Disclosure Cuisinart compensated me for this review. Opinions are my own.
Sure you can grab a pound of meat from the deli counter, but you’ll notice those deli counter lunch meats are 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 control the sodium and additives like nitrites.
This post includes three recipes all of which are smoked on my Cuisinart Woodcreek 4-in-1 Pellet Grill.
What Meats Make Good Lunch Meat?
When you visit the 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 that are used or the cooking method, such as roasted or smoked.
Today, we’re making beef, turkey and pork lunch meat. 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.
You may also see a raw cut called picnic ham. That’s not actually ham. It’s cut from the shoulder; whereas, ham is from the rear end of the pig. Confused yet?
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. I’m biased and like to use my own rubs. But you could go with a Cajun blend, maple bourbon 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.
Apply the rub 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. 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 Cuisinart Pellet Grill to 250F degrees.
Remember, when starting your Cuisinart Woodcreek 4-in-1 Pellet Grill, turn it to 200F degrees first. Once it gets to temp, then you can adjust the dial to your cook temp.
Unwrap the meat from the plastic, and place it on the grill. Insert the grill’s included 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
Turkey = 165F
Pork = 145F
Slicing Your 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. And then let all the meats rest on the counter for 30-60 minutes.
Wrap each in plastic wrap, and place them in the fridge for at least 6 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 knife, but I recommend investing in a meat slicer, especially if you like deli-thin meat like I do.
How Long Does Lunch Meat Last?
According to USDA standards, it’s best to eat lunch meat within 3-5 days of slicing. The good news is that 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.
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 pellets, so you can stack your own Dagwood sandwiches like this.
Smoked Homemade Lunch Meat
I'm a sucker for a good Dagwood-style sandwich, especially one that's piled high with thinly sliced smoked homemade lunch meat.