There are many reasons why I love smoking meat. Aside from the smoky flavour, smoked meat can last longer, which means I can do a large batch of bacon and ham and store them without spoiling right away. However, I wasn’t sure how long they could last in the fridge.
Smoked meat such as bacon and ham can be stored in the refrigerator for at least 4 days provided they were refrigerated at least two hours after smoking. The secret to keeping smoked meat last longer is proper wrapping and handling. Keeping the bacon in the freezer can make it last longer – about 12 months while ham can last for about 1 1/2 months.
Even though smoking can help preserve meat, there are other ways to do it.
Why Smoked Meat Lasts Longer
Smoking is one way of preserving food that was used in ancient times. Until now a lot of people still use this method to preserve meat, however, most of the time it is combined with different methods such as curing and freezing. Smoking meat does not always mean that your meat will be safe to eat for a long time since it only works on the outer part of the meat.
So, how does smoking help keep meat last longer? One of the reasons why food spoils easily is because of bacteria. During the smoking process, any bacteria will die when exposed to smoke for a long period.
However, smoking meat is not enough to keep other microbes and bacteria from getting into the meat after the smoking process which can still affect the quality of the food. This is why it is important to keep the meat in the fridge two hours after it was smoked.
If you want to keep your smoked meat to last longer, aside from keeping it in the fridge after, combine it with curing. Keeping the smoked meat for several hours at temperatures more than 140°F (60°C) before storing it is still okay. However, you risk making the meat too dry. Most smoked meat that have an extremely long shelf-life have been cured.
When it comes to commercially smoked meat, the preparation is almost the same as the way you smoke your meat at home. The only difference is that commercially smoked meat has additional preservatives. This is why they still need to be refrigerated unless they are kept unopened.
What Is Curing Meat?
Curing meat is a simple process of preservation by combining salt, nitrate/nitrite, and sugar. Aside from helping preserve the meat, this process also adds flavour and colour.
The ingredients can be rubbed on the meat’s surface or can be dissolved in water (brine). If you are trying to cure a large cut of meat, it is best to inject the meat with brine. There are two types of curing – dry curing and wet curing.
Wet curing, as you probably have already guessed, is the process where the curing ingredients were dissolved in water which is also called brine. During wet curing, the meat is submerged in the brine.
This process is mostly done with ham and bacon to add more flavour to the meat. However, curing alone does not prevent bacteria from growing, which is why it is best to smoke the bacon and ham afterwards. This is also the reason why bacon and ham are placed in the fridge.
It is also possible for wet-curing to leave the meat in barrels of brine for an indefinite time. However, meat that has been cured this way should be soaked in clean water for a long time. This is to get rid of the excess salt.
Dry curing can be a mix of salt and sodium nitrite, or if you want to cure it for a long period, add sodium nitrate. However, keep in mind that using nitrites can cause cancer. The process of dry curing is done in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, depending on the kind of meat you are curing.
For instance, pork leg needs to be dry-cured for at least 30 days at 35°F (2°C), while bacon can do away at 40°F (4°C) for 10 days. You can hang dry-cured and smoked meat in a moisture and temperature-controlled environment for several months or years as long as it hasn’t been cut. Once the meat is cut, it needs to be placed inside the fridge.
Aside from curing and smoking meat, there are other ways to preserve meat such as canning and drying.
This is done by placing meat or any type of food in a tin can or aluminium or steel can and taking out the excess air around it. Canned goods can last for several years but the recommended shelf life is 1-5 years. However, smoked products cannot be canned.
Drying preserves the food by reducing the meat’s moisture content. The most common tool in drying meat is a dehydrator. If you have tried beef jerky, that’s a great example of dried meat. Many people prefer dried meat due to health reasons.
This is because it has higher protein with less fat content. Similar to canning, drying and smoking are not typically combined when preserving food. The drying method may offer better shelf life than smoking when stored properly.
How To Improve The Shelf-Life Of Smoked Meat
While smoked meat tends to have a longer shelf-life than unsmoked meat, there are still other ways to improve its shelf life if you plan on smoking a large batch and keeping it for future consumption. Here are some ways to do it.
1. Practice Proper Food Handling
If you want to improve the shelf life of your smoked meat, always practice proper food handling. Once bacteria has contaminated the meat, it will significantly reduce its shelf life and may lead to food poisoning.
Food contamination typically happens when you fail to wash the thermometer before using it again. Another scenario is when you put the smoked meat beside a piece of raw meat. The internal cooking temperature can also affect meat’s life span.
For instance, when smoking or cooking ground pork, veal, beef, and lamb the internal temperature should be at 160°F (71°C). Sausages that have any kind of poultry in it should be at least 165°F (74°C).
The best way to wrap your smoked meat to prolong its shelf life is by vacuum sealing it. If you can’t vacuum seal it, make sure to store it in sealed bags and remove air. Doing this will not only increase the shelf life but also seal the flavour.
According to home chefs and government agencies, smoked meat is best consumed in four days even when refrigerated and wrapped properly. When freezing smoked meat, consume it within three months. It is also recommended to use small-sized containers when storing smoked meat.
3. Freeze It The Right Way
Storing smoked meat in the freezer does not guarantee that it will improve its shelf-life. While it does help significantly, if not done properly, you may not be able to maximize the recommended life span. Aside from that, it may also cause freezer burn.
The key to improving the shelf life is by wrapping it properly before placing it inside the freezer. Wrapping the meat can help retain moisture and water in the freezer. Freezer burn happens when meat is dehydrated while freezing.
Using freezer paper or butcher paper is ideal, just make sure the wax side is inside. But you can also use high-quality plastic wrap. One advantage of using butcher paper is that it can be removed easily when thawed.
The use of aluminium foil is also advisable as it stops moisture from escaping or evaporating. If you want further protection for your smoked meat, you can also place it inside a freezer bag. Labelling it with a date will ensure that you won’t miss out on its expiry date.
The smell is probably the fastest way to know if smoked meat is bad. The nasty smell is due to the increased spoilage bacteria that was formed over time. Another indicator is the change in colour. Having a grey colour on the outside indicates that it is beginning to turn bad soon. You can also know if smoked meat is bad when its texture turns slimy.
Smoked meat stays good longer because smoking meat can kill the bacteria that is present on the exterior of the meat. The smoke stops further bacteria that may grow from the meat. Smoked meat can last 4 days in the refrigerator and at least 3 months in the freezer if handled properly.
Eating smoked meat generally won’t make you sick as long as it is in moderation. However, too much consumption of smoked meat may be hazardous to one’s health. Some of the risks of eating too much smoked meat are cancer, stomach infections, increases risk of having diabetes and stroke, and increased sodium intake that may lead to cardiovascular disease.