How Long Smoked Meats Last In The Fridge, Hot-Smoked Or Cold-Smoked

Although we don't know exactly how long, smoking meat has been a preservation method for centuries. According to the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, researchers have found structures dedicated to the salting and smoking of meat for preservation in a Middle Eastern site dating back to the Epipaleolithic period, 12,000 to 22,000 years ago. And as we know, more than being effective way to preserve food, it's also just delicious.

But now that we can store our smoked meats in the refrigerator, how long do they last? It depends on how your meat was smoked. Hot-smoked meat like your rack of ribs or smoked brisket only lasts four days in the fridge and up to three months in the freezer, but cold-smoked meats like salami or hákarl can last for months. According to the University of Minnesota, properly smoked and packed hard sausage can last (unopened) in the fridge indefinitely. Opened, it's good for three weeks.

What's the difference between hot and cold smoking?

The most annoying answer to this is that hot smoking is done, well, hot, and cold smoking is done, well, cold. Hot smoking is what you think of as a barbeque, where the temperature of the smoker sits somewhere around 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke is used to impart flavor, but not to preserve the meat. Because salt is employed here to make the meat juicy and delicious, whether it's in a rub or a brine, but does not actually dehydrate the meat, hot-smoked meat is as good a breeding ground for bacteria as a steak or a pot roast, and should be treated as such.

Cold-smoking meat begins with a curing process. Salt is used to dehydrate the meat, which makes it a more inhospitable environment for bacterial growth. Then the meat is strung up for 360-degree airflow, forming a protective layer called a pellicle. When smoking, the meat is never exposed to temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But wait! Isn't that in the danger zone? Yes. Cold-smoked meat is raw and sits smack dab in the middle of the temperature range (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) responsible for many foodborne illnesses, especially botulism and listeria. This is why proper handling and curing are so important. If properly handled, though, cold-smoked meat can last months.

Using your hot and cold smoked meat

Since it's usually not worth it to go through all of the trouble to hot-smoke just a couple portions of meat — who has ever spent hours smoking just six ribs? — there's a good chance you're going to end up with some leftover meat. Since it's only going to keep for a few days, you'll need to find some ways to use it up. And while you could just eat a slab of it for every meal until it's gone, maybe you want to spice things up. For brisket, you could use leftovers in empanadas or nachos. For smoked pork butt, you can add it to mac and cheese, soup, tacos, or lettuce wraps. Make a casserole. Throw it on a salad. Make hot-smoked fish butter and throw it on everything. The sky's the limit, but hurry — don't let any go to waste. (Or pop it into the freezer.)

As for cold-smoked meats, what's the rush? Leisurely work your way through that Spanish chorizo on a charcuterie plate. Enjoy three weekends of cold-smoked salmon brunches. Leave that unopened summer sausage in your deli drawer until your first summer picnic. (But remember, summer sausage only lasts three months, not forever.) Make a persimmon prosciutto salad. Take your time (up to three weeks if you've opened it already).