You may already know that cryovac brisket is meant to last longer than meat that’s packaged in butcher paper. The question is, exactly how long can you hold onto it before cooking it off?
How Long Does A Cryovac Brisket Last?
A cryovac brisket should last for up to two months from the “kill date”—that is, the day the animal was actually slaughtered. The airtight packaging prevents bacteria from forming on the meat, which gives it a longer shelf life. For optimum results, you should cook off cryovac brisket between 30 and 60 days from the kill date.
What Is Cryovac Brisket?
Cryovac, or vacuum-sealed packaging, is designed to seal the meat inside tightly, so that no air can get in. This is effective as a storage method because it prevents bacteria from setting up camp on the surface of the meat.
Many pitmasters prefer cryovac brisket because the meat gets nice and juicy when it sits in the packaging for a long time. This process is called wet aging, and it’s one of the best reasons to consider purchasing brisket that’s vacuum-sealed to begin with.
Wet aging occurs when natural enzymes go to work on the protein strands in the brisket. This effectively tenderizes the meat before you’ve even had a chance to give it the royal treatment on the smoker.
If you opt to wet age your cryovac brisket, be aware that there are certain guidelines you’ll need to follow. The environment needs to be carefully monitored. Otherwise, the meat will spoil, just as it would if it hadn’t been wrapped in cryovac packaging.
Vacuum Packed Brisket Shelf Life: An Overview
When properly stored, a cryovac brisket should keep for two months in the refrigerator. Since we like to err on the side of caution where food safety is concerned, we prefer to cook it off around the 45-day mark.
The question is, when do you start counting? Is it from the time when you bring the meat home from the butcher, or the date on the package? The answer is more complicated than it appears.
Most meat products will be marked with a “sell by” or “use by” date. These are in place to remind retailers how long the item has been on the shelf, and to provide consumers with a guideline for how long the meat will remain at peak quality.
For wet aging, you need to know how long ago the brisket was sealed in its vacuum-packed container. That means searching for the “kill date,” or the exact date on which the steer was slaughtered.
This date should be clearly marked on whole cases of beef. However, unless you’re buying brisket by the case—which is unlikely—your best bet is to ask the butcher for the kill date.
As you’ll learn in the next section, it’s essential to lock down this information before you attempt to wet age the meat. Otherwise, you run the risk of spoilage.
How To Wet Age Brisket
Once you’ve determined the kill date, your next step is to bring the brisket home. Don’t remove it from its cryovac packaging, or you’ll have to either freeze it or cook it off within a few days.
Inspect the vacuum-sealed package for air bubbles. If you see any, the wet aging process won’t work. You can still freeze or smoke the brisket immediately, but the meat won’t last as long if there’s any air inside the package.
Store the brisket in your refrigerator, preferably toward the back of the lower shelf. Your fridge should be set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. For optimum results, the brisket needs to be kept at about 32 degrees, so leave it where it is during the storage period.
You can cook off the brisket anywhere from 30 to 60 days after the kill date. As we mentioned, we like to prepare the brisket when it’s been wet aged for about 45 days. This gives you plenty of wiggle room between the kill date and the two-month marker.
You might see small bubbles forming in the packaging while the enzymes are doing their work. This is normal—it just means the proteins in the meat are breaking down as they should.
Keep an eye out to determine whether the packaging “puffs up” or inflates during the storage period. If this happens, it’s time to freeze or cook the brisket before it has a chance to spoil.
Pro Tip: To make sure you get the date correct, count off the days between the kill date and your planned barbecue, and mark the latter on your calendar.
When you’re ready to cook the brisket, open the packaging with a sharp knife. Keep the meat over a sink or large container to catch the juices. Carefully unwrap the meat, then pat it dry with paper towels and prepare according to your favorite recipe.
Wet aged brisket should have a strong, beefy odor. If you think it smells overly sweet or sour, then there’s a good chance the dry aging didn’t work and the meat has gone bad as a result.
Can You Freeze Cryovac Brisket?
Cryovac packaging works well if you plan on freezing the brisket. Its airtight qualities will prevent the meat from suffering the indignities of freezer burn.
When stored in the freezer, cryovac brisket should last as long as any other frozen meat product. For best results, thaw and cook the brisket within 6 to 12 months.
That said, since the brisket will keep for such a long time even without the benefits of freezing, it’s not always the best option. We prefer to buy cryovac brisket only when we plan on following the wet aging process described above.
When you buy a cryovac brisket, you should wait at least a month to allow the enzymes to tenderize the meat.
It’s important to learn the kill date if you’re planning on wet aging your brisket. Without it, you’ll have to rely on the “use by” or sell by” dates, and these won’t give you the info you need. So be sure to confer with your butcher before leaving the store.