
If you want to practice cold smoking, you can start with food that has very minimal risk, like cheese, tofu, or eggs.
How To Prolong Your Smoked Meat Life?
So, how can you prolong the shelf life of your smoked meat?
Well, for us, hot smoking would be the best-recommended method. You don’t risk your meat staying in the danger zone, and as long as you properly prepare and store it, there’s very little to no room for error.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Make sure that the area is clean when you’re preparing meat. You need to remove any possibility of cross-contamination, which means you need to wash your hands and other tools you’ll be using, clean the surfaces, and keep them dry.
- Never let cooked meat touch the same surfaces where you prepared raw meat.
- Refrigerate smoked meat within two hours after it’s cooked.
- Smoke meat can only last four days inside the refrigerator. If you wish for it to last longer, wrap it tightly and store it inside the freezer instead. However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t keep the meat inside the freezer for more than three months.
- Use a butcher’s paper, plastic wrap, or foil to wrap your food, and then store it in an air-tight container before putting it inside the freezer. If you have a vacuum sealer, this would be a better option.
- Labeling your food and putting on a date when it was refrigerated will help remind you about its shelf life.
Smoking meat truly gives a different kind of flavor to regular meat. But on top of that, many people love smoking because you can cook as much meat as you want and not worry about leftovers. After all, you can still eat them for more days to come.
However, we would also like to remind you that smoking meat doesn’t guarantee that it stays for the said duration. If you make any misstep, then it might still go spoiled even if you placed the meat inside the freezer.
With that said, knowing if the meat is still good or not is certainly helpful. If the meat starts to smell differently, has a different color, and is slimy, then it’s not good to eat. Just throw that away, and don’t risk yourself from getting food poisoned.
In other words, just be careful with doing each process and make sure to prevent any cross-contamination. And whenever you’re unsure, find this article again and use it as a guide to ensure that your smoked meat lasts for a longer time.