What Exactly Is a Defrosting Tray — And Do You Need One?

published Jun 18, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Volo

How many times a month do you find yourself wishing that you had remembered to defrost some meat the night before? Had you actually remembered to take that steak out of the freezer, maybe you’d have some sort of plan for dinner. We’re guessing a lot of you find yourself in this situation fairly often because we’ve been getting some questions from you guys about defrosting trays — mostly wondering what exactly these things are and if you actually need one. Here’s the cold, hard truth. 

Credit: THAT! Inventions

What is a defrosting tray? 

It’s a flat tray made of a metal (like aluminum) that’s a good heat conductor, which means it heats up and cools down quickly. If you put a frozen slab of meat on it, the tray conducts the room temperature air onto the frozen food and the colder temps from the surface of the meat migrate into the tray. As a result, the meat becomes warmer and, at least in theory, defrosts faster. 

Shop: Premium Defrosting Tray, $80 at The Grommet

Do they actually work?

If you’ve seen any infomercials for defrosting trays, you’ve seen them melt ice. That’s because they do work with ice, as ice easily melts. In fact, you could melt an ice cube in seconds just by running it under the tap. 

However, a dense food (like a steak) will take more time. The defrosting tray will warm the surface of the meat, but not the interior. And meat is not a particularly good conductor of heat so, as the outside warms up, it won’t really transfer the warmth to the inside. 

The bottom line: A defrosting tray will not thaw a frozen steak much faster than just setting it on your kitchen counter. Of course, you have probably heard many times that you shouldn’t defrost meat or perishable items at room temperature. (The kind of  bacteria that can cause food poisoning can grow on the outside in the time it takes for the meat to be fully defrosted.) If you didn’t have the foresight to take the steaks out of the freezer and transfer them to the fridge the night before, you can defrost them in a pot of cold water.