It’s pretty common to freeze meat in an effort to preserve it, so most of us have several chunks of poultry, pork or beef sitting in our freezer right now. It’ll last for a while without any change in quality, but sooner or later you’ll want to eat it, and no matter what type of meat it is, you’ll want to bring it closer to room temperature prior to cooking. Certain cuts can take days to warm using the best method possible, so unless you plan ahead to allow for proper thawing, you’ll be looking for the fastest way to defrost your meat without ruining the texture, taste, color or nutritional value.
Although the method of defrosting is key to great taste after cooking, other factors like freezer temps, wrapping methods, etc. can also cause harm or improve quality prior to cooking, so it’s important to consider every stage of the preservation and consumption cycle. One thing is for sure though: Anyone can save money, improve planning, reduce waste, or stock up for convenience by freezing extra meat in their freezer.
How To Freeze It
Why waste time worrying about thawing meat if you don’t know how to freeze it properly? You may assume that your meat was ruined because of the way you warmed it, but it may actually be due to improper wrapping prior to placing it in your freezer. Packages that you buy at the store are usually good to go, but when you re-package at home to save extras, or overwrap loosely covered packages from the grocery store, you’ll need to be especially careful if you want to ensure that taste and texture are unaltered, and your frozen pieces taste just as good as the ones you ate fresh.
When wrapping meat to place it in the freezer, the key is to keep the air out. Exposure to air is what leads to freezer burn which negatively affects the texture of meat, but you can easily prevent it by adequately covering your chicken or steak prior to freezing. Special vacuum bags and expensive containers are probably the best, but you can also use stuff you already have to achieve similar results by layering.
- Use plastic wrap right on the meat, and wrap tightly all over.
- After completely wrapped, place in a plastic zip bag, or wrap again with aluminum foil.
- The double layer of protection should help to maintain quality by minimizing exposure to the air in your freezer.
How Long Will It Last?
When properly wrapped, meat can remain in perfect condition for as many as 12 months, but for best quality, you should really be cooking most beef, chicken, fish or pork by the four month mark. Frozen meat will not “go bad” or be unsafe to eat after this amount of time, but it may change color, lose flavor, or take on a texture and consistency that is different. To make it easy to rotate your stored food stock, just label and date each package before you freeze it. That way you can maximize storage time without compromising taste or quality.
Recommended Max Freezing Times For Best Quality
According to the USDA, and when freezing to a temp of zero degrees, the following durations are recommended to avoid any change in quality.
- Bacon and sausage: 1 – 2 months.
- Hotdogs and lunchmeat: 1-2 months.
- Uncooked roasts: 4-12 months.
- Steaks and chops: 4-12 months.
- Ground meat: 3-4 months.
- Poultry (whole): 12 months.
- Poultry (parts): 9 months.
- Wild game: 8-12 months.
The 3 Best Ways To Defrost Meat
In an ideal world, we’d all have the ability to look into the future and plan perfectly for every event, several days in advance. In this actual world, none of us can actually do that, so eventually we’ll all be faced with the task of defrosting meat at the last minute. If you don’t have a lot of experience, or if you’ve always done it a certain way, you may be wondering how to do it quickly and efficiently, but without ruining dinner in the process.
When considering which is the ideal way to thaw meat after removing it from your freezer, you should begin by determining how much time you have. For most pieces of meat, the best way will take more than a day to work, and unless you planned ahead, you may not have this much time available.
When you need to cook dinner in the next hour, several days won’t work, so in a case like this, you’ll have to resort to the best option within your timeframe. If you don’t choose the right method, safety and quality may be compromised, but when you take the right steps, you can speed up the process significantly without causing too much damage to the taste or texture of your food.
Many people use the microwave as the go-to tool for defrosting meat. It does offer a fast and easy way to warm meat quickly, but it is also the most destructive. If you’re in a pinch, you can definitely thaw any type of meat quickly, but it’s tough to get it to thaw evenly so you end up with cooked edges and frozen middles. Due to partial cooking of the flesh, you’ll have to finish cooking immediately after microwaving to avoid any food safety issues. The uneven thawing will lead to uneven cooking if you’re not careful, so use extra caution, or stick to certain dishes for best results.
This method wins for speed, but loses for quality. It can work well for smaller portions, but it would be pretty ridiculous and nearly useless for really large ones. Although your microwave probably has a button right on it that reads “defrost”, most experts would agree that you probably shouldn’t use it. If you do decide to use this method, be sure to maintain a very low power setting to warm as slowly as possible.
Another common practice is to leave frozen meat out on the counter to thaw. Although this method works, it’s also a bit risky because the outer flesh will have the ability to harbor bacteria well before the middle is no longer frozen. This could render your food unsafe to eat if you don’t pay attention, but the slow warming process will ensure than taste and texture are not destroyed. Once the meat warms to 40 degrees, bacteria can begin to grow, so if allowed to come to room temperature, you’ll have to make sure to cook meat thoroughly to eliminate anything harmful.
Although it takes longer in the fridge, it is widely considered the ideal way to defrost meat because it brings up the temperature slowly, and in a safe, controlled environment. It may take several days to thaw completely when sitting in the fridge, but it can also remain in place several days after thawing without any worry. If you take the time to thaw your meat in your refrigerator, you’ll guarantee the best taste and texture, and you won’t have to worry about any risk.
Give It a Bath
If speed and quality are both important, you can thaw almost any amount of meat in a matter of minutes with the addition of some water. You’ll want to make sure to seal the meat inside a bag to avoid saturation, but other than that, the technique is quick and efficient. There will be a slight decrease in taste and texture when compared to the slower method above, but you’ll greatly decrease the time it takes, and you won’t harm the meat like microwaving does.
Just place a bowl of water in the sink, and submerge your chicken, pork or beef in cool water. You don’t want to use hot water because it will cause problems similar to microwaving, but you can speed things up by replacing the water regularly. Do this by emptying and refilling the bowl after a certain duration, or apply a slow trickle of water to continuously add fresh water.
The frozen meat will chill the water quickly, but when you keep adding slightly warmer water in its place, it will cause most meat to thaw completely in under an hour. Because the meat remains sealed, and because it never warms to room temperature, you won’t have to worry about bacteria growth or any other health risks. And thanks to the relatively slow speed, there will not be significant impact to the quality of the food.
Why Freeze Food?
- Save Money – Buy in bulk, then freeze in smaller chunks that are more usable.
- Reduce Waste – Avoid cooking more than will get eaten, and save portions that are the perfect size for you to use later.
- Meal Planning – Section individual patties when living alone, or purchase for a family weeks and months in advance.
- Convenience – Store more than you need, so there is always something available, and options when deciding what to prepare.
To Re-Freeze or Not to Re-Freeze?
Good question. Many people are unsure of whether or not this particular activity is safe, but it is pretty common to take out a package of meat from the freezer, use some, and have raw meat left over. It is totally safe to re-freeze this unused portion of raw meat, and the only thing you need to worry about is a possible loss in quality due to the reduction of moisture caused by the thawing process.
You can also, of course, re-freeze meat after you cook it, and this can be handy for saving single portions that can be reheated later. They’ll stay fresh for long periods when frozen, so you can easily prepare meals weeks or months in advance, and heat them up quickly.