How long does smoked meat last? [+tips to make it last longer!]

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 19, 2022

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Smoked meats are delicious, but they also tend to spoil quickly. This is due to the high salt content, which makes them susceptible to bacteria growth. So how long can you keep them?

Refrigerated smoked meat can last for up to four days if you put it in the fridge within two hours after smoking. However, it can have a shelf life of 3-4 months if you wrap and freeze it properly. To extend the shelf life of smoked meats, store them properly.

In this article, I’ve gathered all the important information so you can store smoked meats safely and effectively.

How Long Does Smoked Meat Last - If Refrigerated Or Frozen

How long does smoked meat last?

When smoked meat has been correctly stored, it can last for 4 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.

If the meat has not been properly stored, then this could promote the growth of harmful bacteria, which could result in food poisoning.

When it comes to storing smoked meat in the refrigerator, it is advisable to use the smallest container possible, as you don’t want to expose the meat to the open air.

How long does vacuum sealed smoked meat last?

Vacuum sealing smoked meat helps to store it up to 3 times longer for up to 12 days by removing excess air and retaining the flavor and is also advisable for storing smoked meat in the freezer.

Can smoked meat be left out of the fridge?

It is important to refrigerate the smoked meat within two hours of cooking, and it should last for 4 days when it has been stored correctly.

Before the advent of refrigeration, it was common for people to smoke and cure their meat, which helped to preserve their stock.

Nowadays, we no longer dry the meat and instead smoke it for the flavor.

Smoked meat can not be left out, the meat has to be refrigerated to reduce the growth of bacteria. This is because bacteria thrive in moist protein-rich environments (meat), and can grow in temperatures between 40 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

This means that the meat you have left to marinate on the counter is the ideal breeding ground for germs.

It is critical to note that bacteria deteriorates meat and can result in food poisoning.

Bacteria can multiply extremely fast, with some populations doubling in less than 20 minutes.

It is this kind of bacteria that causes food poisoning, which means you should always wash your hands when working with raw meat.

Fortunately, the smoking process does kill bacteria, with most being destroyed at 160 degrees.

The smoking process also helps to cure the meat, which creates smoke deposits that help to stunt the growth of bacteria.

However, this does not mean that the meat is free of germs, as the minute you cut into the meat you are introducing new bacteria.

That is why you need to refrigerate or freeze the smoked meat, as it helps to control the spread of bacteria and keep the meat edible.

How to keep smoked meat from turning bad?

With the USDA recommendation to consume any meat within four days of cooking, I suggest not letting it rest any further, even if you keep it in the refrigerator.

However, if you would like to keep your smoked meat good for longer, you can simply put it in the freezer.

Just make sure not to leave it there for more than three months. 

But then another question arises! How to ensure that the meat stays good until then?

Well, the following tips will help keep your smoked meat good for as long as possible.

Handle it safely

The first and foremost thing in prolonging the shelf life of smoked meat is to keep it safe from any contamination.

This stands true for meat before and after smoking. Not following the safety precautions will significantly reduce the shelf life of the meat.

The best you can do is avoid touching it when it’s resting in the marinade.

And once smoked, make sure to sterilize or wash the thermometer before poking it into the meat.

Using a thermometer straight from your fridge is an unsafe practice as it carries a lot of bacteria on its surface.

These bacteria, when introduced, increase the chances of smoked meats going bad.

And yeah, the fridge is the best place to store your meat thermometer! Just give it a clean before using it on the meat.

Once the meat is cooling down, again, avoid touching it unnecessarily before wrapping it for storage.

Wrap it

One of the few things you need to know about preserving smoked meats?

Air is their worst enemy. Therefore, you must vacuum seal the meat before putting it into the refrigerator or freezer.

It will help preserve the smokey flavor and keep the meat eatable for a long time. 

If vacuum sealing is not possible due to any reason, you would like to wrap the meat up in foil and ensure there are no gaps that could allow air leakages.

This is necessary if you are thinking about preserving meat for months.

If you plan on eating the meat within the first four days of smoking, you could simply store the meat in a small-sized container.

Freeze it properly

Freezing meat properly is essential to keep it edible for a longer time. But what does proper freezing mean?

Again, this correlates with my previously mentioned point: proper covering. When we keep meat inside the freezer, freezer burn is the most common threat to its freshness.

Well, the word ‘freezer burn’ sounds weird, no? Let me explain.

It’s actually the dehydration of meat due to intensely low temps. You can avoid this by using a covering that effectively retains the meat’s internal moisture.

This covering can be foilbutcher paperfreezer wrap, or even high-quality plastic wrap. Just keep the waxed side inside if it’s butcher paper.

You get two advantages by following the aforementioned precautions.

First, it will keep the meat fresh and tasteful throughout its life span.

Second, wrapping materials like butcher paper are easily removable due to the presence of wax. 

So when the time comes, you can easily separate it and immediately thaw the meat.

How To Freeze Smoked Meat

Freezing smoked meat helps to retain the moisture and water content.

In some cases, this can result in a condition called freezer burn, which is when the meat has dehydrated before being frozen.

Fortunately, wrapping and freezing smoked meat is a very simple process and can be completed in two easy steps…

  1. To begin, you must wrap the smoked meat using plastic wrap. However, it is also possible to wrap the meat using butcher paper or parchment. In most cases, it is advised that you use the former, as this will come off easier when the meat begins to thaw.
  2. For the next step, you will need to wrap the smoked meat in aluminum foil. This helps to hold the first layer in place, while also retaining the moisture and reducing the chances of evaporation.

If you want to ensure that the meat is secure, then you can also store it inside a plastic freezer bag, as this will help to protect the foil when moving things around in the freezer.

It is also important that you label and date each meat parcel you intend to freeze, as frozen smoked meat will only last for 3 months.

Beyond this, you must also remember that freezing does not kill bacteria, which means you must always be careful when handling frozen meat.

For example, if you happen to contaminate the meat before you freeze it, then the bacteria will still be waiting for you once the meat has thawed.

Alternatively, you can also store the smoked meat by vacuum packing it.

While this method helps to extend the meat’s shelf life, it does not kill the bacteria, which means it will still need to be frozen as soon as possible.

How to know if smoked meat has gone bad?

Although smoked meat will last longer when handled the right way, there are still a lot of indications that might tell you if it has gone bad prematurely or has passed its time:

The smell

Smoked meat has a distinct smoky smell when it’s normal. When it surpasses its expiration date, the meat develops a tangy, putrid, fetid odor.

This is also true for unsmoked meat. If you notice anything like that, the best you can do is throw the meat away.

The taste

Well, I wouldn’t highly recommend tasting a suspicious piece of meat.

However, if you’ve already done that, you need to know: If the meat tastes rancid, sour, and bitter, there’s no way you should take a second bite.

The color

Is there any green or yellow spots on the meat? Is the meat color brownish-red or pinkish from the inside?

If yes, the meat has turned bad, and there has been significant bacterial growth. Thus eating it could cause food poisoning and other health-related issues.

The only solution? Again, throw the damn piece!

If smoked meat smells or is slimy once it has thawed, then chances are the meat has gone bad and is no longer edible.

This means that you should throw away the meat or use another parcel.

You must never taste the meat unless you have heated it to 165 degrees, as this will help to kill the unwanted bacteria.

However, if you are unsure of the meat’s condition, then it is advisable to throw it away and not take the risk.

Final Thoughts

Smoking meat can be a long and tedious process, which is why it is best to consume the meat when it is fresh.

Apart from jerky, smoked meat has a relatively short shelf life and should be eaten as soon as possible.

However, this does not mean that you can’t freeze the meat and use it again, although there are certain practices that need to be followed.

By using standard sanitation methods and refrigerating the meat promptly, you can keep the meat safe and delicious for another day.

In fact, refrigerated smoked meat can last up to 4 days, while frozen meat can last for 3 months.

Just make sure that everything is properly prepared, and you will have no trouble keeping your smoked meat fresh.

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.