Your favorite lunch meats can safely be frozen—here's everything you need to know about freezing and defrosting these sandwich staples.

Lauren Salkeld
April 24, 2020
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Deli meat, also known as lunch meat, sandwich meat and cold cuts, has many wonderful qualities, but a long shelf life simply isn't one of them. Whether you buy yours from the deli counter or in vacuum-sealed packages, these sandwich essentials, including turkey, chicken, ham, bologna and roast beef, can turn slimy and unappetizing in a matter of days. The good news is that you can safely freeze any deli meat for up to two months. Freezing and defrosting requires a few extra steps but is a far better option than having to toss it, which wastes both food and money. Read on for how to freeze, thaw and enjoy your favorite deli meats.

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Which Deli Meats Can Be Frozen?

All deli meats can be frozen, but cured meats like salami, pepperoni and bologna tend to do best, because they contain less water. That being said, if you follow the necessary steps, your turkey, chicken, ham and roast beef can be safely and successfully frozen too. (Are Cold Cuts Healthy? Learn How to Shop for the Healthiest Lunch Meats)

How to Freeze Packaged Deli Meat

Unopened packaged deli meat is the easiest to freeze, because it's already sealed in airtight packaging. For an extra layer of protection against freezer burn, wrap the sealed package in an airtight freezer bag or aluminum foil, squeezing out as much air as possible, then label, date and freeze for up to two months. Unopened packages of cured meat, such as salami or pepperoni, will keep for as long as three months.

How to Freeze Meat from the Deli Counter

Sliced meats purchased at the deli counter, as well as packaged deli meat that's been opened, requires a bit more attention to preserve its texture and control moisture. Lay individual slices on wax paper, then stack the slices and place in an airtight freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. To add more protection against freezer burn, add a second freezer bag. Again, label, date and freeze for up to two months. If you purchase a large piece of meat from the deli counter, it can be wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap, followed by an airtight freezer bag, and frozen for up to two months.

How to Freeze Cooked Meat

If you cook a turkey, chicken or ham for homemade sandwich supplies, these can be frozen as well. Be sure to let the meat cool completely before wrapping and freezing. It's also best to remove the meat from the bone and cut or slice it into smaller pieces for freezing—slices and smaller pieces will defrost more easily, too. Fully cooked ham can be frozen for up to two months, while poultry will keep for up to three months.

How to Thaw Frozen Deli Meat

Layering and stacking slices of deli meat may seem fussy, but it means you can pull out and thaw exactly what you need rather than defrosting all your deli meat at once—unless you want to, of course! The best way to thaw frozen deli meat is overnight in the refrigerator, or until fully defrosted—larger pieces can take longer. If you're in a hurry and the deli meat is well sealed in an airtight freezer bag, you can place the bag in a bowl of cold water to defrost, making sure to change the water often, so it stays cold. Homemade meats can be defrosted in the microwave, but then need to be enjoyed right away. (Check out these 6 Common Myths about Freezing Food.)

How to Use Previously Frozen Deli Meat

Once defrosted, deli meat should be enjoyed within three days. Thawed meat may be a bit moist, but you can simply pat it dry with a paper towel before making sandwiches. While proper wrapping and defrosting should protect the taste and texture, if you find your deli meat lacking, try using it in cooked dishes, such as quesadillas, quiches, gratins, casseroles, stromboli or pizza—a little heat, seasoning and the flavor of other ingredients will bring those slices right back to life!