Deli meat has a notoriously short shelf life—from savory 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. The trick is to wrap and prep the meat carefully to best preserve the texture and moisture content that’s so crucial to a delicious sandwich. We’ll walk you through it.
Which Deli Meats Can You Freeze?
All deli meats 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 deli meats 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 Meats 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 flavor 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! (Find more tips on smart freezer organization over here.)
How Long Can You Freeze Deli Meat?
You can store most lunch meat in the freezer for up to two months. After that, the texture and flavor 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 flavor, 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. (We love using up leftovers in creative ways.)
The bottom line is, if you find a great deal on lunch meat, or are storing leftovers from a family potluck, you can easily freeze deli meat.