A rustic outdoor picnic setup with crusty bread and sliced salami near an uncorked bottle of wine, evoking the simplicity of a traditional european meal.

Charcuterie and Cured Meat- Does it Need to be Kept Refrigerated?

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Key Points:

  • Cold Smoked Meat – Packaged/Cut: Yes, refrigerate; once opened, it starts to deteriorate due to exposure to oxygen.
  • Cold Smoked Meat – Whole/Homemade: Yes, refrigerate or keep in a cool place; can last months due to drying/smoking, with proper preservation.
  • Hot Smoked Meat (e.g., Bacon, Chicken, Fish): Yes, refrigerate; cooked and ready to eat, lasts 7-10 days once opened.
  • Biltong/Jerky: No need to refrigerate; dried to preserve (salt, sugar, vinegar), lasts weeks.
  • Dry Cured Salami: Yes, refrigerate; whole salami lasts longer, sliced salami lasts a few weeks.
  • Whole Muscle Salumi (e.g., Prosciutto, Parma): Yes, refrigerate; can also be kept in a cool place if whole.
  • Cut Salumi (e.g., Prosciutto, Parma, Lonza): Yes, refrigerate; lasts 1-2 weeks once cut.
  • Pate/Rillettes/Confit: Yes, refrigerate; sealed with fat/butter, lasts about a week once opened.
  • Ham (Whole or Cut): Yes, refrigerate; whole ham can be stored in a damp bag, cut ham in an airtight container, lasts about a week.
  • Historical Context: Dry-cured and cold smoked meats were preserved long before refrigerators, lasting for months on long voyages.
  • Storage Tips:
    • Keep whole dry-cured meats in their whole form for longer preservation.
    • Store sliced meats in airtight containers to minimize exposure to oxygen.
    • Check packages for expiration dates, and use within recommended timeframes once opened.
    • Use refrigeration for sliced or opened meats to maintain freshness and prevent spoilage.

Cured meat is a big category, and what you need to keep in the fridge or not depends on what the cured meat or charcuterie is.

I love charcuterie and cured meats in all their variations. Below is a quick answer with a table and a bit more detailed answer for each meat below to help also.

Meat ProductNeeds Refrigeration
Cold Smoked Meat – Packaged/CutYes
Cold Smoked Meat – Whole/HomemadeEither
Hot Smoked Meat ie. Bacon, Chicken, FishYes
Biltong/JerkyNo
Dry Cured SalamiEither
Whole Muscle Salumi ie Prosciutto, ParmaNo
Cut Salumi ie. Prosciutto, Parma, LonzaYes
Pate/Rillettes/Confit ie. fat preservationYes
Ham ie. Country Ham, Ham on the BoneYes

Also, I will touch on the ways I have found that it is best to store cured meat to keep the flavor the freshest.

If it is still in a whole-muscle piece of cured meat, then it won’t get as much oxygen on the surface, which can slow down the process of deterioration or drying out.

If it has been sliced and is in the package, then you can, of course, just go by the dates on the package. Many packages have had the air sucked out of them, so as long as they haven’t been opened – no problems.

From the store – sliced cured meat, hot or cold smoked meat – once the package is opened will start to perish the more air/oxygen is around it.

Tip when buying salami: If you buy your dry-cured salami whole, you get the advantage of being able to dry it to your taste preference, and it will also last a lot longer in its whole state.

Most Parma ham, prosciutto, braesola, lonza, and other forms of salumi or cured meat are already sliced when you buy them from the deli. Therefore, they will last a week or two but dry out when cut and exposed.

If it’s whole salumi, it only needs to be kept at a cool temperature and can generally tolerate up to 18-20°C/64-68°F; because it has been inhibited with salt and dried out, it isn’t a good environment for bad bacteria to grow. Hence it has been ‘preserved.’ But generally, I will keep it in the fridge if it’s vac-packed.

Here are the quick answers and some more specific insights about different charcuterie and cured meats.

Salumi charcuterie cured meat

Refrigerating Different Charcuterie and Cured Meats

Cold Smoked Meat – Packaged/Cut

Refrigerate? Yes

Dry cured cold smoked bacon

When you buy cold smoked salmon/bacon, it has been cured with salt and dried to a certain level through a set drying area / cold smoking in conditions under 30°C has also been performed. Ideally, in a much cooler environment

But if it is sliced, then it’s exposed to the environment more, so it has to be kept in the package, which has had the air/oxygen sucked out of it.

What many people don’t know is that cold smoking is just another form of drying with some smoke. Smoke has certain beneficial properties that help preserve meat effectively.

The salt curing at the start removes some moisture and makes the environment inhospitable for bacteria that spoil the meat.

Anyway, since the meat has been sliced, once you open the packaging, it will deteriorate since all that oxygen can easily cover the surface. Keeping it in a sealed container helps, but usually, five days after opening the package, it starts to go off (just read the package).

Cold Smoked Meat-Whole/Homemade

Refrigerate? Yes – or kept in a cool place

If you are lucky enough to make or buy whole cold-smoked chunks or muscles of meat, like this,

So with this dry-cured/cold smoked meat, you have something that has lost over 30-40% of its weight from drying/smoking – in effect, this has preserved the meat long term (so it can last months). This applies to most pork and red meats.

However, cold-smoked salmon can sometimes have a 20% weight reduction if you buy it whole, which is about the right amount for salmon; it all depends on how dry it has been.

I have found that homemade cold smoked salmon dried over 30% can last a very long time.

Gravlax is salt-cured for 24 hours, and it generally lasts about a week until it gets a bit more of a fish smell. As the Scandinavians have done for thousands of years, you can leave it in salt for much longer, drawing out more moisture and inhibiting the bad bacteria’s ability to grow. In other forms and cultures, this is called salt fish.

The same applies for salt pork, salt fish, and salt beef. Salting involves putting chunks of meat in salt and leaving them for days. Then, it is dried out (this can be done in your regular fridge).

You see this type of meat hanging outside stores in certain cultures like the Caribbean since it has been fully preserved and can last years they say.

Hot Smoked Meat, ie. Bacon, Chicken, Fish

Refrigerate? Yes

Hot smoked wild pastrami
Hot Smoked Wild Pastrami

It seems that more hot-smoked bacon is coming onto the market, and it’s also popular for making at home. This is because you can use your existing hot or low-and-slow smoker to smoke and cook the bacon at the same time.

Folks then package it and freeze it until they want to cook it, so you just end up recooking it through frying or baking.

When you buy hot smoked salmon, it’s been cooked – so it’s ready to eat (more detail about whether cured meats need to be cooked) product (or if you make it at home). Once it’s made or the package has been opened – it tends to last 7-10 days.

Golden Rule for if Food is Good to Eat

Smell it! Your nose has some evolutionary sensors built to detect whether something is edible. You can typically tell if it’s off with a good sniff!

Biltong/JerkyRefrigerate?

Refrigerate? No

Homemade cured meat biltong
Homemade Cured Meat Biltong

This stuff tends to dry out faster in the dry environment inside a fridge.

I love making jerky and biltong, it’s a brilliant high protein low-fat snack that doesn’t need refrigeration. This is because it has been dried to a point where it is preserved (salt, sugar, and/or vinegar help fortify the meat).

If you make or can get your hands on whole biltong or jerky chunks – it’s great for camping, hiking, or long road trips!

It will last weeks as well.

Dry Cured Salami

Refrigerate? Yes – in a cool place is ok if the salami is whole

Dry cured salami bread large

As mentioned, keep it whole and you will get a much longer shelf life. It also means you can dry it out until it gets to your preference. Heaps of dry-cured salami you will buy are fresh and can do with some drying out in my opinion ( the loss of moisture intensifies the flavors).

If it’s cool (under 16°C), doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge. But I sometimes do stick it in, because I want it to dry out quicker in that humid environment.

The same goes for sliced salami, it gets more exposure so it will not last as long, I like to keep it in an airtight container in the fridge.

Dry cured venison wild game e1586553514192

Whole Muscle Salumi ie. Prosciutto, Parma

Refrigerate? Yes – but can be in a cool place

If whole, then as mentioned, it’s preserved already.

If purchased from the deli and it’s cut into wafer-thin slices ready for the charcuterie board (to help, I have a calculator for how much meat etc. per person I created), then you should keep it in the fridge – will last a few weeks but start to lose its special flavor once the air has its diminishing effect.

Cut Salumi like Prosciutto

Refrigerate? Yes

Dry cured meat

Air & oxygen have been mentioned will affect the prosciutto (here are some prosciutto substitutes I wrote about) that has been cut, you will probably only get 1 to 2 weeks stored in the fridge.

Pate/Rillettes/Confit

Refrigerate? Yes

Liver pate large

Most will be sealed with fat/butter so the air/oxygen can’t affect it if you buy it. Keep in the fridge, once that seal has been broken you probably won’t get much more than a week.

Unless it’s confit (cooked and stored in fat-duck confit, for instance), which I find with wild duck confit, can last 2-3 weeks. Keep it in an airtight jar in the fridge. Hopefully, the fat will cover the meat in the jar.

Ham Whole or Cut

Refrigerate? Yes – whole in a damp bag or cut in an airtight container

Meat slicer

Country ham and whole ham have been salted and smoked; the ‘ham bag’ is useful to keep the ham from drying out too much in the low-humidity environment of the fridge.

I don’t have a ham bag, so I use a slightly wet tea towel – which does the same job.

Cut ham will again need to go into a container and will perish within a week or so – it will get a bit wiffy.

Fridges Invented Recently, Many Years After Cured Meat

With most dry-cured meat and cold smoked meats, they were invented way before the fridge. In their whole form, they were used for months as a useful protein source on long ship voyages and to discover many parts of the world.

Due to the commercial nature of food, they sometimes get bastardized, and bacon is especially injected with water to ‘bulk’ it up. Everyone has had the puddle of liquid from that cheap supermarket bacon.

Hope this helps, if you have any other tips, please leave a comment!


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Comments

  1. Hi Tom – thanks for the article. I have a question. If I have a whole leg of prosciutto and I have started to slice off it (but obviously haven’t polished the whole leg in one sitting) what is the best way to store the leg that has been cut into? Thanks, Chanel

    1. Author

      Hi Chanel,
      That’s awesome, a whole leg! In many parts of Europe, these are kept at ‘room’ temperature, but that depends on what your room temperature is!
      Lets say 12-20 Cel or 53-70 Far.
      It’s basically ‘preserved’, so you can just slice off wafer thin slices for months. keep as much skin/fat intact to protect the meat.
      Putting it in the fridge (which is a dry environment), will mean it will dry out faster and isn’t ideal.

      Hopefully the slicing is working, if you need some more advise, check out this slicing post I wrote . https://eatcuredmeat.com/how-to-thinly-slice-cured-meat/
      All the best,
      Tom

  2. Hello Tom,

    What if I need to store not sliced meat/sausage for a long period of time? Will it dry out in the freezer being kind of vacuum sealed (I don’t have a vacuum sealer but there are techniques to accomplish that? Regards

    1. Author

      sausage? if fresh sausage freezing is what I use.

      If charcuterie salami unsliced and dry-cured can be hung in room temperature since it is preserved it may dry slightly. Same with whole muscle meat unsliced like pancetta or braesola. In the fridge will dry it out too much! Putting it in a container will not give good results either (1 week maybe, gets slimy).
      I have had a friend freeze parma ham, defrost and bring on a camping trip (didn’t need to be frozen). Once thawed it was fine!

  3. Hi Tom.

    I was curing my own bacon, in the fridge, but the door didn’t close properly. It was like that for 3 days. It’s being cured in plenty of salt and
    Sugar. The doors now closed but I was wondering if it’s safe or if I should ditch it.

    1. Author

      Hey Leigh, a little vague to assess in detail. If it was me, I trust my senses – nose mainly! If I don’t feel completely safe from a good sniff. It gets the Biff! (thrown out!)
      Not worth risk personally.
      Cheers Tom

  4. I bought some linguica from a butcher… like a 1#link, wrapped on deli paper, and left in fridge for 3 weeks. Is it still good? Is it unsafe to cook and eat?

    1. Author

      I googled that sausage, its fresh and smoked I think. If it isn’t fully cured and dried – I wouldn’t eat it. On honest food website, the recipe says its should last 5 days in the fridge….
      Sounds similar to Calabrian Italian or Chorizo styles!

  5. Hi
    I make home made salami (7 yrs ) and Hang it out in garage to dry naturally then I vacuum seal them whole and store in cupboard . I then use as needed. They last ages.
    In regards to the bresaola can I do the same or do I need to vac seal and store in fridge and what shelf life will it have
    I am also doing capicola
    I am using the UMAii system

    1. Author

      Hey there, yes Umai makes it alot easier, different approach then balancing mold cultures with a DIY curing chamber!
      Braesola is whole muscle and more straightforward then salami since less exposure then mincing for salami.
      Hard to tell from a few sentences, but if it was me, sounds pretty good. Umai first then vac seal fridge is safe, depends on your ‘cupboard’ temperature!

      You just want to cut that whole muscle meat ultra wafer thin when its ready (info on deli slicer here)

  6. Hi Tom
    I am just about ready to slice my bresaola in a couple of days as it will meet the required weight lose
    Can I vacuum seal and refrigerate and will it keep like salami? I’m thinking yes
    Also I am ready for my capicola as well
    The problem I have is that I have got 2
    one of them has great contact with the bag and the other not so great
    The one that has great contact is 100 gm from weight to cut
    The other is 400 gm
    I have re vacuumed a couple of times and it still has not a good contact
    There is no smell and no black to it
    It still looks great
    I’m thinking I just wait a bit longer?
    Any thoughts or advice ?

    1. Author

      Hey there, definitely can vac pac once 30-40% weight loss. I don’t know your setup so its hard to comment though.
      Not sure what great contact means?
      Waiting is always key with this craft!

  7. Bought some cured salami sticks, dried and vacuum sealed, in Italy. They have been stored in the refrigerator. How long are they good in there for?

    1. Author

      SO much variation! best before date?! 🙂
      If it was dry cured Italian style salami, you can easily go 6 months or years potentially in my experience. If it has the white powder (penicillin) some people find this can alter taste.
      Just eat it! salut!

  8. Hi Tom,
    i’m installing a wine room, will be air conditioned to a level 16 C, and will naturally drop to about 15 C during winter. Will this be a good place to hang/store meats? Cheers, David

    1. Author

      Has potential! Once you get that good mold going I think so. I know of a few meat curers who have glorious wind rooms with dry cured meats as well! Moisture 70-80% and some airflow is also useful, the ebook on the courses page give you a rundown on conditions. Cheers Tom

  9. Hi, Tom! I want to send to friends some cured pork loin and gravlax. I plan to send it, vacuum sealed in a box with refrigerant gels and in overnight shipping. Is it safe?

  10. My neighbor brought over a gift for Christmas and told me it was a do it yourself meal. Quote- She said it had been salted or something like that for 7 days of needs 7 days not sure – Unquote. So I said what do I do then, she didn’t know. I figured it was something like dry goods that had all the ingredients measured up. It was wrapped in a box with a Brown flat paper bag on top, okay I thought brownies. Wrong it was fun steak that way out 3 days. Are they still good?

    1. Author

      Hey, very hard to tell from a description! Either salt for seasoning or salt for curing. If they said cook it, it’s not ‘dry curing’ it take weeks/months to dry out a salted chunk of meat. If it’s biltong or jerky that’s diff again!
      Not enough detail soz

  11. Hi Tom, I live in Italy and although I am married to an Italian he has no idea how to store cured meats. His family throws a dish towel over the top of the meat and leave it on the sideboard. They eat it daily and it’s finished pretty quickly! When meat is well-cured it seems to work well to vacuum seal it, but when it’s a bit ‘soft’ to the touch (and doesn’t slice easily) I feel like it needs to cure more/dry out a little? I’ve tried storing large chunks of prosciutto or a whole salami wrapped in in foil and then into a paper bag in the fridge, which seems to work fairly well. We recently stored a capocollo in the thick butcher paper in which it was purchased and then in an unsealed plastic bag in the fridge, but it molded. I’ve read suggestions to wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and then foil. Is there a foolproof way, or is it always hit and miss?

    1. Author

      Hey there, yeah fridges always run dry, so they will dry meat out. As you know across Italy – most dry cured meats are just hung up around the house, norcini butcher or whatever. I’,m still perfecting finished dry-cured meats, which I try and remove all white penicillin mold and then vac pac. I have had an uncouth friend freeze Parma Ham, and brought it on a hunt… It was fine actually! He really did treat it like a hot-smoked ham though!
      We were lucky enough a few years across to spend 3 months driving North to South in Italy – most houses we stay in they just kept it in the fridge, in its ‘wrapping’ – thicker bits take longer to dry. Fat takes much longer then meat.

  12. Hi!
    Just wondering- I heard you can store dried salamis in sifted wood ash. Do you know anything about this? How long can the meats ne kept in ashes? Will they dry out? Do you think I can do this with all whole cuts (coppa, pork belly, etc?
    Also, have you ever heard of keeping dried salamis and all in the freezer ? Would that not change the consistency of the meat? What is your opinion?
    Thanks!!

    1. Author

      A rough hunting buddy brought frozen parma ham (yes parma ham the real stuff) hunting with us. It was fine, vacpac meat without mold and storing in curing or normal fridge is generally what I do. As you can imagine it’s locked the level of moisture, so it equalizes the dryness and continues to age nicely!
      Ash? no idea! will have to try it! Would love to hear of the results too!

  13. Hi Tom, I bought a package of Gusto brand genoa mild salami (it’s slices)– it is in a vacuum sealed type of package. I forgot to put it in the fridge when I got home. It’s unopened and has been unrefrigerated for 2-3 weeks. I’m guessing it is fine to eat… but I can’t find anything online that would clarify that. It doesn’t even say refrigerate on the package…
    I’m just really curious. Any thoughts? Thanks a lot!

    1. Author

      Hey there, depends on the temp around your home! And acidity, salt, and a few other factors – too many factors to give any advice.
      Don’t risk it for the biscuit!

  14. what about dry cured Bresaola…..there is no fat and I have a piece thats 2.5lbs. Sliced tin it makes the best carpaccio with arugula and some shaved parmigiano. Anyway i wrap it in plastic wrap then a zip lock bag but how long do you think it will keep refrigerated or should i freeze?

    1. Author

      Many I have seen with whole braesola keep it in the fridge (in Italy – antipasti most nights 🙂 ), a few months at least I reckon. But it also depends on your room temperature, might be fine to just hang.
      Wouldn’t freeze, it’s preserved already due to its weight loss

  15. Hi, ive got some leftover sliced parma ham, pancetta and salami. I vacuumed packed them separately. How long normally can it last inside the refrigerator? Thanks in advance for the info!

    1. Author

      6-12 months or more! Educated Guess! I normally don’t slice. But eat/scoff it within 6 months, that’ what I would do!

  16. Hi. I have some vac-packed sliced salami that I bought yesterday and forgot to put in the fridge until this morning. It was left out overnight for around 17 hours at around 19 degrees. Will it be ok? Thanks!

  17. I made krakowska last night. It’s a Polish pork sausage with a combination of ground, emulsified, and chunks of meat. I cured for roughly 36 hours, then smoked for 12 hours starting at 120f for the first 3 hours and then 150-180f for the remaining time until I hit an internal of 156f with very little moisture loss. After that, it hung in the basement at around 14-15c for 24 hours. My question is can I continue to hang the sausage at those temperatures and for how long? I’ve cut into one already, so obviously that needs to go in the fridge, but I’m wondering about the whole one as I’m hoping to let it dry down to roughly 30% moisture loss.

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