Meat is one of those tricky things that is both incredibly dangerous when spoiled and goes bad quickly. Keeping it fresh can be a huge hassle, but luckily, we’ve researched and figured it all out for you!
Meat can maintain great quality in the freezer for several months and can stay usable for up to a year. Try to freeze the meat right when you bring it home from the store, check that the meat has good color and is not gray, and never thaw it in the microwave.
If you would like to prolong the shelf life of your meat for up to a whole year, freezing is the recommended method. While you can freeze meat in the original packaging, the best way to freeze is by following the steps below.
- First, make sure to tightly wrap the meat in plastic wrap, aluminum foil, a Ziploc bag with the air removed, or freezer paper. The most important thing here is that you seal out any air that may decrease the meat’s shelf life.
- Next, make sure that your freezer is 30° Fahrenheit or cooler.
- Do not freeze meat in water. Keep it dry, cool, and wrapped tightly.
What to Expect
Frozen meat will maintain the integrity of the meat while vastly increasing the shelf life. The meat will taste similar so long as you thaw it slowly and do not microwave it. Thaw properly for best results.
If you are wondering how long you can freeze red meat, know that you can keep it safely for up to a year. However, if you cook it, you should only keep it for 4-6 months.
Cooking and Then Freezing
The best method for ease of use is cooking and then freezing. If you want to save yourself sometime later down the road, cook the meat ahead of time and freeze it following the steps below.
- First, cook meat as you usually would and let it cool completely, covering it as you wait for the temperature to decrease.
- Place cooked meat into a sealed Ziploc bag or wrap in aluminum foil or freezer paper.
- Thaw meat fully before use at room temperature or thaw in the fridge.
What to Expect
Cooking meat before freezing will save you time, but you will lose some of the flavors after thawing. Be sure to add moisture as well to reheat without drying it out.
Keeping meat in the refrigerator will only maintain freshness for a few days. However, there are some methods to prevent spoilage while your meat waits in the fridge.
- To keep meat fresh in the refrigerator, keep it in its original package.
- Place meat on the bottom shelf for the coolest temperature.
- Set the meat on top of a plate to catch any dripping or contamination that may occur.
What to Expect
Refrigerated meat will hold onto the original flavor better and will reduce the time needed to cook it fully. However, most raw meat is completely unusable after about 2-3 days.
Freeze-drying is a method that will require additional work but will greatly prolong the shelf life of the meat. After freeze-drying, your meat will stay fresh for up to 10-15 years. Just follow a few simple steps.
- First, cut or separate the meat into somewhat large-sized pieces.
- Next, set the pieces on trays or foil-covered baking trays and place them in the freezer.
- Last, check that the meat is fully freeze-dried by breaking a piece in half to check for ice crystals. When there are no longer any ice crystals to be found, you are ready to seal the meat.
- Seal meat in a container or Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber. It is incredibly important you remove as much air and oxygen as possible.
What to Expect
The process as a whole (including rehydrating the meat) is somewhat tedious. However, it will take the shelf life of your meat from 2 days, to one year, all the way to 10+ years.
The shelf life of freeze-dried meat is 10-15 years, so it’ll stay good for a long while. Unfortunately, this does change the taste quite a bit. To restore taste, season the meat well and complete the whole rehydration process as shown below.
Rehydrating the Meat
To rehydrate meat, you will want to follow a few simple steps.
- First, place the meat pieces in a dish of cold water. You don’t need to worry about putting too much, so fill the bowl. The meat will stop absorbing water when it is rehydrated.
- Next, leave the meat to rehydrate overnight.
- Make sure that once you remove the meat from the water you cook it within 24 hours.
Turning the Meat Into Jerky
This method will require the most amount of time and patience, but it will keep your meat fresh for a long time and with a lot of flavors. Follow the directions below for help making your own jerky.
- First, freeze-dry your meat. You can follow the directions in the section above if you are not sure how to.
- Second, create a marinade. A teriyaki or sweet barbeque marinade make for great tasting jerky.
- Next, follow the rehydration steps in the above section, but replace the cold water with the marinade. After the meat is rehydrated using your marinade, add any seasonings you may want.
- Then, preheat the oven to 175° Fahrenheit.
- After the oven is preheated, arrange the meat on a wire rack. Do not stack the meat, and set each piece about 1-2 inches apart.
- Last, bake the meat for 3-4 hours, rotating the pan every hour.
What to Expect
Properly made jerky should last on the counter or in your pantry for about 1-2 months. The key to keeping your jerky fresh is sealing it in an airtight bag or container. That’s been a theme with all of these methods!
Whether you are freezing, refrigerating, freeze-drying, or turning your meat into jerky, a little extra work and time can greatly prolong the shelf life of your meat.
The biggest thing to remember is that sealing out all air, proper thawing, and using quickly after thawing is key. You’ve got this!