In this article we’ll be focusing on beef jerky specifically, but the points mentioned here also apply to other types of meat made into jerky, such as chicken, pork, lamb, or even goat or deer.
Beef jerky is designed to have a long shelf life, that is, until you open the packaging, and then you’ve got a window of a few days in which to eat it before it spoils.
What about extending its shelf life? Can you freeze it, and save it for later?
Read on to discover if you can freeze beef jerky without any problems, how the freezer affects the final product, if you can freeze homemade beef jerky, and how you can defrost it.
Should You Freeze Beef Jerky?
Like most things you can put into the freezer, the problem isn’t in freezing the food itself. Most foods freeze fine, but it’s when you come to defrost it that you’ll notice the problems.
Luckily, you can freeze jerky without any issues, just like you can with most meat products.
But there are certain scenarios where it doesn’t make sense to freeze jerky. For example, freezing unopened beef jerky isn’t necessarily the best thing to do, as it has a pretty long shelf life to begin with.
That’s the equivalent of opening a can of tinned food and then freezing it. Unless it’s nearing its best before date, in which case you should just use it fresh, it’s a viable option of preserving food if you know you won’t get to it.
But if you have more beef jerky than you’ll use, and you’ve already opened the packet, freezing it does extend the life of the jerky.
The results after defrosting beef jerky is pretty good. In nearly all cases, you can’t tell it’s been frozen at all, as it looks and tastes like its fresh counterpart.
That’s not to say that the jerky won’t be affected by freezing. Everything that goes into the freezer is changed in some way, even if that difference is minute.
How much the jerky will be affected by the freezing process is dictated by how good the meat is, any spices it was preserved with, and the types of preservatives within the meat.
These differences should still be minimal, but these variables are worth mentioning. Some brands, if you buy it ready-made, may freeze better than others.
What Do Manufacturers Say About Freezing Beef Jerky?
Many jerky manufacturers don’t mention freezing their products on the packaging, which is interesting.
This may be because making the meat into jerky is a form of preserving it anyway, so they might not consider that you want to freeze it.
Most companies that do mention it suggest that it doesn’t do anything detrimental to the quality of the product. If this was not the case, most companies would warn against freezing it altogether.
Some companies do warn against freezing their specific beef jerky products – not because it’s harmful – but because it slightly alters the texture in a way the final product isn’t supposed to have.
They consider it a drop in quality, and they don’t want to produce a sub-par product.
If in doubt, freeze a very small amount, and decide for yourself.
How Do You Freeze Beef Jerky?
Freezing beef jerky couldn’t be simpler, and it takes very little time to do. It won’t take you longer than a couple of minutes.
If you haven’t opened the packet of beef jerky, or if the packaging reseals, you can throw it straight into the freezer without any problems. Just make sure to squeeze out any excess air from the bag first.
If it’s not a resealable bag, or if you have leftovers, decant the jerky into a resealable freezer bag, label it, get rid of any excess air, and seal it. Chuck it in the freezer.
Because jerky doesn’t contain a lot of moisture – it has very little, in fact – this stops the pieces from clumping together, meaning you don’t have to separate them, flash freeze them, or divide them into portions.
The jerky can stay in the same bag within the freezer, and you can just take out what you need, when you need it. This really is the dream when it comes to freezing food.
Can You Freeze Homemade Beef Jerky?
You can store homemade beef jerky in the freezer no problem, using the same method above.
It’s the safest long-term option of storing it, especially if you have made a lot of jerky, and you know you won’t use it before it goes off.
Some recipes will tell you that it’s safe for you to freeze the jerky from the get-go, but you can always ask if you’re in doubt.
The easiest way to find out if you can freeze the jerky is to try the method with a few pieces, to see if you like the result.
How Long Can You Leave Beef Jerky In The Freezer?
Because beef jerky is already dehydrated, it doesn’t lose much of its quality, even if you keep it in the freezer for a whole year.
This is because there’s not much moisture in the meat left to form ice crystals, and these crystals are what makes the structure of food start to break down when they thaw.
While meat with high levels of moisture can be frozen for a year, you’ll notice that it will drop in quality, as freezer burn will affect its texture and taste.
Like with any food, though, the sooner you take the jerky out of the freezer and use it, the better the end result will be.
This not only ensures that the quality will be at its best, but it also prevents you from forgetting about food in the freezer, while it slowly starts to lose its flavor.
How To Thaw Frozen Beef Jerky
The only real way to thaw frozen beef jerky is to put it straight into the fridge.
Depending on how thick the pieces of jerky are, and how many you need to defrost, this could take anywhere between 30 minutes or 8 hours.
Smaller, thinner pieces of jerky don’t even need to be defrosted. If you’re adding them to a cooking dish, throw them straight in there, and they’ll defrost pretty quickly.
Add a few minutes extra onto the cooking time to get rid of the excess moisture, but this is a great way to add smoky notes to any dish.
I don’t recommend eating frozen beef jerky, though. While it’s entirely possible and probably safe to do so, it won’t be a pleasant experience. If nothing else, it’ll be very cold, and you probably won’t be able to taste anything.
Much larger pieces of jerky will need to thaw, at least for a little while, especially if they haven’t been separated before freezing.
If you’re wanting to defrost a load of jerky at once, and it’s frozen into one large piece, this will mean it will take much longer to defrost, than if it was in smaller pieces.
You can significantly cut down on the amount of time it takes for the jerky to defrost if you make sure the pieces aren’t all lumped together before you freeze it.
As with defrosting any kind of food, as it defrosts, you’ll notice a bit of extra water forming on the jerky, but you can just mop that up with a paper towel.
Can You Refreeze Beef Jerky?
If you put the beef jerky straight into the fridge to defrost, you can refreeze it without any problems.
This also goes for quite a few different foods, but you shouldn’t treat it as a general rule, as some foods can become unsafe if you freeze them more than once.
Refreezing any type of food will lead to a noticeable drop in quality, so if you can avoid refreezing something, that would be better.
Refreezing food should only be a last resort, and that way, the quality of your food will be much better when it comes to enjoying it. You won’t see much of a change in texture or flavor, either.
As beef jerky freezes without sticking together, you will be able to take the amount you need from the freezer without having to defrost any surplus jerky that you won’t get around to using.
This prevents food waste, and it’ll also save you some money in the long run.