Defrosting meat can be done safely and easily with one of these four methods: refrigerator thaw, cold-water, microwave or cook meat frozen. When you need to get dinner on the table quickly, you need the fastest way to thaw meat.
Let’s talk about defrosting meat. This isn’t a very glamorous topic, but it’s an essential nuts-and-bolts topic that every home cook needs to know. If you’ve ever had questions like how to defrost ground beef, how to thaw steak fast, or can you thaw and re-freeze meat, this post is for you.
One of the big benefits of buying beef in bulk from a farmer is having a freezer stocked with ground beef, well marbled steaks, and roasts. If you know how to thaw and defrost meat quickly, it makes it even easier to throw together a quick weeknight meal. However, when you do purchase farm-fresh beef, it is usually frozen due to USDA safety guidelines. That means you’ll need to thaw it.
How to defrost meat safely:
Please note, all of these recommendations come from the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Services.
#1. Refrigerator thawing (the best method)
Refrigerator thawing is our go-to method for defrosting meat. It does require a little advance planning, but it’s the safest way to thaw. Plus, if you change your mind about cooking the thawed meat, it is safe to refreeze with this method (note: it’s not safe to refreeze with any other defrosting method)
With refrigerator thawing, you simple place the beef in the refrigerator until it’s thawed. Be sure to place the package on a plate to catch any drippings or juice that sneaks out as the meat defrosts.
As you would expect, the amount of time it takes to thaw in the refrigerator is dependent upon the refrigerator’s temperature. Food will thaw faster in a refrigerator set a 40 °F, compared to 35 °F.
Smaller cuts like a pound of hamburger or steak will take about 8-9 hours to thaw in a refrigerator. Larger items like roast and brisket will take a full 24 hours, maye longer.
#2. Cold-water thawing
This is our second favorite method of thawing beef. We use cold-water thawing whenever we haven’t planned ahead and don’t have time to do refrigerator thawing. Thankfully, cold-water thawing is very easy to do.
Simply, place cold water in a bowl or pan and submerge your beef in the water until it’s thawed. Make sure the water is cold, not hot.
In order to make sure the water stays cold while the beef is thawing, you can place the bowl under a faucet and let cold water trickle on it as it thaws.
If you don’t like the idea of leaving your facuet on, you can also change the the cold water bath every 30 minutes so that the water remains cold and the meat keeps thawing.
Make sure that the water stays cold. You don’t want to thaw beef in warm water. Although it would thaw faster in warm water, it also makes it more likely to get bacteria on the outer layer of beef.
One pound of beef will take about one hour to defrost in a bowl of water, then it should be cooked right away.
You should not refreeze meat that has been thawed using the cold-water method.
#3. Microwave thawing
This is our least favorite method since the beef usually starts to cook a little while you’re trying to thaw it. Only use this method if it’s a must.
That said, thawing with a microwave does get points for being the fastest method. Simply press the defrost button and monitor your meat closely so that it doesn’t start to cook.
Also, make sure you plan to cook the beef immediately after microwaving for food safety reasons. Unlike the refrigerator thawing method, you cannot refreeze meat that has been thawed in a microwave.
#4. Cook it frozen
Yes, you can cook frozen meat! You’ll love the results. We do it all the time with just about every cut of beef.
In fact, some studies show that grilling steaks from frozen can be even better than traditional cooking methods.
The biggest thing to remember if you do this is that the cooking time will take approximately 50% longer.
Since the timing will be different than what you’re used to, be sure to closely monitor the temperature with an instant read thermometer so that you don’t overcook or undercook the meat.
Is it ok to leave meat out to defrost?
No! It is not safe to thaw meat on the counter. Do not thaw meat at room temperature.
According to the USDA, “perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter, or in hot water and must not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the “Danger Zone, between 40 and 140 °F — temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.”
Can defrosted meat be refrozen?
Did you change your mind on what you’re having for dinner, and you want to refreeze the meat? You can only refreeze the meat if you used the regrigerator thawing method, and it’s important to note you may loose some of the meat’s quality.
All other methods, you should cook the beef before refreezing to ensure that harmful bacteria doesn’t occur. , depending on how you thawed the meat.
Why is it bad to thaw and refreeze meat?
Although you can refreeze meat after you’ve thawed it in a refrigerator, there are two reasons it’s not ideal.
First, have you ever noticed that frozen foods don’t taste quite as good as their fresh counterpart? That’s because freezing ruptures some of the cell walls, which leaches out moisture and slightly changes the product.
Second, freezing and thawing foods has a lot of government safety guidelines (for restaurants and any industry dealing with food) because of harmful bacteria. In short, whenever food goes between frozen to thawed, it passes through the USDA and FSIS’s “Danger Zone,” between 40 and 140 °F.
A cook’s overall goal is to reduce the amount of time spent in the Danger Zone AND minimize the number of times food passes through this danger zone so that there’s less chance for bacteria to develop. When you thaw and refreeze, or reheat and cool, food repeatedly, the food moves through the danger zone multiple times, which can lead to harmful bacteria.
One more thing!
Did you know we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a farmers perspective. Get it here.
If you’d like to keep up with our farm, we have a weekly e-newsletter where we share about farm happenings, beef recipes, and when our next beef will be available to order. When you sign up, you’ll get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer.
Other beef posts you’ll love
- Pepper Steak Stir Fry
- How to Save Money on Groceries & Beef Prices
- How We Raise Our Grass Fed Beef
- Understanding Cuts of Beef
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