How Does Smoking Meat Preserve It And Kill Bacteria?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 19, 2022

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If you are hardcore into cooking meat, then preserving meat might be high on your list of priorities.

If you like smoking meat in large batches, then making sure they are free of bacteria and other contaminants is very important for getting meat that will not make you ill after consumption.

The process of smoking preserves the meat by killing off any harmful bacteria as well as adding a lot of flavor.

Does Hot Smoking Preserve Meat (And Some Preserving Ideas)

Smoking meat is done with wood chips or chunks, which contain natural tannins and smoke flavors.

The smoke penetrates the meat to create an environment where harmful bacteria cannot survive. 

And following a special curing process in combination with hot smoking, you can preserve meat for very long periods of time.

But you might be wondering if hot smoking also makes meat last longer?

While smoked meat will stay good for up to four days in the fridge, hot smoking your meat is not a good method of preserving it for much longer.

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Hot smoking cooks meat with wood smoke to enhance the flavor but this process does not safely preserve the meat unless it is frozen or cured as well.

In order to preserve the meat, it must be smoked and cured or frozen to remove any bacterial cultures on the food.

Hot smoking destroys most of the microbes like with any cooking, but if you leave it out, it will still make the meat spoil and it can cause serious illness.

How does smoking meat cure it?

Smoking doesn’t cure food. Hot smoking is just cooked food, and cold smoking does nothing to preserve meat longer, but it’s the additional methods of preservation done beforehand, like brining and curing, that make cold smoked meat edible.

Here we’ll discuss the smoking process as well as give you a few ideas about how to preserve your meat.

Does hot smoking preserve meat?

No, hot smoking does not preserve meat for more than a few hours. That’s because, in order to preserve meat, ALL microbial activity and any bacteria must be destroyed.

Thus, after meat and other food is hot smoked, it needs to be frozen and cured.

The purpose of hot smoking is to cook the meat, and to infuse it with flavor. It’s used to add that pleasant woody smokiness and improve the meat’s taste.

Thus, hot smoking is a method of cooking, rather than a method of preservation.

How does smoking meat kill bacteria?

Hot smoking is the process of cooking food using smoke and heat simultaneously. This is usually just called “smoking” and it’s most commonly done to meat in a smoker. The food is cooked at a temperature that is hot enough to kill any bacteria that may be present. This ensures that the meat is safe to eat and has a good flavor.

Food is smoked by placing it beside the flames that produce the smoke. This technique allows you to smoke and cook food at the same time.

Due to the relatively low temperature of the chamber, the cooking time is much longer than with other methods, which is why it takes so long to cook.

The temperature inside the cooking chamber is between 80-150 degrees C, or 176-302 degrees F which is lower than for grilling.

Hot smoking can be used to cook all types of meat, including chicken, pork, beef, and fish.

It is a popular method of cooking in many parts of the world, such as the United States, Europe, and Asia.

How does hot smoking work?

Here’s a detailed look at how hot smoking works:

During the hot smoking process, the meat (or other food) is placed into a smoker.

This is an indirect cooking method, meaning that the meat is not placed directly over the heat source.

Instead, the meat is placed in a chamber where it is exposed to wood smoke and heated indirectly.

Wood chips or wood chunks are used to give that classic wood smoky flavor.

The chamber can be made of different materials, such as metal, ceramic, or even a converted barrel.

The heat source is usually located at the bottom of the chamber, and the wood smoke rises through the chamber and cooks the meat.

One advantage of hot smoking is that it allows you to cook and smoke food at the same time.

This is because the temperature inside the smoking chamber is usually between 80-150 degrees C (176-302 degrees F).

The temperature inside the smoker increases gradually and it is controlled so the meat can reach a temperature where it’s cooked and safe to eat.

When you smoke meat, the chemical compounds, combined with the heat destroy the bacteria that can cause food poisoning.

Basically, chemicals in the smoke called formaldehyde and alcohols can act as food preservatives but this method isn’t always 100% effective.

Also, the smoking process dries the meat’s surface and since there’s less moisture, there’s less of a chance that bacteria can develop any further however, the food must be smoked properly for this to work.

But, to prevent any new microbial growth, the meat has to be cured first or placed in the freezer after it’s smoked.

The flavor of the meat also changes, as the smoke penetrates the surface and infuses the meat with its flavor.

Wondering how hot smoking then differs from cold smoking? Tom from Eat Cured Meat explains it in detail:

How does smoking meat help in preservation?

Contrary to other meat preservation methods, smoking helps retain all the natural juiciness of the meat while making it suitable for storage at the same time.

How? Let’s explain it with the help of some 10th-grade nerd science.

So, as you may already know, moisture provides a favorable ground for bacterial growth.

Even more when the environment is as protein-rich as meat and the temperature is between 40 F and 140 F.

This bacterial growth is triggered when you keep your meat in a marinade and is even catalyzed when you keep touching it from time to time.

Anyways, by smoking meat at an external temperature of about 225 F (this can vary according to the type of meat), the internal temperature of the meat rises to about 160 F, inhibiting bacterial growth.

Additionally, since many kinds of wood contain natural preservatives like formaldehyde and alcohol, their infusion in the meat during the smoking process and their presence on the dry meat surface afterward also prolongs meat’s shelf life.

Nevertheless, there’s a condition for preserving smoked meats. And that is to store them directly in the freezer after smoking so that their temperature stays out of the danger zone.

Guess what! You want minimum bacterial production before sliding the meat into the freezer, and for that, the first two hours are critical.

Can microbes and bacteria grow on hot smoked food?

Yes, some spores will not die right away and can still develop.

Once food is hot smoked, it is safe to consume for about 2 or 3 hours after which you need to place it in the fridge where you can store it for up to a maximum of 4 days.

Unless you freeze or cure the meat, it will spoil because new microbes will develop.

If frozen and cured, the bacteria can’t grow and multiply so you can preserve it for approximately 1 year.

How to preserve meat in addition to smoking?

Is There Any Other Way To Preserve Meat?

Yes, there are many ways to preserve meat. Preserving meat using various methods is known as curing. This is the best way to preserve it.

There are several ways to cure meat for preservation: salting, brining, dehydrating, and freezing. These are the most popular meat preservation methods.

All these options can be used together to make delicious meals. Try them out and see what works best for you!

Salting meat

Salting meat for preservation was common practice in the past and is still used in many parts of the world.

Salting meat is a way to keep it from spoiling by preventing the growth of bacteria.

Salting meat is done by rubbing salt into the flesh of the meat or soaking it in brine (a saltwater solution).

The salt draws out the moisture from the meat, making it harder for bacteria to grow.

There are two main types of salt used for salting meat: table salt and kosher salt. Table salt is made up of small, uniform crystals that dissolve quickly in water.

Kosher salt is made up of larger crystals that take longer to dissolve.

When salting meat, it is important to use the right amount of salt. If the meat is too salty, it will be inedible. If the meat is not salty enough, it will spoil quickly.

Brining meat

Brining is another method for preserving meat. It’s easy to do and it produces results that are superior to those produced by freezing.

To brine meat, soak it in a solution made up of salt and sugar. These ingredients draw out excess water and cause the meat to become firmer.

To brine, combine 1 cup kosher salt and 2 cups granulated sugar in a bowl. Add 3 quarts of cold water to the mixture. Mix well until the salt and sugar dissolve completely.

Add the meat to the brine and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, rinse the meat under cool running water. Pat it dry with paper towels.

Dehydrating meat

When most people think of curing meat, they immediately think of drying or dehydrating it.

To cure and preserve meat, you can dehydrate it. Dehydration removes moisture from the food, which inhibits the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms that cause spoilage.

When done correctly, dehydration will not only prevent meat from spoiling, but it can also extend its shelf life by years.

The process of dehydrating meat is simple, but it does take some time. First, you will need to select the right cut of meat.

The leaner the meat, the better it will dehydrate and the longer it will last. Next, you will need to trim off any excess fat and then slice the meat into thin strips.

After the meat is prepared, it needs to be cooked until it is no longer pink in the center.

This will ensure that all of the bacteria is killed. Once the meat is cooked, you can begin the dehydration process.

There are a few different ways to dehydrate meat, but the most common is to use a dehydrator. A dehydrator uses low levels of heat to remove moisture from food.

This process can take several hours, depending on how much meat you are dehydrating and the temperature of the dehydrator.

Freezing meat

You can freeze your cured and hot smoked meats to preserve them for up to a year safely.

However, it is important to note that freezing does not kill bacteria – it simply stops them from growing.

This means that if meat is contaminated with bacteria when it is frozen, those bacteria will still be present.

But curing and smoking helps to kill the bacteria first so then it’s safe to consume once thawed.

To freeze smoked meat, wrap it in plastic saran wrap tightly, use butcher paper, or special freezer bags and paper.

How long can I store frozen smoked meats?

You can store frozen meats indefinitely but it’s best to consume smoked meat within 12 months.

It tastes best and is completely safe to eat if you freeze smoked meat for less than 3 months.

Conclusion

There are many ways to preserve meat. By experimenting with different methods, you can create tasty dishes that are safe to eat.

Hot smoking might not be the best method of preservation, but it will certainly help you to infuse a little bit of flavor into your meats.

Keep in mind that hot smoking is a cooking style, not a safe preservation method for meat because it doesn’t prevent bacterial formation after the meat is smoked.

Wondering what is the hardest meat to smoke? Find out what is considered the holy grail of smoking

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.