Smoked meat takes a lot of time and patience to prepare, so often, we make more meat and food than we can consume. The questions are – how long does smoked meat last, and how to store the leftovers without wasting food?
First, there is good news. Some types of smoked meat are easier to store and can last longer than other cooked or uncooked meat.
Humans have been smoking meat and fish since the paleolithic era because of the long shelf life of smoked food. But keep in mind that our ancestors relied on cold smoking rather than the prevalent hot smoking to preserve the protein for longer.
Still, smoked meat cannot be stored forever, and smoked meat can go bad and cause foodborne illness.
Read on to find out how long you can store smoked meat, how to store it properly, and what the different types of smoking meat are.
How long does smoked meat last?
Hot smoked meat can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 4 days and will remain safe and tasty to eat if you place it in the fridge up to two hours after taking it out of the smoker. If you wrap it properly and freeze your smoked meat, you can store it in the freezer for up to three months.
This is excellent news for those of you who enjoy the many delicious leftover recipes for smoked brisket or other meat.
According to the guidelines by the Food Safety and Inspection Service for hot smoking meat, the meat should be prepared as follows:
- The temperature of the meat should be raised to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit for pork, beef, veal, and lamb steaks and to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meat. Safe smoking of poultry is done by achieving a temperature of at least 165 degrees for poultry.
- By reaching these recommended temperatures, you will make sure that any harmful bacteria in the meat are destroyed.
But hot smoking is not the only available option for smoking meat. You can cold smoke it, warm smoke it a smoke-roast meat too.
Here are the different smoking methods used for meat.
The different types and methods for smoking meat
The different methods for smoking meat rely on different temperatures and ensure other storage times for the meat.
Hot smoking meat
Hot smoking meat is the most popular type of smoking food. It requires that the meat is smoked at an internal temperature in the smoker of 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
At such temperatures, the smoking can take several hours and even a full day, especially when low and slow smoking large or tough cuts of meat such as brisket.
Because the temperatures used for hot smoking meat are sufficient for the safe cooking of the meat, the meat doesn’t need to be brined prior to smoking. Still, some pitmasters prefer to brine the meat in order to improve its taste further.
The idea of hot smoking is to make the food taste better while it is cooking rather than to allow for longer storage.
This is the reason why hot smoked meat will stay good and safe only for up to 4 days when store in a refrigerator and when it is refrigerated up to 2 hours after cooking it.
Warm smoking meat
Warm smoking is done at a much lower temperature of 77 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is a smoking method commonly used for delicate meat and fish in order to help preserve the texture for longer. Some pre-cooked meats such as sausage and bacon are warm smoked to provide them with the smoky tang flavor and to heat them up.
But please note that warm smoking can be dangerous when used for pork or poultry because its low temperatures can leave the meat in the 40-140 degree Fahrenheit Danger Zone for several hours. This means that there is a risk of getting mild to serious foodborne illness if the meat has not been cooked to the recommended temperatures.
Cold smoking meat
Unlike the hot and warm smoking methods, the food remains raw and uncooked throughout the cold smoking process.
It is a technique that is the closest to the one used by our ancestors to preserve meat without refrigeration.
For the cold smoking method, the meat is cured first with salt in order to become dehydrated and, as such, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
After the meat is cured, it is hung in a well-ventilated area for 1-2 hours in order to develop a sticky and dry layer called a pellicle. The pellicle helps the meat absorb the delicious smoky flavors during the cold smoking process.
When the pellicle appears, the meat can be smoked at a low temperature of up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Offset smokers that produce smoke in separate fireboxes and then move it to the smoking chambers are suitable for cold smoking meat, as the meat does not come into contact with the fire and heat directly.
The cold smoking process can take several days, depending on the type and size of the cut and meat.
This smoking technique is a combination of traditional roasting along with some wood smoke for added flavor.
Smoke-roasting can be achieved with a regular fan oven, with the help of a pellet smoker, which holds the wood pellets or chips for the smoking.
This type of smoking does not add a longer preservation time for the meat cooked and is used only to add the desired smoky flavor.
For how long can hot smoked meat be stored?
As mentioned above, hot smoking is used for adding the tangy smoked flavor to the meat rather than to help preserve it for longer. It is done via low and slow cooking, and while the smoke does remove some moisture from the meat, this is not the same as curing the meat with salt and dehydrating it used for the cold smoking method.
So, how long can you store and safely eat hot smoked meat?
The answer to this question is up to 4 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months when packed and frozen. But, you will need to follow these safety guidelines when preparing the meat and storing it to avoid the danger of food poisoning:
– Avoid cross-contaminating the meat with utensils and chopping boards you have used for raw meat
– Make sure that the internal temperature of the meat you are smoking reaches the recommended guidelines by the Food Safety and Inspection Service
– You will need to refrigerate the smoked meat up to two hours after taking it out of the smoker to keep it out of the Danger Zone for long hours
– You should wrap the meat in foil or store it in a small airtight container, or for the safest and best results, use a vacuum sealer to keep the smoked meat away from oxygen during the storage.
If you have followed these guidelines, you can safely store the hot smoked meat in the fridge for up to four days and in the freezer for up to three months.
How long can cold smoked meat be stored?
As we explained earlier, cold smoking ensures that the meat can be preserved safely for longer. This is due to the different steps used for the cold smoking process, including the curing of the meat, its airing, and then the smoking is done at a certain temperature. Through these steps, the meat becomes bacteria-free and hostile to the growth of new bacteria.
If it is prepared properly, cold smoked meat can be stored and eaten safely for months after the smoking.
The problem is that you will need to make sure that you have cold-smoked the meat properly to be sure that it is safe to eat after the smoking and after days or even months.
If it has not been prepared properly, cold smoked meat can start growing harmful bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes or Clostridium botulinum which can cause severe and even fatal foodborne illness.
Keep in mind that cold-smoked fish can also contain parasites such as tapeworms which are not destroyed because the fish has not been cooked.
This is why it is recommended that pregnant women, very young or older people, and those with underlying chronic illnesses should avoid eating cold smoked meat and fish, especially homemade ones.
Overall, if you are willing to give cold smoking a try at home, it is advisable to start with safer foods, such as pre-cooked meats, cheese, tofu, or nuts, which are not as likely to cause serious foodborne illnesses.
Here’s a list of the best meats to smoke at home
Hot smoked meat is delicious and has an unmatched flavor. Cold smoked meat is also very flavorsome and can be preserved for longer.
In both these cases, you should make sure that you prepare the meat according to the safety guidelines and then store it properly.
Hot smoked meat can be stored safely in a refrigerator for up to 4 days and in a freezer for up to 3 months.
Cold smoked meat can be stored for months when the food has been properly cured, aired, and smoked.
If you are new to cold smoking, you should start experimenting with safer foods first to avoid the risk of developing a severe foodborne illness.
Hot-smoking meat is a great way to give it an extra punch of flavor. Cold-smoking food adds the same character with the added benefit of preserving the meat.
In both cases, the best way to get the most from your smoked meat and make it last longer is to be well informed about how to store it safely.
Your hot-smoked meat can be refrigerated for four days or frozen for three months before it becomes a risk.
Cold-smoked meats can be stored in months, but there is an inherent risk to cold-smoking that can lead to some very nasty bacterial infections. If you’re new to smoking and want to try cold-smoking food, it is best to stick to something other than meat until you’ve gained a little experience.