How To Freeze and Defrost Ground Beef

How To Freeze and Defrost Ground Beef

Patty Catalano
Oct 27, 2017
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

At the beginning of each month I take stock of the freezer and do a big grocery shop for ground beef and chicken breasts and thighs. When I get home I divide the beef into half-pound or one-pound portions. These are the amounts that most recipes call for, and I like the flexibility that it gives me to have pre-measured, recipe-ready portions of ground beef ready to pull from the freezer. To prep the meat for a stay in the deep freeze, I use a trick that I picked up from Pinterest.

The Best Tool for Freezing Ground Beef: A Rolling Pin

I weigh out portions of ground meat and then move it to a freezer zip-top bag. The quart-size bags are perfect for a half-pound of meat, while the gallon-sized bags are great for one-pound portions.

Then before sealing the bag, I use a rolling pin to gently, but firmly, flatten the meat to 1/2-inch thick. Resist the urge to roll the pin back and forth as you would for rolling out cookie dough; you want to still see the striations of ground meat. Press out any excess air and seal the bag. Transfer to a freezer and lay flat until frozen, then stand the bag up or stack for space-saving storage. If you have a vacuum sealer, you can use this same technique with the bags specific to your machine.

Air Is the Enemy of Frozen Meat

If the meat is exposed to too much air in the freezer, it will lead to freezer burn or dehydration in the freezer. Although it is safe to eat freezer-burned meat, the color and flavor may be off-putting. Flattening the meat in a freezer zip-top bag expels much of the air that would damage the meat while making smart use out of limited freezer space.

Freeze Flat for a Faster Thaw

The final bonus of freezing ground beef flat is that it defrosts much more quickly than the thick hunk you brought home from the store. More surface area means a quicker thaw and less time to bring dinner from freezer to table. You can defrost ground beef in any number of ways; a bag of flat frozen ground beef will thaw in the refrigerator in under two hours or in the microwave in less than five minutes. But my favorite way to defrost is to transfer the bag from the freezer to a large bowl in the sink. Let cool water slowly drizzle over the meat, and in five to 10 minutes, your meat will be recipe ready.

How To Freeze and Defrost Ground Beef

What You Need

Ground beef

Kitchen scale
Vacuum sealer and bags (optional)
Quart- or gallon-size freezer zip-top bags
Rolling pin
Permanent marker
Large bowl
Heavy weight, such as a can of beans or tomatoes


  1. To freeze ground beef. Remove the meat from the store packaging. Divide into 1/2- or 1-pound portions. These are amounts that are standard for most recipes. If you have a vacuum sealer, this is the time to use it. Otherwise, place the portions in separate freezer zip-top bags. Use a quart-size bag for 1/2-pound portions and a gallon-size bag for 1-pound portions. Use a rolling pin to firmly and gently flatten the meat to 1/2-inch thick. You should still be able to see the texture of the ground beef. Press all of the air out of the bags and seal. Use a permanent marker to note the date, cut of ground beef, and weight. Lay the bags flat on a freezer shelf. Once frozen, stack the bags or stand them vertically for long-term storage.
  2. Three ways to defrost ground beef.
    Defrost in the refrigerator. Place the zip-top bag with the frozen ground beef on a plate and move to the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. The meat will thaw in 1 to 2 hours. Cook or refreeze within 2 days. Ground beef that has been kept out of the danger zone (40°F to 140°F) during the thawing process can be refrozen safely, although some textural or flavor changes may occur.

    Defrost in the microwave. Place the zip-top bag with the frozen ground beef on a plate. Use the defrost setting on your microwave to defrost for 3 to 4 minutes, turning halfway through. Microwave wattages differ so use these times as a guideline for your appliance. Cook the meat immediately, as some parts of the meat may have begun cooking during the defrosting process. Do not refreeze raw meat thawed in the microwave.

    Defrost in cool water. Place the zip-top bag with the frozen ground beef into a large bowl. Cover with cold water and use a heavy weight, such as a can of beans, to submerge the meat. The meat should thaw in 5 to 10 minutes. Cook immediately. Do not refreeze raw meat thawed in cold water.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: Freeze fresh ground beef within 2 days of purchase. Freeze for up to 4 months. Do not refreeze raw meat thawed using the microwave or cold water methods.
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