Many of us enjoy keeping our freezer stocked with steaks and chock full of chicken. (Or, if you prefer, pork loin or ground beef.) Meal planning then becomes as simple as picking which meat you’d like to prepare.
However, there’s another decision: how you intend to defrost the meat. There are three ways to do so safely, varying by how much time you have before cooking – from days before to just 10 minutes before.
Defrosting Meat in the Refrigerator
The easiest and best way to thaw is overnight in the refrigerator. This obviously requires planning ahead, since even smaller amounts of meat take a full 24 hours to thaw. (Take note that food will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35°F than one set at 40°.) For larger items, like a turkey, allow at least a day for each 5 pounds of weight – meaning a 15-pound bird would take three days. The next consideration is when you plan to cook: After thawing, ground meat, poultry and seafood should keep well in the fridge another day or two; red meat cuts (beef, pork or lamb) should safely last 3-5 days. Food thawed in the refrigerator can also be safely refrozen.
Defrosting Meat in Cold Water
OK, so you didn’t decide on dinner the night before. Your best day-of method for proper thawing is soaking in cold water. Place your frozen meat in a resealable plastic bag, squeezing out the air, and submerge in a large bowl of cold water. It’s important that the bag be airtight, in part so the meat doesn’t absorb water; being waterlogged will affect the taste. You must change out the water every 30 minutes, so it remains cold while properly thawing. (As soon as meat becomes warmer than 40°F, bacteria can multiply rapidly, leading to foodborne illness.) Smaller cuts of meat (about a pound) should thaw in an hour or less; a 3- or 4-pound package might take 2-3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate 30 minutes per pound. Once thawed, your food should be cooked immediately; it should only be refrozen after cooking.
Defrosting Meat in the Microwave
Want an even faster way to defrost? Well, there’s likely a button on your microwave bearing that label. Most meats can be thawed in a microwave in less than 10 minutes. Check your instruction manual – or if you’re lucky, a label inside the microwave door – to see the best way to defrost a specific cut of meat. It’s possible that during this process, some areas of the meat may start to cook, so it’s critical that once thawing is complete you always cook the meal immediately after.
Safely Thawing Frozen Meat
These three methods will all keep your meat at a safe temperature while thawing. The USDA cautions that perishable foods shouldn’t be defrosted in hot water or simply left out on the counter to thaw. Also, once it’s safely thawed, be mindful that no piece of meat should be left at room temperature more than two hours.
One alternative to thawing, if you’re really in a hurry? You can cook meat that’s still fully frozen – just be mindful that cooking time will be about 50% longer than what’s needed for thawed meat and poultry.
Ready for some dinner inspiration? Check out our ground beef recipes, chicken recipes, and steak recipes to find something the whole family will love. Looking for more easy meal ideas? Visit our Meal Solutions page.