How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?

Although I always make every effort to finish off those freshly smoked ribs, brisket, or pork butt, sometimes there is just too much of a feast for one meal. Luckily, due to the way the smoke interacts with the meat, it won’t go off any faster than other styles of cooking. In fact, depending on the type of smoking it may actually aid in the preservation process.

So if you’ve truly smoked enough for a king and have glorious leftovers, read more to find out how long you can keep it safely for future meals.

How Long Does Smoked Meat Last

Kept simple, as recommended by the FDA, smoked meat will keep its quality and be safe to consume within 3-4 days post smoke. The key here however is to be sure to store it properly and refrigerate within 2 hours of it being removed from the heat.

If you want to really stock up and keep the food for longer periods of time you can. By freezing the meat and keeping it at or below 0°F it will actually be safe to consume indefinitely. However, the FDA recommends consuming it within 2-3 months, but this is more so that it keeps its quality. If you freeze the smoked meat longer it may start to suffering from freezer burn or drying out too much.

If you really think you’ve smoked too much meat, or purposely stocking up, always prepare and store your meat carefully. Always use heavy-duty airtight foil, into a plastic wrap, preferably vacuum sealed.

These are the general guidelines to follow for the typical process of hot smoking your meat, whether it’s using charcoal, gas, or wood pellets for smoking. However, depending on what you’re smoking, and if you are hot or cold smoking your meat, consumption times may differ. Let’s take a closer look.

Hot Smoking

Hot smoking is the classic way to produce traditional barbecue. Controlling the smoke in an enclosed environment, like in modern-day smokers or a smokehouse, slowly cooking the meat as it imparts the smokiness. Although hot smoking is considered to be above temperatures of 126°F, the sweet spot for smoking meats is usually between 225°F and 250°F depending on what you’re smoking.

For example, I often let the temperature come close to 275°F for wood smoked pork butt or smoking ribs, but keep it at the 225°F sweet-spot for smoking chicken wings or smoking brats.

How Long Does Hot Smoked Meat Last

The process of hot smoking does not add any natural preservative properties. So, hot smoked meat must be consumed as if it was cooked in any other fashion, such as roasted or fried. Typically the meat will maintain its quality and flavor and be safe to consume within 3-4 days as long as it was placed in the refrigerator within 2 hours of smoking.

If you’ve really cooked a feast or want to stock up, you can vacuum seal or use heavy-duty airtight foil and place it in the freezer. Although safe to eat after any amount of time, it will generally start to lose its quality after a few months or so.

Warm Smoking

Warm smoking is the least common way of smoking meat. In fact, the process should only be followed by professionals, as warming the food at temperatures around 77-104°F increases the risk or bacteria growth as they thrive in this temperature.

This process is only really followed when partially smoking fish or seafood that would normally be eaten fresh to impart a light smokiness without cooking the meat.

How Long Does Warm Smoked Meat Last

There is no dead-set length of time to consume warm smoked fish, but generally it won’t be served unless it’s fresh.

Cold Smoking

Cold smoking does not cook the meat. During the process, the meat remains raw and has usually gone through a curing or brining process. This curing is essential in order to prevent bacteria from forming during the cold smoking process. By curing then smoking or drying foods using cold smoke, it completes the preservation process.

Cold smoking occurs between 68-86°F, and the food is able to take on the smokey flavor but remains raw throughout the process. This process should be left to the professionals, as if the meat isn’t preserved properly it can lead to unwanted and unhealthy bacteria build-up that can make the meat dangerous to consume.

In the home, the application of cold smoking is more frequently used for smoking cheese, nuts, or vegetables, this way it’s completely safe and you can still enjoy that amazing smoked flavor we are all here for.

How Long Does Cold Smoked Meat Last

If the meat has been properly cured and cold smoked it can keep its quality and will be safe to consume even after months. This is typically observed in meats like salami, but smoking ham is also common and can last at least weeks in the refrigerator. 

Depending on the type of meat and how it was prepared, you may wish to consume cold smoked meats within a week to a month or so to ensure you’re having it when it’s still got high-quality texture and taste.

Summary

  • Always store your smoked meat in the refrigerator covered and within 2 hours after cooking to keep it optimal quality and for safe consumption.
  • After refrigeration, be sure to consume within 4 days.
  • If you’re freezing your smoked meat for a rainy day, remember, layers are your friend. Place the meat wrapped tightly into a zip-lock bag and remove as much air as you can, then finally place it in a sealed airtight container. Alternatively, you can use a vacuum bag.
  • Put a date on your container so you can keep track of how long it’s been in the fridge or freezer.
  • Although smoked meat can be safe to consume after any time in the freezer, you may start to see and taste the quality of the meat dropping as it dries out and/or gets freezer burn. This may be after 2-3 months or longer depending on the conditions.
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