Yes, You Can Freeze Cold Cuts—Here’s How

Overstocked on lunch meat? It turns out you *can* freeze cold cuts to extend their shelf life—if you follow these instructions.

Cold cuts, also known as lunch meat or deli meat, has a notoriously short shelf life—from savoury to slimy in a handful of days. Yet while most home cooks are comfortable freezing chicken breasts or stew meat, many still wonder: Can you freeze deli meat?

The short answer is absolutely yes. Deli meat can be frozen for up to two months as long as it’s prepared and wrapped properly to preserve the texture and moisture content. We’ll walk you through the steps here.

Which kinds of deli meat can you freeze?

All deli meat can be frozen. Cured meats, like sausage and bologna, tend to hold up the best, thanks to their dense, hearty texture and lower water content. Freezing roasted turkey, ham, chicken and other cold cuts is still possible, but the meat may be slightly wet upon defrosting. (Tips on that below!)

You can freeze deli meat in a large piece or in slices. For the best results, we suggest eating meat as soon as possible after freezing.

How to prepare deli meat for freezing

Pre-packaged meat is the simplest: if the package is unopened, just toss it directly into the freezer. Wrapping the package in an outer layer—like a plastic grocery bag or aluminum foil—will help reduce freezer burn.

Sliced meat from the butcher counter, or meat from an opened package, needs to be wrapped. Lay individual slices on pieces of wax paper or even paper towels, and freeze stacked in a plastic bag. Make sure to press the air out of the bag to preserve flavour and texture. When you’re ready to eat, you can remove as many or few servings as you need.

Large hunks of meat can simply be wrapped in plastic wrap; ideally, use a few layers and pop the bundle into a thicker freezer bag. Again, press as much air out of the wrapping as possible before freezing.

Make sure to label the wrapper with the contents and the frozen-on date!

How long can you freeze deli meat?

Opened Fridge Freezer
Fresh meat 3-5 days 1-2 months
Packaged meat 3-5 days 1-2 months
Unopened Fridge Freezer
Fresh meat 3-5 days 1-2 months
Packaged meat 2 weeks 2 months
Cured meat 2 months 3 months

You can store most deli meat in the freezer for up to two months. After that, the texture and flavour will probably deteriorate. Cured meats will still be tasty for up to three months.

How to defrost deli meat

The best way to defrost is to transfer the meat—the entire package or the portion you want to eat—into the refrigerator to thaw. If you’re in a hurry, place the wrapped meat in a bowl of cold water and change the water frequently.

Before using, pat the defrosted meat with a paper towel to remove any excess water. You can stash the meat in the fridge for about three to four days.

Pro tip: If the meat has shredded or lost some of its flavour, it’s not a lost cause! Try chopping it into a casserole, tossing into a vegetable skillet or topping a pizza. A bit of heat and other seasonings bring the meat back to life.

The bottom line is, if you find a great deal at the deli counter, or are storing leftovers from a family potluck, you can easily freeze deli meat. Next, find out the expiration dates you should never ignore.

Taste of Home
Originally Published on Taste of Home