Lunchmeat, deli meat, cold cuts, cold meats, cooked meats, and many more—these are the terms used to refer to one of the most versatile food items you can have in your refrigerator. (*)
Regardless of what you call them, one thing’s for sure: these are must-haves for people who love meats and sandwiches. But, of course, these are also a big hit on all types of occasions—may it be a simple picnic time with the family to a big and formal gathering.
As a meat and sandwich lover, you must have had purchased too much of your favorite lunch meats at some point. So while you were able to save money, you might have had some problems on how you can extend its shelf life.
Now that we’ve beefed up (pun intended!) the versatility and importance of cold cuts, let’s proceed with addressing the biggest issue of working with deli meats—the storage.
Can You Freeze Lunch Meat?
Typically, deli meats (or whatever you call it lunchmeat, cold cuts, cold meats, cooked meats, and many more) contain preservatives that can help them last longer—up to 5 days when refrigerated which is quite a short shelf life.
But what if it’s going to take weeks or months before you can finish the number of meats you bought?
Can you freeze it? Yes, you can freeze lunch meat.
Will freezing deli meat cause changes in flavor and texture? The excellent news is freezing won’t alter the texture and taste of your frozen and thawed deli meat. But—this is a big but. But only if it won’t be freezer burnt.
With that in mind, you must learn how to freeze deli meat properly. Fortunately, we’ll know how to do that in the following few sections.
Which Types of Lunch Meat Can Be Frozen?
You can freeze all types of lunch meat, but of course, how well they hold up in freezing varies.
You can quickly freeze cured meats like sausage and bologna because of their dense texture and lower water content.
On the other hand, uncured deli meats– like chicken, hams, turkey ham, or roast beef– will become a bit wet when thawed. The good news is there are ways to minimize it, and we’ll discover what these are in the next section.
How to Freeze Different Types of Deli Meat
Lunch meats come in different types—packaged meat and cooked meat. We’ll discuss how to freeze the different types below.
How to Freeze Pre Packaged Lunch Meat
If the packed/vacuum-sealed cooked meats from the deli haven’t been opened yet, you can place those directly into the freezer.
To be safe, you can wrap it with another layer of plastic wrap. Also, don’t forget to indicate the current date on the label so you can track how long it’s already been in the freezer.
How to Freeze Unpacked Cold Cuts
If you’ve already opened the sealed pack of cold cuts or purchased sliced meats from the deli counter, freezing these will require more steps to preserve their texture and control their moisture after thawing. With that said, here are the steps that you need to take:
Step 1. Prepare the meat for freezing.
Remember the issue about freezing and thawing hams and other uncured cold cuts? They tend to have too much moisture because of their high water content.
To address that, you need to prepare the meats properly. You can do this by arranging the individual slices on wax paper.
If you purchased a big chunk of deli meat, wrap it in many layers of plastic wrap. Make sure to cover all of its parts.
Step 2. Place in a freezer-safe container.
After that, stack the wax paper sheets on top of each other and place them in a freezer bag or aluminum foil. Again, make sure to squeeze out as much air as you possibly can.
You can place it on a second freezer bag if you want to add another layer of protection against freezer burn.
Step 3. Label and freeze.
Don’t forget to indicate the date on the bag before placing the meat in the freezer.
How to Freeze Cooked Meat
If you cooked chicken, roasted turkey, or ham at home and you want to store it for future use, here are the steps you can take:
Step 1. Let the meat cool down completely.
Then, leave it at room temperature for only a few minutes or until they completely cool down.
Step 2. Pack.
Before packing, remove the chicken meat from the bones first. Or, if you cooked a large chunk of ham, try to slice it into smaller pieces. In this way, they will be easier to thaw.
After that, arrange the sliced meat in wax papers, then place them in a freezer bag. You can also put it in another freezer bag for extra precaution.
Step 3. Label and freeze.
Can you refreeze thawed deli meat?
To prevent bacterial contamination, it’s best to avoid refreezing deli meat once it has been thawed.
How to Defrost Cold Cuts?
What if you already want to use the frozen deli meat? How long will it take for you to defrost cold cuts, and how should you thaw them? Well, that would depend on how much time you have on your hands. Here are the different ways on how to thaw deli meat:
Method #1: In the Refrigerator
If you could plan, thawing the cold cuts in the fridge is the best way to go. You can just simply transfer the frozen meat to the refrigerator. Leave it for a few hours or let it thaw overnight.
Method #2: In a Bowl of Cold Water
If you only have a few hours and can’t afford to thaw the meat overnight, the biggest option you can have is to submerge the pack in a bowl with cold water. Leave it there for an hour or so.
Make sure to check the meat every 30 minutes and replace the water when it’s no longer cold.
Method #3: In the Microwave
Microwave is your best friend if you’re pressed for time and need to use the cold cuts ASAP. You can defrost frozen cold cuts in no time by reheating them in the microwave. Check the meat every 10 seconds so you can see if it’s already done.
Please remember that you should consume the meat as soon as possible if it has been thawed this way.
How to tell if the deli meat is bad?
You would need to inspect the meat closely. If it has white crystals on the surface or already appears white and dry, it has freezer burn. But, as we’ve mentioned, you can still add it to kinds of pasta, casseroles, pizzas, and many more.
On the other hand, it’s best to throw it away if it has:
- A slight smell similar to that of vinegar or ammonia
- Slimy surface
- Signs of discoloration
- Already exceeded its shelf life.
Consuming deli meat that has already gone bad is bad for your health. If you think you’ve consumed spoiled lunch meat, watch out for food poisoning symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.
Frequently Asked Questions
To know how long you can keep your deli meat in the fridge or freezer, please check out this table:
If there’s too much moisture upon thawing, you can pat it dry using a paper towel. Additionally, you should consume it within 3-4 days after thawing. If it was thawed in the microwave, consume it right away.
Use thawed deli meats the same way you use fresh meat—put it in sandwiches, use it as pizza toppings, or consume as-is.
In the unfortunate event that your meat has freezer burn, expect its taste and texture to change. It will likely lose some of its flavors. It will also be less dense but a lot dryer.
If this is your case, the best thing you can do is cook the meat into other dishes. For example, you can add it to casseroles or pasta dishes. Another great idea is to chop them up and add scrambled eggs, soups, and quesadillas to your salads.
Fortunately, you can prevent freezer burn. You can do this by removing excess air from the freezer bag.
Another great option is to double-check the freezer bag for holes to keep the cold air out of the bag.
Lastly, maintain the temperature inside the freezer. Don’t let the temperature fluctuate, and keep it as close to 0 as possible.
Deli meats can be frozen. Having said that, it’s now easier for you to extend the shelf life of your cold cuts so you can enjoy your delicious sandwiches, salads, and pizzas for longer.
With these on hand, you can easily prepare a satisfying and healthy meal anytime. Just make sure that you follow all of our tips and precautions to prevent the consumption of meat that has gone bad and avoid food poisoning.
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