How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?

Can you think of anything more tantalizing than the smell and taste of smoked meat? Neither can we. Even though we now have modern refrigeration to preserve meat, the ancient art of smoking meat continues today. And why not? It is delicious!

But, with all that effort and dedication required to smoke some kind of meats, we need to learn how to properly store it. This comes down to one question: How long does smoked meat last? 

Smoking meat is one of the skills of preserving meat that dates back thousands of years. But, there is a safe and proper way to do it. The following information gleaned from online sites and multiple researches will give you valuable guidelines to safely enjoy that delicious smoked meat. 

What Does it Mean to Preserve Meat? 

The short answer is meat is preserved to extend how long it may be safely consumed without spoiling. Preservation was vital in the days before refrigeration and freezing. Meat used to be preserved through a combination of smoking, curing and drying. This was necessary for preserving the meat from deadly bacteria. It only takes ten little e-coli bacteria to make you sick with food poisoning. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 3,000 people per year die from food poisoning. 128,000 are hospitalized, and 48 million people a year will get sick.

Even though food poisoning can be a serious issue, much of this can be avoided if you use some commonsense precautions. Here is a brief description of the four main types of preservation. 

Main Types of Preservation

1. Drying Preservation - The point of this process is as it says, which is to dry the meat for preservation. It consists of soaking the meat in a salt brine for about a day, followed by drying out the meat using heat, also known as smoked meat. Often people used a combination of herbs with the salt for added flavor. The salt helps draw out the moisture of the meat along with the heat. Once the meat was dried it could last almost indefinitely, provided you kept it dry.

2. Curing Preservation - This method is similar to drying but uses a lot more salt. Because more salt is used, heat is not necessary for the curing process.

3. Smoking Preservation - This process is when the meat is placed over a fire or in a smoker. The aldehydes in the smoke acts like the salt by leeching the moisture from the meat. 

Storage Containers

4. Canning Preservation - This is a recent way to preserve meat and common today. It seals the meat and protects it from spoiling. 

Beef, pork, and fish generally take well to drying or canning and rehydrate for consumption very well. Chicken does not do well with these methods because the quality of the meat is affected. The only proper way to smoke chicken is to make sure that you brine it before cooking.

Before the days of refrigeration meat was usually preserved through a combination of smoking and drying. Nowadays people often just make smoked meat because they enjoy the flavor. Smoking the meat will raise the temperature well beyond the 160 degrees necessary to kill the bacteria.

Also, the smoke and dryness on the outside of the meat will seal it, but unless the meat is dried, the inside has moisture that bacteria love. As soon as you stick a fork or knife into that smoked meat, bacteria have an entry point to the moisture inside. This makes it very important that you use good refrigeration and freezing techniques to keep the quality of the food safe.

Something to keep in mind when considering meat safety is all meats are not the same. Factors can be the type of meat and even how it is processed before reaching the consumer. According to Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) guidelines, beef is one of the hardiest meats for resisting bacteria, while chicken is one of the fastest to spoil.

But you also need to consider how it is prepared for consumption, such as sausages, ground, steak. The following is a brief guideline to preparing safe meat for consumption: 

  • Cook poultry and sausage to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Ground meats such as pork or beef needs an internal temperature of 160°F.
  • Meat prepared as steaks, roast, or chops require an internal temperature of 145°F. 

Should You Refrigerate or Freeze Your Meat? 

Image Credits: HowStuffWorks

Always refrigerate your meat after it is cooked. FSIS claims cooked meat only has a shelf life of two hours before you run the risk of contamination, so get that meat into the refrigerator or freezer quickly. Keep these important points in mind: 

1. If you are going to consume the remaining portion within four days, refrigeration is fine. Here it's a quick tutorial on how to properly refrigerate your meat:

  • Seal the meat in an airtight and shallow container or a quality wrap with the air squeezed out.
  • Consume the meat within four days
  • Always heat the meat to the recommended internal temperature to kill bacteria 

2. If you don’t consume your food within four days, the freezer is your best option for preservation.

  • Do not contaminate the meat before freezing because freezing will not kill bacteria. It will be active once you thaw the meat.
  • Wrap the food tightly to prevent freezer burn and seal in the natural juices
  • Food Fire Friends recommends you double wrap your meat using aluminum foil. This is a great idea because it helps protect the inner wrapping and ensures the meat is properly sealed. 

Once you thaw your meat for consumption, remember to always reheat it to the recommended internal temperature to kill any bacteria before consuming the meat. If the meat turns brown and has an outer slimy texture, throw it away immediately. It is not safe for consumption. 

How to Prolong Your Smoked Meat Life?

If you want to prolong your smoked meat life, then here are some quick tips to have in mind:

  • Properly wrap and refrigerate smoked meat
  • Refrigerated smoked meat should be consumed within four days
  • Don't keep it in freezer more than three months. Anything longer than that will be unsafe for you and your family.
  • Use the smallest possible container. Air is not recommended for prolonging smoked meat preservation.
  • You can use vacuum packing or storing in sealed bags for maximal preservation.
  • Try to put meat in refrigerator within two hours after cook and it should keep well for up to four days. 

When is Meat Dangerous/Unsafe for Consumption?

If the meat starts to smell differently or feels a bit slimy, then don't consume it. It is better to dump it and cook a fresh one. 

Also, if you have doubts about the quality, then throw it. Don't taste it to see if it is okay or not. You can taste a small proportion of it only after you reheat it to at least 165°F internal temperature. 

Final Thoughts

Storage Times - Refrigerated Frozen

Hopefully now you have a better idea for determining how long does smoked meat last and these suggestions will make you a more knowledgeable smoker to keep you safe in the process.

In conclusion, it is recommended to refrigerate meat and poultry within 2 hours of removing it from a smoker. Cut the meat into smaller portions, place it in small containers and refrigerate. Use it within 4 days or freeze to use after more than 4 days.

According to Texas Agricultural Extension Service, you can store cured/smoked poultry for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. 

You can store cured fish for up to 14 days in the fridge and 2-3 months in the freezer. (Source)

Vacuum packed meats (smoked fish etc.) must be kept at 40°F since the reduced oxygen inside the seal increases the risk of botulism poisoning. 

Also, your refrigerator should be between 33°F (0.5°C) and 36°F (2.2°C) and freezer at 0°F (-17°C) or below.

Preserving meat is a very ancient art that has been handed down to us Omnivores. Our main way of preserving meat today is through refrigeration, but that doesn’t mean that the ancient skills of preservation have been forgotten and discontinued. This includes people like survivalists and outdoors people who want to preserve meat according to the old ways, or the weekend hobbyist who simply enjoys the one of a kind awesome taste of smoked meat.

About Kendrick

Kendrick is an outdoor cooking enthusiast, living in Kansas. He loves to share his passion about outdoor cooking with everyone on various Social Media platforms (Read More)

3 thoughts on “How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?”

  1. “Preserving meat is a very ancient art that has been handed down to us carnivores”

    Humans are Omnivores not Carnivores.

  2. Wondering how long you can keep smoked chicked drumsticks? Have been reheated once after being in the fridge, but were left in the cool grill of an oven for a couple of days. Smell OK

    • Hello Tad,
      Actually, smoked chicken and any other cooked meat, if it’s reheated, is recommended to be stored for a couple more days using refrigerator.

      If you want to store it for a longer period of time, I can be frozen and last up to three to six months, if you store it properly. Based on my experience and information, the frozen method is done when there are leftovers, without reheating them once.

      I hope this helps,
      Cheers Kendrick


Leave a Comment