Freezing is the single most natural way to preserve meat, yet there is still a lot of confusion about how to defrost frozen meat safely and quickly.
With no need for chemicals or additives and just a low temperature to lock in all the freshness and flavor, freezing meat gives us the longest possible shelf life. Today, we examine the second half of this freezing process: Defrosting Meat
In this article, we take a look at the following:
- History of Freezing and Defrosting Meat.
- 3 best methods to defrost meat fast and safely.
- Refrigerator Method.
- Microwave Method.
- Tap Water Method.
- Thawing frozen meat and damage to our water supply.
- How not to defrost meat.
- How to buy frozen meat.
- Can you refreeze thawed meat?
- Can you cook meat from frozen?
FREEZING AND DEFROSTING MEAT ~ A BREIF HISTORY
Archeology has shown us the Inuit in Greenland and the Nanai of Siberia who inhabited naturally cold climates have been preserving foods in freezing winter conditions or below the frostline in Summer months for thousands of years and safely defrosting wild meat and fish as needed.
There can be no doubt that the introduction of widespread freezing of food was the single greatest leap of progress in food preservation for humans when it was first employed on a commercial scale in 1861 in Australia by Eugene Dominic Nicolle and Thomas Succlife Mort.
Yet, 160 years later, there are still old wives tales about how to properly and safely defrost frozen meat that are either inaccurate or just not true.
Inuit freezing food in underground pit in the snow.
Image Credit: Climate Resiliance
3 Best Methods to Defrost Meat Safely
1. Defrost Meat: Refrigerator Method ~ 10 to 24 hours
In the refrigerator overnight: this is by far the safest way to thaw meat but not the quickest method for sure. By keeping the meat at a constant 40°F or lower (4.4°C ), the frozen meat will slowly and safely defrost overnight.
We always recommend defrosting meat in a bowl even if the meat is vacuum packed. Reason: When frozen meat defrosts, it will shrink in mass slightly as the water molecules go from frozen to a liquid state.
In this instance, the vacuum packaging will stay the same size and may have tiny micro-holes left as it was stretched from expanding when freezing. This may allow some liquid / myoglobin to escape, so a bowl will avoid any mess.
Keep the defrosting meat on the lowest shelf to further prevent any dripping underneath. 1 to 2 hours before cooking, take your steak out and place on the kitchen counter to get closer to room temperature before seasoning your steak and cooking.
How long to Defrost Beef or Lamb in the Refrigerator?
A Typical 10 to 12 oz. steak will take 10 to 12 hours to defrost in a refrigerator set to 40°F.
How long to Defrost Ground Beef or a Roast in the Refrigerator?
A 1 lb. pack of Ground Beef will take 12 to 14 hours to fully defrost and a large 5 lbs.+ Roast will need 24 hours to defrost in the refrigerator.
How long to safely thaw a frozen Turkey for Thanksgiving?
Especially for Thanksgiving, always keep this great rule of thumb in mind: the USDA recommends a Turkey thawing time of 24 hours in a refrigerator set at 40°F for every 5 lbs. of Frozen Turkey.
2. Defrost Meat: The Microwave Method ~ 10 to 15 minutes
Boring yes, but...... do read the manual as different microwave brands and models have different defrost settings, so do familiarize yourself with the defrost mode on your microwave.
Be sure to use the defrost setting and don’t be tempted to use a higher cooking setting to save time otherwise you will end up with semi-cooked meat.
The defrost setting on a typical microwave will thaw an average 10 to 12 oz. steak quite quickly i.e. 10 minutes.
Using the microwave to defrost is fast and best for smaller items like Steak Bites, Ground Beef, or Beef Strips rather than larger Roasts or large Poultry which tend to cook on the outside and stay frozen in the center due to their large size.
3. Defrost Meat: Cold Tap Water Method ~ 30 mins to 1 hour
This is our favored way to defrost meat quickly and safely.
Make sure the frozen meat packaging is fully sealed, either in its original packaging or in a leakproof plastic Ziplock.
Place the frozen package of meat in a bowl. Fill the bowl with tap water directly from the cold faucet (do not use hot water) and submerge the meat.
Change the water every 15 minutes. A Typical 10 to 12 oz. steak using this tap water and bowl method normally defrosts in 30 to 40 minutes or less.
Rather than waste the water from the first filled bowl, we use this to water the flowers in the garden or the indoor plants in the house so nothing goes to waste here.
Defrosting Frozen Meat In Restaurants: The Continual Water Flow Method
This is the method widely used in the catering and restaurant industry. The Frozen Meat or Vegetables is left under a continuous flow of tap water from the faucet. This method meets all USDA safety guidance for thawing however this method is simply not sustainable due to the sheer amount of water wasted.
According to this Powerhouse Dynamics report, a typical sit-down restaurant in the USA uses a staggering average of 5,800 gallons of water per day.
Per the EPA, 51% of this is used for kitchen / dishwashing with at least one faucet continuously running for an average of 8 hours per day. This makes the defrosting of frozen meat a big culprit and an incredible waste of precious public water reserves.
Is it an effective and fast method to thaw meat? Yes, but it comes at a severe cost to water reserves and is certainly not sustainable.
ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY WAY TO DEFROST MEAT QUICKLY AT HOME OR IN THE CATERING INDUSTRY
We are huge fans of this new product by Boss Defrost which gives all the benefits of continual flow but without the tap water waste.
Add the frozen meat in a leakproof package to a container or sink filled with cool tap water.
Plug in the device and the Boss Defrost will recirculate the water in the container through its pump until the meat is defrosted.
The estimated savings from the device is $1,162.89 annually, in utility cost in a typical restaurant and an estimated reduction of 98.5% water use which equates to 394,200 gallons of water.
At $399 dollars, the Boss Defrost is also a good long term and eco-friendly choice for home owners who defrost a lot of meat or other frozen foods.
HOW NOT TO DEFROST MEAT?
- Do not thaw on the worktop / kitchen counter and never leave any meat uncovered when defrosting.
- Never keep meat at room temperature for more than two hours. According to the USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, this meat is in the ‘Danger Zone’ above 50 °F where bacteria can double every 20 minutes.
- Do not thaw meat outdoors or in places that have fumes like your garage where many folks keep their chest freezers these days.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING FROZEN MEAT?
- Blast Frozen. Make sure the brand you buy uses blast freezing methods and not regular freezing. Blast freezing preserves the molecular structure of the meat and avoids the dreaded freezer burn which dries out meat.
- Signs of Thawing. If it looks slightly defrosted, this is safe and OK. Just make sure it is cold to touch and/or at least 40 °F / 4.4 °C. When you take it home, either use or refreeze immediately.
- Quality. Check there is no discoloration, or the meat has been damaged.
- Vacuum Packed. If meat is sold frozen, try to buy vacuum packaged meat. Vacuum packing takes 98% of the air out of the packaging during sealing which provides further protection from microbes and adds months of shelf life once stored in your freezer at home. Vacuum packed meat also allows for convenient defrosting.
- BPA Free Packaging. Try to buy BPA Free packaging. There is conflicting research on this subject. The FDA has publicly stated that BPA is not a danger in the low levels found in food.
Other research in North America and Europe suggests BPA links to health effects on infertility, children's brain function, prostates and behavior.
Some research even suggests an increase in insulin resistance from BPA exposure.
IS IT SAFE TO REFREEZE MEAT THAT HAS DEFROSTED / FULLY THAWED ALREADY?
According to guidance from the Food Safety and Inspection Service you can refreeze thawed meat once the meat can reach the following criteria:
1. The Meat was thawed in a refrigerator.
2. The meat is still raw and has not been cooked previously.
3. The meat was safely handled.
4. Do not refreeze meats which have been outside a refrigerator for more than two hours or is over 50 °F in surface temperature.
CAN YOU COOK MEAT FROM FROZEN?
It is safe to cook smaller cuts from frozen such as Steaks, Pork Chop, Lamb Chop, Ground Beef, Chicken Breast, or Ground Pork.
Not only cooking these cuts from frozen is perfectly safe but also yields great tasting results once cooked. It is not recommended to cook larger pieces of pork, chicken, or large whole birds from frozen as it is too easy to have an underdone internal temperature which could be dangerous and can lead to food poisoning.
According to the USDA, to safely cook from frozen, use an oven or stove and increase your normal cooking time by at least an extra 50%.
When cooking, once the meat reaches a safe minimum core temperature of 158 °F for at least two minutes to destroy any harmful bacteria, cooking meat from frozen is very safe.
Cooking frozen steak is more common than you would in the restaurant trade. It is completely safe and in a blind test, one would find it impossible to distinguish the cooked from frozen meat versus fully defrosted then cooked meat.
Summary: How to Defrost Meat Safely and Quickly
- Defrosting meat correctly will ensure an optimum eating experience.
-There are 3 main ways to defrost meat: in the Microwave, in the Refrigerator, or using Tap Water.
- For safety, do not defrost any meat on the countertop and never leave any meat uncovered when defrosting.
- If defrosted meat exceeds 50 °F (10 °C) for longer than 2 hours, do not consume - discard the meat!
- The 'Danger Zone' is where bacteria start to multiply quickly and easily between 50 °F and 140 °F.
- Do not defrost meat outdoors or near heavy fumes / chemicals.
- Most small cuts of meat can be cooked from frozen without the need for any defrosting.