I do my best to plan ahead and let meat thaw slowly in the fridge. But sometimes the mood for a certain dish strikes or company drops by, and I just need to get a frozen chicken breast or a few steaks thawed, pronto! When this happens, here's what I do to get that meat skillet-ready quickly and safely.
Of course, letting meat thaw in the refrigerator is the absolute best method because the meat is never in the temperature danger zone where bacteria grows quickly (41°F - 135°F). The meat also has more time to re-absorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture when cooked.
But when this slower method isn't possible, here's what I do:
Unwrap the frozen meat and place it in a bowl big enough to hold it. Fill the bowl with tepid water and place it in the sink under a rapidly dripping faucet. The dripping water should be slightly cool to the touch — this helps keep bacteria growth to a minimum while the meat is thawing.
Leave the meat under the water until it has completely thawed. For a thin chicken breast or a few sausages, this usually takes about 20 minutes. Larger cuts of meat can take about an hour. Don't leave the meat out for more than four hours.
I learned this method for thawing meat in our food safety class in culinary school and have used it ever since! The dripping tap helps keep the water around the meat at a constant temperature (which speeds up thawing) and it also keeps the water moving just enough to deter bacteria growth on the surface of the meat. Be sure to clean your sink thoroughly after the meat has finished defrosting.
How do you usually thaw meat?
This method is approved by the National Restaurant Association and outlined in the ServSafe Coursebook.
This post was has been updated. Originally published 3/17/10.
(Image: Leela Cyd Ross)