Freeze-drying will help you preserve all the food you like, from your favorite dessert to fruits, vegetables, seafood, and even meat products! If you are looking for a great way to store meat, freeze-drying is the perfect solution for short and long-term storage.
Meat can be safely freeze-dried using the standard freeze-drying steps. Cooked meat is safer to freeze-dry than raw, as it lowers the risk of food-borne illness contaminating the freeze-dryer unit. Meat can be freeze-dried and stored for 6 months to 25 years, depending on the cut.
Freeze-drying is a great way to preserve food for short-term or long-term use. It can also help folks save money whenever inflation affects the price of meat. The cook in the family will no longer need to worry about having the meat that they need on hand. So let’s talk about freeze-drying meat safely.
Steps to Safely Freeze-Dry Meat at Home
Freeze-drying is the perfect option for preserving raw or cooked meat as well as leftover foods that need to be preserved for a long time. Here are some simple steps to follow in order to freeze-dry meat safely.
Freeze-drying is super easy because there aren’t a lot of steps involved, and it is a process that anyone can do.
Step #1: Set up the equipment
First, plug the freeze-dryer into an outlet by itself (nothing but the freeze-dryer is plugged in the outlet), because this is a high amp machine. Turn on the freeze dryer and let it pre-freeze for at least 30 minutes.
We pre-freeze the freeze-dryer down to about -80 degrees Fahrenheit.
I recommend doing this step even if you don’t pre-freeze your food.
Step #2: Keep the meat safe to eat
Most meat is already cleaned during processing at the factory, so further washing is not necessary. Washing the meat will only spread the bacteria all over the place, causing contamination, per the USDA. We don’t wash our meat at all.
Pro tip: always be sure to keep your meat out of the “danger zone” where bacteria can grow on it as much as possible. This means keeping the meat refrigerated or frozen as much as possible. Obviously, it’s weird and dangerous to cut meat inside of the fridge, so you’ll have to take it out for that.
Step #3: Trim the meat to remove excess fat and all bone
Trim and cut the meat that is going to be freeze-dried. Fat shortens the length of time that foods can be stored once freeze-dried. The fattier the meat, the faster the freeze-dried food goes rotten or rancid. Cut out all the visible fat you’re comfortable removing.
Furthermore, bone won’t freeze-dry, so you’ll need to remove any bone attached to the cut, too.
Step #4: Pre-freeze the meat (optional step)
If you’re a fan of pre-freezing foods that will go into the freeze-dryer (we are), this is the time to do that. We have two sets of freeze-dryer trays specifically so that we can pre-freeze foods on the freeze-dryer trays to save time.
Pre-freezing foods help shorten the freeze-dryer cycle as long as you then only put foods into a frozen machine (so you don’t risk thawing the food while the machine freezes, as that would mean your food is in the “danger zone” where it could grow bacteria that could make you sick).
Pre-freezing the meat will also let you keep your foods safely stored between cycles.
Step #5: Put the meat on the freeze-dryer trays
Cut the raw meat into slices or chunks. Cuts should not be thicker than about ¾ inches or they take too long to freeze-dry. Much taller than that and they’ll stick over the top of the tray, which will mean that the tray won’t load into the freeze-dryer.
Get the tray and arrange the meat slices in it; make sure to leave at least ¼ inch (0.64 cm) of space in between meat slices. Double-check that the meat isn’t higher than the sides of the tray; if so, cut any pieces that are too large.
Step #6: Insert meat (on freeze-dryer trays) into the freeze-dryer
When ready, insert the trays into your freeze-dryer machine. If you’ve pre-frozen the freeze-dryer, you’ll need to pause the cycle and release the valve so you can open it up to insert the trays.
If both cooked and raw meat are used, put the cooked meat above the raw meat for safety. That way, if there’s any drippage, the raw meat doesn’t contaminate any cooked meat that was below it. It’ll just contaminate other raw meat (which was probably already contaminated) or the machine itself.
Step #7: Let the freeze-dryer do its magic
Once the food is in place, set the freeze-dryer to go and close the valve.
Place your door pad, then close and lock the door so it is sealed shut. Then let the machine do its freeze-drying magic for about 24-36 hours. Fattier, moister meats will take longer to freeze-dry.
Step #8: Check the results
When the freeze-dryer ends, check the meat to see if it is ready. Get a large piece and break it in half. This is to make sure that there are no longer ice crystals in the middle.
If there are ice crystals, put the meat back in the freeze-dryer and let it freeze-dry again for another cycle or two.
Pro tip: Always end the freeze-dryer on a warming cycle to prevent condensation from ruining your freeze-dried foods by accident.
Step #9: Store the meat
Once done, place the meat immediately in mylar bags or an airtight container, then place an oxygen absorber into each container or bag and seal it immediately. If you are using a bag, you can seal it twice to make sure that it is properly sealed. Now you can now proceed to the storing process.
Pro tip: we like to store our freeze-dried foods in a Ziploc baggie (with an oxygen absorber) for at least a few hours before moving it into a Mylar bag for long-term storage. This way, we can make sure we’ve removed all water (via condensation on the bag) and prevent unexpected spoilage in long-term storage.
Want to read more about how freeze-dryers work without going back to school? Read my article How Do Home Freeze Dryers Work? Science and Process Made Easy next!
How Do You Store Freeze-Dried Meat Safely?
Meat should be properly labeled and sealed in an airtight container or bag, preferably mylar, with an oxygen absorber. Be specific and label the meat as raw or cooked, sliced, and then mark the date it was packaged for storage. Keep food storage in a cool, dry room for optimal safety.
Always separate raw and cooked meats. Mixing the freeze-dried raw meat and cooked meats can cause cross-contamination, which could lead to a food-borne illness in the future.
Store the freeze-dried meat in a cool, dark place that is between 32°F and 75°F. Higher temperatures and sunlight will shorten the shelf life and freshness of any freeze-dried foods, meat included.
How Long Does Freeze-Dried Meat Last?
If the meat is freeze-dried correctly, and properly stored in a mylar bag with an oxygen absorber (or an airtight container), then it can last up to 25 years depending on the cut of meat, fat content, and other factors.
An open package of meat can last up to 6 to 12 months if it is properly stored. After opening the bag, it is exposed to oxygen and moisture in the air. So, it is important to lock out the moisture by placing a fresh oxygen absorber into the bag or the container that you’ve used and resealing it.
We’ve tested steaks at 6-month intervals, and they’ve kept fresh for more than 2 years. Our ground beef and ground turkey experiments are still fresh and edible at almost 3 years into it.
Pro tip: if you remove more fat, then the meat will keep longer once freeze-dried. Cooking the meat and removing even more fat will again lengthen the shelf-life of the meat.
Is it Better to Freeze-Dry Raw or Cooked Meat?
Both raw and cooked meats can freeze-dry well. However, freeze-drying raw meat is much more complex compared to freeze-drying cooked meat, mostly because of the sanitization and cleaning involved after running a cycle of raw meat in the freeze-dryer.
Freeze-drying cooked meats means the freeze-dryer doesn’t need any additional cleaning (beyond the usual) after running a load.
Freeze-drying raw meat, however, means that you may need to clean (or sanitize) any parts of the machine that came into contact with raw meat juices. This can mean sanitizing the entire machine between loads to prevent cross-contamination.
We prefer to stick to cooked meats for this reason. However, with many cuts like steaks, you can simply sear the outside of it to have it be “cooked” enough to not need to super-sanitize your machine between loads.
No matter which you choose, know that you aren’t going to lower the nutritional value of your meat by much if anything. You can read more about the nutritional information of freeze-dried food in my article here: Are Freeze-Dried Foods Just as Nutritious? Let’s See!
Safety Tips for Before, During, and After Freeze-Drying Meat
Safety is very important while freeze-drying. Make sure everything is cleaned properly before, during, and after freeze-drying.
- Wash hands thoroughly – Always wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat.
- Clean and sanitize – Wash and sanitize everything that’s been used during the freeze-drying process. This includes the chopping board, knives, trays, countertops, and everything that meets the raw meat.
- Cook all meats before consumption – After rehydrating the meat, cooking until it is at the FDA recommended temperature is important. The recommended temperature will kill the bacteria that survived the freeze-drying process.
Pro tip: most meats reconstitute better with both water and heat anyway. We reconstituted steaks with low heat and plenty of water and found they were quite good. The heat and water will also help cook the meat to a safe heat to prevent illness.
Please always be safe with your food handling. Getting a food-borne illness just isn’t worth it.
Want to make sure you’re safe? Read this article I wrote next: Does Freeze-Drying Foods Kill It? (Bacteria, Virus, Nutrients, Enzymes)
Can Meat Be Freeze-Dried at Home?
Anyone can freeze-dry meat in the comfort of their own home. All you need is the proper equipment.
Freeze-drying meat at home saves a lot of money, especially when compared with a commercial service. The freeze-drying process is easily learned with the steps that are listed earlier in this article.
Want to know about making jerky in a freeze-dryer? I’ve got a whole article answering that question in detail right here for you: Can You Make Jerky In a Freeze Dryer?
Or if you’re wondering about storing jerky in general, gotcha covered there, too. Go read this article next: How Long Does Jerky Last? How to Make It Last Longer.
Can You Freeze-Dry Meat without a Freeze-Drying Machine?
Freeze-drying without a machine isn’t truly freeze-drying. Deep-freezing foods until it’s dry is merely a form of mummification that drastically reduces the flavor, texture, and overall freshness levels of the food. To properly freeze-dry foods and meats, a dedicated freeze-dryer is absolutely required.
Unfortunately, it is not safe to freeze-dry meat without a freeze-dryer. A few weeks in a regular freezer to “freeze-dry” will be the equivalent of a mummified hunk of meat that will smell funny and most likely make everyone sick. Using a freeze-dryer makes the process much faster and safer.
However, the meat can be quickly frozen with dry ice prior to freeze-drying in the machine.
Final Takeaways on Safely Freeze-Drying Meat
Meat is a primary source of protein for most people. And being able to safely store our favorite protein sources for emergencies (or whatever else) is huge. I love that we can safely store our favorite foods for as long as 25 years without worrying about if we’ll get sick when we dip into our food storage.
Now, remember that fat, water, oxygen, and light are the 4 (four) main things that degrade freeze-dried foods. Try to minimize the amount of fat stored in foods, eliminate water by freeze-drying, eliminate oxygen with an oxygen absorber, and control the light in your foods storage room to maximize the shelf life of your food storage.
Now, if you’d like another way to store yummy protein sources in your food storage, make sure you check out this article I wrote about freeze-drying cheese next. You’ll be shocked to learn that cheese does freeze-dry and how long it can last on a shelf!
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- “‘Food Safety and Inspection Service.’” U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/washing-food-does-it-promote-food.
- “Freeze Dried Meat for Survival: Benefits and Storage 2021.’” PreparednessMama, preparednessmama.com/freeze-dried-meat/. Accessed 17 Feb. 2019.
- “‘Freeze Dried Meat, Steak, Pork Chops, Chicken, Shrimp, Bacon, Hamburger, Turkey, Hot Dogs.’” YouTube, uploaded by Retired at 40- Live Life Simple, 1 Mar. 2019,www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dRk1vfn3W8&t=300s.
- Howard, Robin. “‘4 Unique Foods You Can Freeze Dry: Harvest Right: Home Freeze Dryers: Freeze Dried Food Storage.’” Harvest Right | Home Freeze Dryers | Freeze Dried Food Storage, 10 Mar. 2016, harvestright.com/blog/2016/4-unique-foods-you-can-freeze-dry/.
- McGeehan, Andy, Nicole et al., “‘Let’s Preserve: Freeze Drying.’” Penn State Extension, 20 May 2021, extension.psu.edu/lets-preserve-freeze-drying.