Freezer Savvy: The Best Way to Freeze (and Thaw!) Meat

published Sep 25, 2012
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Open my freezer and you will see a stockpile of frozen fish fillets, chicken breasts, steaks, and sausage links. This is my saving grace during weeks when my meal plans go awry or I can’t get to the store. Wrapped carefully against the cold, they are just as good after their time in the freezer as they were when purchased.

When packaging meats for the freezer, the most important thing is to protect them from exposure to air. Wrap meats very tightly in either plastic wrap or freezer paper, pressing the wrapping right up against the surface of the meat. Next, wrap another layer of aluminum foil around the meat or seal it inside a zip-top freezer bag.

Packaged like this, meat can be kept frozen for at least three months. After this time, even well-wrapped meats can start to develop freezer burn, though I’ve often cooked meat several months after freezing and found it to be perfectly fine.

The best and safest way to thaw meat is to place the frozen package in the refrigerator and let it thaw gradually. Small cuts will thaw this way in about 24-hours while larger cuts can take a few days. If you’re rushed for time, small cuts can also be thawed in a bowl of lukewarm water under running water.

Two things not to do are thaw frozen meats on the counter or cook them straight from the freezer. Thawing on the counter is a safety risk since the outside of the meat will thaw — and start harboring harmful bacterias — long before the middle is usually thawed. Cooking frozen meat presents more of an aesthetic problem: the outer parts and the inner parts of the meat will cook at such different rates that the outside overcooks before the middle is done. (Though to the contrary, there is this method of cooking frozen steak!)

Any other tips for freezing and thawing meat to share?

Related: Fresh or Frozen Shrimp? Buy Frozen!