Have you just smoked a whole turkey, and now found yourself with a whole pile of leftovers after Thanksgiving?
Want to know how your turkey will last?
Read on, and we will share a few tips and hints that will see you eating turkey in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
So Just How Long Can Smoked Turkey Meat Last?
Refrigerated smoked meat should be eaten within four days, and no longer in the freezer than three months.
The meat should be stored in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Ensure the food is stored correctly in air-tight containers, in butcher’s paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.
How Long Does Smoked Meat Last in the Refrigerator
Turkey can last four days in the refrigerator. In days gone by, the smoking process was a method of food preservation. These days, it’s undertaken more for flavor than necessity.
While it’s a preservation technique, the meats still have a limited shelf life and need to be consumed promptly.
How long it lasts in the fridge depends on the preparation, cooking, and storage. Line these things up correctly and you can get longer from your food.
Food should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Wrapped and stored correctly smoked meat will last three to four days in the fridge, after being cooked. Any longer than this and you risk contamination.
Seal any leftover meat in a shallow airtight container or high-quality plastic wrap. Basically, anything that will keep contact with the air to a minimum to prevent any growth of bacteria. When you go to reheat your turkey you need to ensure you follow the correct technique to ensure its tastes just as good as when you smoked it.
Smoking Your First Turkey?
If you’re wondering how to smoke a turkey in an electric smoker, we have you covered. As well as a guide for mastering turkey in a gas smoker and pellet. It can be a tricky bird to smoke to follow our tips to a T, and you’ll turn out a great meal. If you want to try something a little different turkey tail, is super crispy and juicy and much cheaper than a whole turkey
How Long Does Smoked Meat Last in the Freezer
When wrapped properly, smoked meat products, including turkey, will last two to three months in the freezer.
Freezing alone will not kill any bacteria, so care must be taken to not contaminate before freezing. Whatever harmful bacteria is on the product when frozen will remain there when thawed.
The main aim for proper wrapping is to seal in the moisture and keep out the air. Reducing contact with air will prolong the quality and stability of the product.
Air introduces bacteria, draws out moisture, and creates freezer burn.
Wrap in two stages. First in a good quality plastic wrap, butchers’ paper, or waxed freezer paper. Then wrap the bundle in aluminum foil. The tinfoil keeps it all together and prevents moisture from evaporating.
The All-Important Food Safety
The greatest way to get the best shelf life out of your food is by practicing food safety. Introducing bacteria to the product greatly reduces the life span and causes it to spoil so much faster and increases the risk of food poisoning.
Food safety involves four steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Cleaning is essential to keep the meat fresher for longer. Make sure you frequently wash your hands and cooking tools, especially after handling raw meats. Wipe down cooking spaces frequently.
Cross-contamination can occur when you place cooked or smoked meat on a surface that has previously touched uncooked products or do not wash utensils between uses. Always keep raw and cooked meats separate.
Internal cooking temperatures are also important, and for turkey, it should be a minimum of 165F. Smoking meat is a long, slow process using an indirect heat source to cook the meat, so it’s important to make sure the internal temperature has reached the correct levels.
Once the meat has been cooked, consume promptly. Meat should never be left out for an extended period before refrigeration. Two hours maximum is the recommended time after serving, to prevent bacteria growth.
Wrap to Perfection – How to Wrap to Prolong Shelf Life
When it comes to sealing your smoked turkey, you can’t go wrong with a vacuum sealer.
Vacuum packing removes all the air around the food and is then heat sealed. Removing all the air extends the storage life far longer than normal wrapping.
Of course, other methods are available. Freezer bags with as much air as possible removed are also more than suitable. Place food in an appropriately sized freezer bag and submerge underwater to force the air out.
If using a container, use the smallest air-tight container possible. This will limit the amount of air around the food. Excess air will lead to extra bacteria and freezer burn.
Alternatively, wrap the food product in a quality plastic wrap then wrap the bundle of meat in aluminum foil.
Make sure the food has cooled down before freezing, to reduce the condensation.
Other Methods of Preservation
In the days before refrigeration, various methods of preservation were used:
This involves drying the meat out completely, and if kept dry will last indefinitely. The turkey is soaked in a salt brine for a day or so, then dried out using heat. Herbs, spices, and flavors can be added to the salt to add extra flavor.
The combination of salt and heat draws out the moisture in the meat, preventing bacterial growth.
Curing is similar to drying but doesn’t require any heat source. The volume of salt in the salt mixture is increased, so heat is not necessary.
Signs Turkey is Unsafe for Consumption
If you are ever unsure of meat that has been stored, it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw it away.
Turkey that has become slimy, or smells unpleasant, or has a color change should definitely be disposed of.
Meat that has been cooked but hasn’t reached the internal temperature of 165F should also not be eaten.
If the turkey meat looks questionable after defrosting, it’s recommended not to cook it. When in doubt, throw it out!
Correct storing, and proper food handling practices will keep your food fresher for longer, and cut back on food waste. It also helps prevent any nasty bacterial surprises!
Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)
You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!
You can read more on our About Us page.
Hungry For More?