Most cooks wouldn’t think twice about freezing chicken breasts and other types of meat but don’t grant the same immediate assumption to deli meat.
Many who are unsure have asked the question, ‘can you freeze cold cuts?’ and the simple answer is: yes, you can.
While cold cuts provide an easy and convenient lunch option, they’re also renowned for having a pretty short shelf life, especially after the packaging has been opened.
Once that seal is broken, sliced sandwich meat typically only lasts for 3-5 days when stored in the fridge before it turns slimy and loses its appeal.
This is fine if you’re happy to stick to the same sandwich options every day of the week, but if you enjoy more variety in your lunchtime meals to break up the monotony of the day, it can be easy to forget about finishing your cold cuts while they’re still fresh.
Not only does this lead to unnecessary food waste, but it’s also a waste of money when there’s an easy way to store your cold cuts for longer.
If you’re tired of having to throw out yet another half-eaten packet of cold cuts because you haven’t used it all before it’s past its best, the good news is that you can safely store your unfinished leftovers in the freezer to extend its shelf life for up to 2 months.
Keep reading to find out exactly how to freeze, defrost, and enjoy your favorite cold cuts to keep you in a steady sandwich supply.
How to Freeze Cold Cuts
Prepackaged - Good to Go
Pre-packaged deli meat has the added benefit of being sealed inside an airtight vacuum, so the hard work of wrapping your meat is already done for you.
This makes it the easiest way to freeze your cold cuts. Simply mark the date of freezing clearly on the unopened packaging and chuck it into your emptiest freezer drawer, safe in the knowledge that you have another two months to use it.
You can also place the unopened package inside a freezer bag for an additional layer of protection, as this will help to prevent freezer burn which can negatively affect the quality of your cold cuts once they’ve been reheated. Just squeeze out all of the air before sealing it.
Unpackaged - Always Wrap Your Meat
You might prefer to buy unpackaged, quality sliced meat from your local butcher counter, or maybe you’re simply trying to salvage the last two-thirds of an already opened packet of cold cuts from earlier in the week?
In either case, there are a few extra steps you’ll need to take when freezing your unpackaged deli meat to ensure it retains its quality.
First, responsibly dispose of the opened packaging (recycle your plastic where possible) and individually wrap each slice in either wax paper or saran wrap to prevent them from sticking together as they freeze.
Once they’re wrapped, you can stack your slices on top of each other inside a freezer bag. Press the excess air out before you seal the bag, as this will help to preserve the taste and texture of your cold cuts as well as taking up less space in the freezer.
How to Defrost Cold Cuts
If You Have More Time
The best way to defrost your cold cuts if you have enough time is to transfer them to the freezer and leave them for 24 hours or let them thaw overnight.
Aim to use your defrosted deli meat within 2-3 days, as they may not be safe to consume if left any longer.
If You Have Less Time
A quicker alternative is to place the required amount of slices in a bowl filled with cold water. This method should only take an hour or less to thaw but it will depend on the size and thickness of the portions.
You should check on it every 30 minutes or so and make sure to change the water if it reaches a tepid temperature. Once it’s thawed, remove it from the water and its packaging and pat dry if necessary.
If You Have No Time!
Unless you’re the type of well-organized person who prepares their lunches for work the night before, you might need an even quicker way to defrost cold cuts as you hastily throw your sandwich together during the morning rush to get ready.
Luckily, you can reheat frozen cold cuts in the microwave in no time using the defrost setting. Base the length of time on the total weight you’re defrosting or by checking it every 10 seconds to see when it’s done.
This is the fastest way to thaw sliced meat, but it also means it should be eaten ASAP to avoid the quality deteriorating over the course of the day.
Other Factors to Consider
While you can technically freeze all types of cold cuts, meats with a lower water content retain their dense, hearty texture much better than slices of ham or turkey will.
If you’re buying cold cuts with the specific intention of freezing them, opt for types of cured meats such as pepperoni or bologna.
You may find that your cold cuts are slightly moist after thawing. The best way to avoid soggy sandwiches is to pat the slices dry with a paper towel, as this will soak up any liquid and prevent it from seeping into the slices of bread.
Even if you’ve followed each step of the packaging correctly and removed excess moisture, sometimes cold cuts that have been frozen just don’t quite cut it in a sandwich, especially if you like to keep things simple and avoid layering lots of different fillers between your slices of bread.
Don’t panic if that’s the case - you can still use your cold cuts in a number of different ways, including adding it to casseroles, chopping it up into small pieces, and putting it in a pasta bake, or using it as a pizza topping.
If you really want to make the most out of your frozen cold cuts, get creative with the seasoning and flavor combinations you use during cooking. You’d be surprised at what a difference a little heat can also bring to the table.
After learning that you can safely and relatively easily freeze cold cuts to store them for longer, we hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to extend the shelf life of sliced meat that you otherwise just won’t get around to eating in time.
Even if sandwiches rarely occur in your lunchtime routine, freeing cold cuts can be a great way to make sure there’s always something in the freezer if the fancy suddenly takes you. Keep a loaf of bread in there too and you’ll never be caught in short supply!