As much as many of us love meat, sometimes you just can’t eat it all! Maybe you’ve got sausages that didn’t make it onto the kamado grill at your cookout, or you found a great deal on a leg of lamb that you want to save for firing up your pellet grill on a special occasion. You might even be a hunter with more venison than you know what to do with! That’s when the freezer comes to the rescue. However, we all know that food can hang out in the freezer longer than you mean for it to! If you’ve had some meat chillin’ in the freezer (no pun intended) for a month, six months or even a year or more, is it still safe to eat? Let’s find out what the food safety facts say.
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The good news is that, in terms of food safety, freezing can preserve meat basically forever. As long as the meat was safe to eat when you froze it, and your freezer can maintain a steady 0ºF, it’ll be safe when you thaw it out. However, there are a few catches.
First, it’s really important to make sure the food is safe to eat when you freeze it. We know it’s painful, but your freezer won’t save that past-date steak you forgot to cook. If you freeze meat that’s gone bad, any dangerous microbes will still be there when you thaw it. This also means that if you have some fresh meat on hand you think you might not have time to cook, you should get it into the freezer ASAP to preserve its quality.
Second, just because the meat is safe doesn’t mean it’ll be tasty. After several months to a year, meat can start to develop the dreaded “freezer burn,” which means it starts to lose moisture, changing its color and flavor. If you notice that meat has gone brown or gray, there are ice crystals on its surface, and/or it’s taken on a grainy texture, you might be dealing with freezer burn. Freezer burned meat is still safe to eat, but the flavor and texture may be noticeably off. However, you don’t necessarily have to throw it away! If only a small part of the meat is freezer burned, you might be able to remove that part with a knife or kitchen shears and cook the rest.
The USDA has guidelines for approximately how long you should expect various types of meat to maintain their best taste and texture in the freezer. Again, this refers to quality only, not safety — properly preserved meat is safe to eat for far longer. With that said, let’s look at some of the heavy hitters from the FDA’s list:
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On our Grilla Grills blog, we answer many more questions about all things related to meat, grilling and beyond! For other key know-how tips for backyard chefs, check out our guide to how to reheat leftover BBQ or see our primer on smoking different types of meat.
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