A common question I get from customers at farmers’ markets is if I have any meat that is not frozen. They are shopping for that evenings’ meal and don’t have time to thaw it. Occasionally, farmers will have fresh meat for sale. Still, most locally raised meats are frozen, so knowing techniques for quickly and safely thawing frozen meat can be handy when shopping at your local farmers’ market or farm stand.
If time is not an issue, thawing meat in a refrigerator is the best option. Be sure to place the meat in a bowl or pan in case of the package leaks during the defrosting process, which will help keep the fridge clean and limit the possibility of cross-contamination. You must make sure your refrigerator is less than 40 degrees F. The USDA’s Safe Food Handling Fact Sheet has valuable information about food safety, including the fact that dangerous foodborne bacteria can grow between the temperatures of 40-140 degrees F. It is important to limit the amount of time your thawing meat (any meat or prepared food, really) is in the danger zone. The refrigerator is the safest method, but in a pinch, using a microwave or a cold water bath to speed up the process can work if done correctly.
Cold Water Bath
Submerge your packaged meat in cold water. Unpackaged meat can attract bacteria from the air and absorb too much water, so put the meat in a ziplock bag if needed. Replace the water as it warms (about every 30 minutes) with fresh cold water. This technique will speed up the thawing process significantly.
Using the defrost mode on your microwave is another way to get the meat on the table quickly. When defrosting in a microwave, it’s important to cook the meat immediately. The microwave isn’t ideal for defrosting red meats (it negatively affects the quality), but chicken and pork can be ready for cooking in no time using the microwave.
Cooking Frozen Meats
Another option is to skip the thawing process altogether. America’s Test Kitchen determined that the quality of beef steaks (especially grass-fed beef) improves when cooked while still frozen. For those who like a rare or medium-rare steak, cooking a frozen steak is the way to go.
This cooking technique is courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated chef Dan Souza
- Heat skillet filled 1/8 inch deep with oil
- Sear until browned (90 seconds per side)
- Transfer to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet
- Cook in a 275-degree oven until desired doneness (18 to 20 minutes for a 1-inch-thick steak)
Another handy tip when you have a whole frozen chicken and need to have a meal on the table for dinner is to cook it frozen. It will take 50% more time to cook, but you can roast a whole chicken frozen and have a delicious dinner in a few hours. It is not recommended to cook frozen meats in a slow cooker because of the uncertainly about how long the meat will be in the dangerous temperature zone.
You can also boil the frozen chicken. Boiling a whole frozen chicken has the advantage of giving you delicious chicken stock AND cooked chicken for several days worth of meals.
Thawing Frozen Meat FAQ
Can I refreeze meat that has been frozen and thawed?
Yes! If thawed in a refrigerator and packaged correctly, you can refreeze meat that has been previously frozen. This is a great tip when you have a large package of meat and don’t want to cook it all at once. If frozen in an air-tight package, there should be no loss of quality.
I just found a frozen chunk of meat at the bottom of my freezer – is it still good?
Hard telling, not knowing… You can find the FDA guidelines for storing foods here. Freezing (below zero) keeps food safe indefinitely. The quality can be affected by the length of time in the freezer and the type of packaging. Try to clean out your freezer at least once a year to ensure you use all your frozen goodies while they are still good.
How long is my refrigerator thawed meat good for?
Sorry, there is no one answer to this question. It depends on the type of meat (ground vs. whole, seafood vs. lamb, smoked vs. fresh), the type of packaging (vacuum packaging lasts longer), how long it was fresh before being frozen originally. The best advice is to use common sense, use your nose, and don’t take any chances.
These rules are true for all frozen meats.