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Making homemade lunch meat gives you the best quality sandwich meats right at home. No preservatives, only natural ingredients.
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What is homemade lunch meat?
Sure, you can grab a pound of store-bought deli meat from the deli counter, but you’ll notice that store-bought lunch meat is often shaped into perfect meat logs. That’s because many are manipulated in a factory where meat is combined with spices, injected and shaped into molds.
When making homemade lunch meat, we’re not going to all that trouble. The goal today is to create lunch meat that tastes like natural meat. And the healthiest lunch meat is the lunch meat you make yourself because you can add less sodium and remove additives like sodium nitrite and nitrate.
When you visit the grocery store deli, you’ll see popular cuts like roast beef, turkey and ham. Usually, they have a few different flavors of each of those varieties. That comes down to the rubs used or the cooking method, such as roasted or smoked.
What makes good lunch meat?
When making deli meat, my favorites are beef, turkey and pork.
Let’s start with the beef. I like using eye of round. It’s a pretty inexpensive cut that has a just enough marbling to create tender roast beef.
For the turkey, I find the pre-shaped boneless turkey roasts work well. You can usually find them in the freezer section. They come in all white meat or a blend of white and dark meat. I go with the combo, because the dark meat adds a bit more richness.
If you go with the roast, check the label. It may include sodium phosphates in the brine. If you want something more natural, ask your butcher for a raw, unprocessed boneless turkey breast.
The most popular pork lunch meat is ham. If you look for ham in the market, you’ll find that most are already pre-cooked. That’s not going to work.
To make things easy, when smoking pork lunch meat, I just go with the center cut pork loin. Don’t mistake this for pork tenderloin. The center cut loin is larger, so you’ll get bigger slices after it’s smoked.
Seasoning lunch meat
When it comes to seasoning your meat, you have so much freedom. You can go with your own homemade seasoned salt, a Cajun spice mix, maple bourbon blend, or even something with a Latin or Asian twist. A good rule of thumb is to use 2 tablespoons of rub for every 3-4 pounds of raw meat.
For a simple rub combine kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and chile powder or smoked paprika in a small bowl. You can also add a bit of cane sugar, brown sugar or honey granules if you like a sweet flavor.
Once you choose your spice blend, apply it liberally on all sides. The turkey has an elastic netting on it to keep the light and dark meat pieces together. Keep that on during the whole seasoning and cooking process.
Once the meat is rubbed down, wrap each in two sheets of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least 6 hours. This is essentially a dry brine, which will help flavor the meat on the inside. You could inject the meat if you prefer, or use a wet brine, but this method tastes great and is less work.
How to smoke lunch meat
The next day, heat your smoker to 250F degrees. Unwrap the meat from the plastic, and place it on the grill. Insert leave-in temperature probes into the meat. This way you can monitor the temperature as it cooks.
Each meat will need to cook to a different final internal temperature to meet USDA food safety standards. This will take 1 1/2-2 1/2 hours, depending on the protein.
- Beef = 135F for medium rare
- Turkey = 165F
- Pork = 145F
As for wood flavors, oak, pecan and hickory go great with these three meats. I usually add cherry wood when cooking beef and apple wood for pork.
Slicing homemade lunch meat
One the meat reaches the right temperature, you can remove it from the grill, but don’t slice it just yet. First, we need to let it cool.
While it’s still hot, remove the netting from the turkey. Then let the meat rest on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Then, wrap each in plastic wrap, and place them in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This does two things. One, it allows all of the juices to settle and redistribute into the meat. And two, it will allow the meat to tighten slightly, which will help with the slicing process.
You can use a very sharp knife, but the best way to slice meat is with a meat slicer, especially if you like thin slices like I do.
How to store lunch meat
According to USDA standards, it’s best to eat lunch meat within 3-5 days of slicing. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
For longer storage, you can freeze lunch meat. After you slice it all, place small-size portions into plastic bags and seal them. Write the date on the bags, and place them in the freezer. That way they’re always ready for school lunches.
When you’re ready for another batch, pull a bag from the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw overnight. The USDA says lunch meat will last 1-2 months in the freezer.
Once you master this basic technique for smoking homemade lunch meat, you can start experimenting with all sorts of seasonings and wood flavors, so you can stack your own Dagwood sandwiches.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Save time and use pre-shredded cabbage
- Mix the coleslaw dressing ingredients first
- Add the cabbage one bag at a time
- Let the flavors blend for 30 minutes before serving
Frequently Asked Questions
Cold cuts of store-bought lunch meats can run anywhere from $8-18 a pound. When making your own lunch meat, you can buy the roasts for less. This is especially true for turkey and pork. Unfortunately, beef costs have gone up significantly, so beef roasts are only slightly less per pound.
For deli-sliced roast beef, an eye of round roast is a great choice. You can also use a bottom round, top round, top loin or London broil.
For pork, any pork loin or pork tenderloin will work. If you want to make homemade ham slices, be sure to start with a raw ham.
For turkey, look for frozen turkey roasts or whole boneless turkey breast.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the FDA recommends heating deli meat before eating it to reduce the risk of listeria monocytogenes.
By making homemade deli meat and limiting the time the sliced meat is in the refrigerator, the risk is lower.