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Freezing meat is a common practice when aiming for extended periods of storage. With most meat, keeping it frozen affects the freshness after reaching a certain time frame. However, wild game can be kept frozen for longer durations without compromising its quality. So, how long can elk meat last when kept in the freezer? And for how long will it stay good? We've looked into these questions and summed up the answers in this post.
Frozen, uncooked elk meat can retain top quality and flavor for up to 12 months at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. When the elk meat is ground, it can stay in the freezer for only 3 to 4 months. Cooked elk meat is good frozen for 2 to 3 months. Any further than these timeframes will start to affect the meat quality.
In freezing elk meat, you should also know how to handle it properly. While elk meat can last long in the freezer, these conditions vary on whether the meat is raw or cooked. Keep reading to learn how to thaw elk meat and how to determine if it's still good to consume.
How Long Does Elk Meat Stay Good In The Freezer?
The USDA recommends keeping raw meat in the freezer for 4 to 12 months at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for best quality. Freezing meat slows down the movement of microbes that cause food spoilage. And so, you can still consume elk meat even when stored for a lengthy period but keeping it at a maximum of 12 months is better for safety purposes.
The shelf life of elk meat changes when it is ground or cooked. At most, in these states, the meat is safe for 3 to 4 months in the freezer. Flavor and texture changes may occur with a longer freezing time.
How To Pack Elk Meat For Freezing
Properly packaging elk meat before storing it in the freezer preserves its best condition. Follow these steps below:
- Trim the fat off elk meat to reduce flavor changes that occur during freezing.
- Tightly wrap the elk meat in moisture or vapor-proof wrappings such as wax paper, plastic freezer wrap, or heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Seal the wrapped elk meat in a freezer-safe container or a freezer bag, taking out as much air as you can.
- Once sealed, make sure that you label and date the packaged meat. Do not overload the freezer.
Tips In Making Meat Last Longer In The Freezer
Meat is usually consumable as long as it stays at a consistent temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder without interferences. Below are a few tips to help keep elk meat under these conditions:
- Make sure you store meat in an airtight or vacuum-sealed bag or container.
- Ensure the bags and containers used are for freezing purposes.
- Use a chest freezer for extended storage periods.
- Consider storing the meat in larger chunks to reduce the amount of exposed surface area.
- Store enough meat to allow it to freeze within 24 hours.
If you want to store meat for even longer under refrigeration, check out our post on How To Freeze Food After Sous Vide.
How Do You Defrost Elk Meat Quickly?
The simplest way to defrost elk meat is by placing it in the refrigerator. Doing so will allow you to refreeze any portions that will not be used or consumed. However, defrosting meat in the fridge can take a day or two.
Avoid defrosting meat in the sink or on the counter to prevent it from spoiling quickly during preparation. In the refrigerator, meat defrosts evenly and safely because the shift in temperature is not drastic.
To shorten the time it takes for elk meat to defrost, consider these methods:
1. Defrosting In Cold Water
For store-bought or packaged elk meat, submerge it in cold water. Fill a tub or basin with cold water and leave the frozen meat inside to melt the ice. Change the water every 30 minutes or so to speed up the process.
Before you place frozen meat in the water, make sure the packaging is airtight or leak-proof to avoid having water get in contact with the meat directly. It will take about 4 to 6 hours for elk meat to defrost, depending on the quantity. If you want to refreeze the meat after defrosting, you will have to cook it first.
2. Microwave Defrosting
If you need to prepare the meat within a short time frame, you can defrost it in the microwave. Remove all packaging before preparing it to heat in the microwave.
Elk meat can defrost in a few minutes to about an hour or so. When using this method, keep in mind that you should consume the defrosted meat within the same day.
Note that the meat will defrost unevenly with this method, wherein some portions may also become partially cooked. Microwaving can also make defrosted meat too warm, creating an ideal environment for bacteria growth if not consumed immediately.
If you're dealing with other wild games like venison, read our post on How To Defrost And Thaw Venison.
How Long Is Thawed Elk Meat Good For?
After thawing, elk meat is good to keep stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less for 2 to 3 days before cooking and consumption. If you defrosted it in the microwave, you should use it immediately. To prevent deterioration in the quality, do not refreeze after thawing it completely.
How Long Is Cooked Elk Meat Good In The Fridge?
Cooked elk meat will last in the fridge for 3 to 4 days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and 2 to 3 months when frozen. As opposed to freezing, refrigeration cannot halt bacteria growth. Thus, refrigerated food should be consumed within the given period.
How Can You Tell If Elk Meat Is Bad?
Under proper storage conditions, meat can last a long time when stored in the freezer. But over time, it could change quality due to outside factors such as temperature change and moisture buildup.
When dealing with frozen meat, examine it for the following after thawing to determine if elk meat has spoiled:
The meat from wild game is usually a dark brownish-red color. Remember that elk meat can appear shiny even when fresh because of its tendon and muscle structure so, it may show a metallic hue. If the color looks more of a dark green, dark brown, or black shade, it could signify the meat is spoiled.
If the elk meat is ground, check if the inner and outer colors are the same tone. These should be in deep red. If not, it could mean the meat is no longer fresh.
Like most meat, elk meat gives off a distinct odor when it spoils. It will likely have a gamey smell, but this will not be unpleasant or sour. Dispose of the meat if it gives off any odd, pungent odor.
The surface of the meat should feel smooth to the touch. If it feels slimy, on top of being discolored or smelling off, it would be safe to say the meat is not good to consume anymore.
Elk meat can withstand long periods of storage in the freezer under appropriate conditions. You can keep it frozen for 12 months when raw and up to 4 months when cooked or ground. As much as possible, store the meat at a minimum of 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Proper handling is also vital in keeping elk meat good to use when thawed. When defrosting, note how long it can stay safe to consume to prevent unintentional spoilage. During refrigeration, leave it for no longer than 3 to 4 days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.