Lunch meat is fantastic and incredibly versatile. It’s most often used in sandwiches, adding plenty of flavor and protein. There are plenty of other ways to use lunch meat too, like as part of a cheese and meat roll up, in a pasta dish, or as part of stuffed chicken rolls. But if you buy it in bulk for meal prep or weekly shopping, can you freeze lunch meat for later?
Despite all these uses, it’s easy to end up with too much lunch meat. Perhaps you bought it on a special or have simply been too busy to use it. What then? Can you freeze lunch meat?
Also, what happens when you do? Is the thawed meat still just as useful as the fresh version, or is something lost in the process? The answers to these questions can help you to get the most out of your lunch meat.
Can You Freeze Lunch Meat?
To put it simply. Yes, you can freeze lunch meat.
It doesn’t matter what type of meat you’re looking at, you can put it in the freezer and it will be fine.
How well lunch meat freezes depends on how you freeze it and the type of lunch meat you choose. We’ll talk about some useful techniques for freezing the meat later on.
In general, the meats with higher fat content will freeze best. This makes salami and pepperoni excellent choices, while lean meats like turkey breast don’t work nearly as well.
Don’t worry though, turkey and chicken slices are still freezable. Many people freeze them regularly without any issues.
How Long Does It Last?
Frozen food lasts for a long time. But, the quality decreases as the freezing time increases.
Lunch meat tends to be best within a month or two of freezing. If you keep within this window, your thawed meat should taste similar to the fresh version (similar, but not quite the same, as there is some loss of quality).
You can keep it in the freezer for much longer than two months, but it won’t taste nearly as good.
If you have frozen your lunch meat for too long, don’t throw it out. The meat can still add a protein and nutrition boost to meals. You could even use it as a pizza topping.
Why Might You Freeze Lunch Meat?
Freezing lunch meat tends to be a practical decision. You might freeze it because you have too much or because you bought the lunch meat on a very good special.
Why not? Decent food specials are there one week and not the next. Timing your purchases around these specials is one of the best ways to keep your finances in order.
Freezing can also be helpful if you’re buying prepackaged lunch meat and end up with more than you need. Or, maybe you ordered too much at the deli.
Besides, let’s be honest. Sometimes life just throws us a curveball. Perhaps you didn’t have time to use your lunch meat or had to suddenly go away.
Should You Freeze Lunch Meat?
Recommendations for freezing lunch meat vary.
Some people say that doing so is excellent. Freezing allows you to buy lunch meat when it’s on special or purchase in bulk, then save the meat for when you actually need it.
Doing so also decreases food waste, which is valuable for the planet and your budget.
The catch is that frozen and thawed meat is never quite as good as fresh. The process does mess with the texture and there’s nothing you can do to stop this.
Is frozen meat worth it, then? That depends on your needs. If you want the best possible texture and can easily buy lunch meat when you need it, then fresh is the way to go.
But, if you’re struggling to get through your lunch meat or are regularly throwing some out, then it makes sense to freeze some of your lunch meat.
How To Freeze It Well
The way you freeze lunch meat will make a huge difference to the final result. The following approaches can help you get the best possible results.
Label It Well
Labeling is crucial when you’re freezing food. After all, everything starts to look pretty similar when it’s been in the freezer for a few months. There’s also a good chance you’ll forget what’s in the bags.
You’ll want to write exactly what the meat is, along with the freezing date. A use by date could be helpful too. This decreases the risk you’ll leave it in there too long.
Rotate The Packages
When adding new things to the freezer, don’t simply put them on top of what’s already there. It’s best to rotate instead so that the new stuff is always at the back.
Otherwise, the old stuff simply stays there and loses quality, while you keep using the most recent bags. A good system of labeling and rotating should allow you to stay on top of things and prevent food waste.
Portion Out Your Meat
Freezing a large amount of lunch meat in a single package doesn’t work well. The pieces stick together and you need to thaw it all out before you can separate them.
Freezing uncut blocks of lunch meat is even worse, as you can’t do anything with the meat until it’s all thawed.
It’s much better to portion the meat into small bags. These might just contain the amount of meat you need for one day. This way, you can easily get the right amount out of your freezer.
Use Wax Paper
It also helps to add some layers of wax paper between your meat slices before you freeze them. Doing so stops the pieces from sticking together.
Without the wax paper, it’s going to be hard to peel off individual pieces. You may find that they shred and stick instead, especially if they haven’t completely thawed.
Think About How You Wrap The Meat
If you’re only freezing it for a couple of weeks, then you can wrap the meat in plastic wrap, then place this in a zip lock bag. If you’re freezing it for longer, it’s best to double wrap it instead.
You’re also trying to get as much air out of the container or bag as you can. This is critical when you’re freezing food, as excess air leads to freezer burn.
What If It Looks Bad?
Sometimes your frozen meat won’t look that great. Perhaps it is discolored, has all clumped together, or there are many ice crystals attached.
Most of the time, the appearance change is due to freezer burn. Your meat should still be safe to eat, but the flavor and texture may have changed dramatically.
If this happens, you may need to get rid of the meat or include it in a meal where the taste and texture aren’t noticeable.
Which Lunch Meats Freeze Best?
You can freeze any type of lunch meat using the approaches we talked about before. However, the results aren’t always the same.
Meats that are high in fat, like salami and bologna, tend to freeze much better than low fat alternatives, like sliced chicken.
Can You Refreeze Meat?
In theory, you can safely refreeze meat as long as it was handled properly in the first place.
However, many of us were taught that refreezing meat isn’t safe. It’s also very easy to introduce unhealthy bacteria, so it may be best to avoid the entire approach.
Besides, if you portion your lunch meat well and rotate it in the freezer, you shouldn’t ever need to refreeze it.
What About Prepackaged Deli Meat?
If the meat is already packaged and hasn’t been opened, then you’re in luck. You can simply throw it in the freezer as is.
Most of the air has been removed from the package already, so the lunch meat should handle freezing without a problem.
Tips For Thawing Out Your Lunch Meat
Freezing lunch meat isn’t the end of the line. How you defrost the meat matters too.
It’s best to do this in the fridge, rather than on the counter. Defrosting in the fridge takes longer, but keeps the meat at a safe temperature throughout the process.
If you defrost on the counter, the meat may get too warm. That increases the risk of food poisoning.
You could also try to defrost meat using a sink full of cold water. You may need to change the water a couple of times, but it should be possible to thaw it in around half an hour without putting your health at risk.
Finally, you can defrost lunch meat in a microwave, especially if you have a decent defrosting tray. However, you’ll need to watch the time carefully, to ensure you don’t cook your meat while you’re trying to thaw it.
You’ll need some paper towels on hand when thawing your lunch meat too, as there’ll be some extra moisture.
Remember The Shelf Life
Freezing essentially pauses the clock on your meat. But, that clock starts again once you take the meat out of the freezer.
Most types of lunch meat last between three and five days in the fridge. So, that’s the most you’ll have once you’ve thawed your meat.
If you had the lunch meat in the fridge for a few days before freezing it, then you’ll have fewer days to eat it at the other end.
What About Plant-Based Lunch Meat?
There are also plant-based lunch meats, often made using ingredients like soy or beans. These freeze in much the same way as regular deli meat.
As such, you still need to portion out your meat before freezing it and defrost in the fridge, not the microwave or countertop.
Some experimentation may be needed, however, as there are many different recipes and styles of plant-based meat. Some of these may behave differently when frozen.
It’s entirely possible to freeze lunch meat. Doing so extends its shelf life and gives you much more flexibility.
However, the way you freeze and thaw the meat will influence how much you get out of it. You may need to separate the pieces during freezing and watch out for extra moisture when you’re thawing it again.
You may need to get more creative if you’re freezing vegan lunch meats or other alternatives to lunch meat. Some of these products will freeze just like regular lunch meat, but other types behave quite differently.
You can find instructions online for each type of lunch meat and lunch meat alternative. But, ultimately, you may just need to experiment for yourself. This is the best way to work out how your ingredients respond to freezing and thawing.