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If you’ve put hours of time, effort, and energy into smoking food, the last thing you want to do is see that delicious hard work go to waste.
Fortunately, smoked meat does typically last longer than meats cooked with other methods. But just because smoked meats last longer doesn’t mean they won’t go bad eventually.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the method with which you choose to smoke your food, and which type of food you smoke also play a role.
In this article, we’ve created a complete guide to help you with the question of how long does smoked meat last? By the end, you should have a great idea of how long you can safely preserve your food after smoking it.
The Short Answer – How Long Does Smoked Meat Last?
The FDA advises that most cooked and smoked meats can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, provided that they were stored properly and refrigerated within 2 hours of finishing on the smoker.
If you want the food to last a little bit longer, you can also freeze it. Properly wrapped and packaged smoked meat can last in the freezer for up to 3 months. Technically, the food will last longer than that – but after 3 months you will almost surely see the effects of freezer burn on your food. If you plan on storing your food for longer than 2 months, you should use airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, and place the wrapped food inside of a plastic bag.
It’s important to note that these answers all assume that you hot smoked your food. In other words, you smoked your food to at least the below safe internal temperatures as recommended by the FDA. Foods which reach these conservative temperatures are deemed safe as the internal temperatures have reached high enough levels to kill any bacteria that could have been in the meat.
- 145°F for beef, pork, and lamb
- 145°F for fish
- 165°F for poultry
While hot smoking is probably the most common method of smoking foods, it’s not the only one. You can also cold smoke, warm smoke, roast plus smoke, and dehydrate your meat in combination with a smoker. All of these methods are different and can lead to slightly different results in terms of answering the question – how long does smoked meat last?
Next we’ll dive into each one of these methods and discuss how they impact safe eating and storage times.
Most of the time, when people talk about smoking food they are referring to hot smoking. This cooking technique involves slow cooking at low temperatures (relative to baking, grilling, or searing) around 180°F – 275°F, depending on the recipe. On the short end, hot smoking food can 1-2 hours for a smaller hunk of meat, like bratwurst or chicken thighs. On the longer end, a full smoked brisket can spend 12 or more hours on the smoker to completely cook.
With hot smoking, the goal isn’t so much to improve the preservation characteristics of your food as much as it is to improve the flavor. What you’re really after with hot smoking is to tenderize your food and add some of the delicious, complex smokey flavor that is associated with traditional BBQ.
So with that in mind, hot smoking improves the preservation of your food by a tiny bit, but not by much. That’s why the rule of thumb for storing hot smoked meats is basically the same as those same meats cooked with other methods.
How Long Does Hot Smoked Meat Last?
Hot smoked meats can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, provided that they were stored properly and refrigerated within 2 hours of finishing on the smoker.
Properly wrapped and packaged hot smoked meat can last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Warm smoking is the least used of all of the smoking techniques because frankly, there aren’t a lot of situations where it comes in handy. In fact, it’s pretty dangerous to warm smoke pork, poultry, or beef as it would require for the food to sit at prime bacteria growing temperatures for a long time.
The only scenarios where warm smoking can make sense is if you want to impart flavors onto foods, typically fish and seafood, that would normally be eaten fresh. Please note, however, that you should ensure your food is extremely fresh before attempting to warm smoke – and consuming raw food can be dangerous.
In terms of preserving your food, warm smoking really doesn’t do much for you – it’s a seldom used technique only to add flavor to your food.
How Long Does Warm Smoked Meat Last?
The length of time warm smoked meats can last is truly a case by case situation. Personally I wouldn’t eat leftover warm smoked fish but if you are more adventurous than I am, I’d ask myself if the fish was fresh enough to eat raw before I ate it.
Roast And Smoke
There are some foods that are best roasted, like a smoked prime rib roast, where it also makes sense to add some of that tasty smoke flavor.
Roasting while adding smokey flavor is similar to hot and warm smoking in that the purpose is mostly to add flavor to your food. Using smoke in tandem with a roast isn’t going to do much in terms of adding preservative qualities to your food.
How Long Does Roasted and Smoked Meat Last?
Similar to hot smoked meat, roasted and smoked meats can be refrigerated for 3 to 4 days, as long as they were properly stored and refrigerated within 2 hours of the end of the cook.
Wrapped and packaged hot smoked meat can last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Cold smoking is a viable method of preserving food, and was used as a means of preserving meats in the times that pre date refrigeration. Essentially, you use some sort of generator to create smoke which is then funneled to be absorbed by your food. While cold smoking is technically still a viable method of cooking raw meat, it comes with a few very large caveats.
The first major thing to know about cold smoking meats is that the smoking process goes hand in hand with curing your meat. The curing process essentially dehydrates your meat and puts it in a state where bacterial growth is almost impossible.
I’m not a meat curing expert, and I don’t pretend to be, but what I do know is that it requires some know how and isn’t the sort of thing you can just do willy nilly. You need to know exactly what you’re doing and you also need to have bought the highest quality meat from your local butcher or fish monger. After all, the stakes are pretty high when you consider that doing it wrong can lead to some pretty nasty bacterial situations.
All of that to say, our general advice is to stay away from cold smoking meats unless you’re confident that you know exactly what you’re doing. Cold smoking is also very popular for non meat foods – like cheese, nuts, vegetables, and even cocktails or desserts. If you’re a beginner and want an introduction to cold smoking, we’d recommend starting out with one of those foods instead.
How Long Does Cold Smoked Meat Last?
Properly cured and cold smoked meat can last for months. There are some wet cured meat techniques that will actually allow the meat to last for a year or more, but doing this requires an expert level of knowledge and precision in the curing salts and mixtures you use.
For a general rule of thumb, plan on consuming properly cured and cold smoked meats within 2 to 3 months.
If you’re a snack lover and have some meat set aside for jerky, then many recipes will involve smoking the meat for flavoring then moving it over to a dehydrator to finish off. Typically, the meat will spend a few hours in the smoker until it reaches a safe internal temperature, and that’s when you move it over to the dehydrator.
Drying food out is one of the oldest, most tried and true method for preserving foods. By removing moisture from the food, enzymes cannot effectively contact or react with the food – which means it won’t quickly spoil. Jerky has a relatively long shelf life too because you can easily vacuum seal it to preserve for extra long periods of time.
How Long Does Dehydrated Smoked Meat Last?
If you choose to smoke then dehydrate your meat for a delicious jerky snack, then you can expect an extended shelf life for your food before it spoils. Jerky stored in an airtight bag will last for about 1 to 2 weeks.
Refrigerated jerky stored in an airtight container can last for 2 to 3 weeks.
Frozen jerky stored in a vacuum sealed bag can last for up to 6 months while retaining its flavor.
The answer to the how long does smoked meat last question depends largely on which type of meat you’re smoking, which method you’re using, and how well you store the smoked meat. Use this article as a reference guide and whenever you’re in doubt, play it safe and err on the conservative side of things.
Have anything to add to this article? Are you a cold smoking expert with tips and advice on how to do it best? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.