Does a Defrosting Tray Really Work Miracles on Frozen Meat? We Tried One to Find Out.

published Jun 25, 2021
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Credit: Rochelle Bilow

I’m generally against one-trick ponies in the kitchen (nobody needs a hard-boiled egg slicer), but I’m willing to bend my rules for truly efficient cooking tools. If a utensil performs a singular task with such superiority that no other tool can replicate it, then I’ll bite. So when I heard about defrosting trays, which have been around for decades but are back in the spotlight thanks in part to this video on TikTok, I figured it was worth giving one a try. 

In the video, TikTok user Emma Hall sings the praises of her mother’s metal defrosting tray, claiming that “it literally defrosts anything in 30 minutes.” She demonstrates it by adding an ice cube to the tray which immediately begins to melt (a “control” cube on the counter was still rock solid). Was this magic? Or science? Or all a hoax? I decided to find out.

What Is a Defrosting Tray?

The TL;DR explainer of how defroster trays work: They’re made from heat-conducting metal — like aluminum — that efficiently transfer the warmer temperature of your kitchen to the colder temperature of whatever you’re defrosting. The cold temps in the meat (or other frozen food) are then transferred to the tray. In other words: Science!

Could a simple metal plate, with no fancy electronics or batteries required, really thaw food quicker than leaving it on the counter? I ordered an aluminum defrosting tray from Amazon and put it to the test with three different items.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

Here’s How I Tested the Defrosting Tray

For my first test, I placed an ice cube on the tray along with a control ice cube on my wooden cutting board. The cube on the aluminum tray began to melt so quickly I couldn’t even get a picture before it started puddling! All told, the ice cube was completely liquid within three minutes, while the other one was solid and left only a tiny amount of water on the cutting board.

My second test really demonstrated the validity of this tray’s performance: I thawed ice cream bars. While I can’t imagine any scenario in which I’d want to melt ice cream on a metal tray, I figured it would be a good way to really quantify the difference between a “regular” thaw and one using the tray. The bar melted completely within 20 minutes and was pretty much a puddle halfway through. Meanwhile, over on my cutting board, the control bar had just only begun to soften. Brilliant. I washed the tray with soap and water and ate the still-frozen ice cream, then prepared for my final test.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

Defrosting Chicken

The third test was the most important: Chicken. These trays are really made for thawing meat (because again, who needs to melt ice cream?), so I was curious to see how it stacked up against my usual method. Normally, I thaw meat in the refrigerator, which can take up to 24 hours. For the purpose of this test, I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts that had been wrapped in plastic and frozen. I unwrapped them both directly from the freezer and placed one on the metal tray, the other on a regular dinner plate.

After 15 minutes, I turned both pieces of chicken over. The one on the defrosting tray was thawing faster — the middle was a little squishy — but there was no way it was going to be ready to cook in another 15. After 30 minutes, I flipped them again with similar results. After a full hour on the tray, the chicken was still about 75% frozen. I started to get nervous about food safety, and transferred the chicken and defrosting plate to my refrigerator to finish thawing. 

The chicken was finally ready after three hours (the first hour on the counter, and the final two in the refrigerator). Way faster than my usual tactic but with one big problem: The defrosting tray doesn’t have a “juice trench,” which meant that as the chicken thawed, its juices ran off the tray and into my refrigerator. Luckily, I had put it on the bottom shelf and I have Lysol wipes. 

Is a Defrosting Tray Worth the Purchase?

As dazzled as I was by its performance with the ice cream and ice cube, I don’t think this tray is worth the purchase. It doesn’t work miracles — deeply frozen meat won’t thaw in 30 minutes like the TikTok video says. My chicken was thawing at a faster rate than it would without the tray, but not fast enough to keep it on the counter and risk a temperature dip into the danger zone. Food safety is definitely a potential issue here since meat doesn’t thaw super fast. And, like I said, it’s definitely a single-use tool, so there’s no justifying it as, say, a makeshift cheese-and-charcuterie tray (unless you want the Brie to start oozing).

Arguments for buying it: It speeds up the thawing process for sure. I bet it would definitely thaw fish fillets quicker than my chicken, and it could be useful for finishing an almost-thawed piece of meat before cooking it. It’s also thinner than cardboard and very lightweight; I stored mine nestled in right next to the baking sheets. It’s just $15.99, which, let’s be real, is less than I pay for my monthly streaming services. 

All in all, I think the defrosting tray works best as a party trick. But as for a staple in my kitchen? Not so much.