How Long is Leftover Taco Meat Good For?

Nicole Austin

Eat more tacos and stay safe while doing it with this explainer.

Taco meat in my house is like spaghetti — when I think about it too much, I either make enough for a party, or a bit less than I needed in the end. I tend to err toward the party side of things and have leftovers, because who doesn’t love leftovers (and a break from cooking once in a while)?

But how long is leftover taco meat good for?

Slow Cooker Taco Meat Photo

Delicious taco seasoning, containing several herbs and spices that give it an added boost of flavor, holds up well in the fridge and doesn’t lose texture or flavor. If you went a little heavy on Taco Tuesday and are looking at those leftovers on Thursday wondering if they’re still fresh and able to be used, look no further — we’re here to answer all your leftover taco meat questions!

How Long Does Taco Meat Last in the Refrigerator?

As you most likely know, fresh meat should be stored in the refrigerator at all times, both prior to and after cooking. Taco meat often consists of one or more forms of chicken, beef, pork, or turkey, many times ground or finely chopped. To prepare leftover taco meat for storage, you will want to allow it to cool first.

If you have large pieces of meat, cutting them down to a smaller size will help them cool faster.

Spreading the meat out over a larger surface, such as a cooking sheet, will also reduce the amount of time it takes to lower the temperature of the meat. The faster the meat cools, the less bacteria can grow on it before you’re able to store it.

Chicken Avocado Tacos Pic

Once the meat has cooled to the touch, place the meat into a freezer bag or an airtight container. Press down on the lid when sealing a container, or close all but a small gap in the top of a freezer bag and press out excess air.

It is best to refrigerate the meat as soon as possible, and definitely within 2 hours of preparation.

In rooms that are 90°F or greater, food should be stored or thrown out prior to the one-hour mark.

Once refrigerated, cooked meat should be consumed within 3-4 days, according to the USDA.

So if you forget about any type of meat in the back of the fridge for a week, definitely throw it away, as its shelf life has long since passed the expiration date for safe consumption. It's a good idea to stay out of the danger zone and freeze it instead if you made a large batch and realistically won't eat it again in a day or two.

(We also have some delicious recipes below you can use if you're looking for an easy way to switch things up with your extra taco meat!)

Fried Avocado Tacos Photo

Be sure you know how long all your favorite foods last in the fridge so you don't have to throw anything away!

Can You Freeze Taco Meat?

Taco meat can be frozen quite well to be reused at a later date. To freeze taco meat:

  • Place it in a freezer bag and close the bag except for a small gap.
  • Compress the bag to remove excess air and seal the top completely.
  • Lay the bag flat and smooth out the contents to distribute them evenly across the surface.
  • Freeze in this flat state for easy storage and thawing.
  • Label with the best by date to reduce future confusion.

Frozen taco meat is generally good for 2-3 months. If you don't properly store your leftovers in Ziploc bags or other airtight containers, you risk freezer burn or spoilage.

The good news is, if you follow these easy steps, it will keep for a long time and you'll get to enjoy a quick meal later. (Try an easy recipe for ground chicken, ground turkey, or other leftover homemade taco meat below!)

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos Photo

How to Reheat Taco Meat

Taco meat that has been frozen should be thawed overnight in the refrigerator before use. Thicker cuts of meat may need closer to 24 hours of thaw time.

To reheat taco meat and keep it tasting fresh and new, use a splash of oil in a skillet on the stovetop, set at medium-low heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side.

This will keep the meat crispy and help retain moisture, so you will love it just as much the second time as you did the first. Adding an extra dash of spices will freshen up the meat as well.

You can also reheat it in the microwave and then throw it in a skillet for a minute or two, and check for an internal temperature of at least 165°F.

If you’re looking to reheat your taco meat in the oven, use a low temperature. We recommend setting the oven to 250°F.

Place the meat on a baking sheet and heat until warmed through. Remember that the internal number you’re looking for is still 165°F.

If your leftover meat seems dry, try adding a small amount of water, sauce, or broth to help replace moisture lost during reheating.

Meat can only be reheated once for food safety.

Discard any meat that smells or looks bad during any stage of storage or reheating.

Pan Fried Beef Tacos Photo

What to Do with Leftover Taco Meat

It doesn’t have to be a Tuesday or Cinco de Mayo for me to justify eating more than my fair share of tacos, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily feel like indulging in them twice in a week. Especially with the same filling.

For that reason, we found several family favorite, easy dinner ideas to repurpose taco night leftovers without having an identical meal the next day:

Taco Pizza Photo

Taco Pizza

Using many of the ingredients that may already be left over from your taco dinner, this taco pizza is a great way to use up not only your leftover meat but also cheese, salsa, lettuce, and more!

Mexican Chicken Photo

Mexican Chicken and Rice

If you used chicken in your tacos, you’ll find that you can skip the first step in this recipe! But you can also replace the chicken with whatever taco meat you have left over for a similarly delicious dinner.

Mexican Chicken Soup Photo

Mexican Chicken Soup

As above, use up or replace any chicken meat in this recipe by repurposing your leftover taco meat into a hearty soup.

Beef Taco Skillet Image

Beef Taco Skillet

Serve up a fresh, hot dinner in no time by making this super simple skillet recipe with your leftover taco meat. Add fresh toppings such as avocado, tomato, salsa, sour cream, and lettuce to keep things fresh and new.

Loaded Crunchy Taco Salad Recipe Pic

Loaded Crunchy Taco Salad

This delicious taco salad recipe is a hearty and fresh meal that would be excellent for packing for lunches at work for the days following your taco dinner.

Taco Salad Boats Image

Taco Salad Boats

Romaine lettuce leaves serve as the healthy version of this recipe’s taco shell for a scrumptious alternative to your norm. Chilled meat goes into this dish perfectly, keeping your life nice and simple.

Whether you want to have tacos again the same week or in the future after freezing, taco meat is extremely versatile and stores and freezes well for a multitude of purposes!

The whole family will love any of these easy leftover taco meat recipes to use up frozen or refrigerated ground meats, reducing food waste, and saving you money and hours of cooking in the process.

Shredded Beef Tacos Picture

Be sure you know how long all your favorite foods last in the fridge so you don't have to throw anything away!

Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.

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