The Best Way to Quickly & Safely Thaw Frozen Meat

updated May 1, 2020
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

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.

The Best Way to Thaw Meat

The absolute best way to thaw frozen meat is to leave it in the fridge until it’s completely thawed. This way, the meat is never in the temperature danger zone where bacteria grows quickly (41°F to 135°F). The meat also has more time to reabsorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture when cooked.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Way to Quickly & Safely Thaw Frozen Meat

I learned this method for thawing meat in our food safety class in culinary school and have used it ever since! When the slower method isn’t possible, here’s what to do.

  1. Unwrap the frozen meat and place it in a bowl: Unwrap the frozen meat and place it in a bowl that’s big enough to hold it.
  2. Fill the bowl with tepid water: Tepid water is roughly 1o5°F and — fun fact — tepid and lukewarm are basically interchangeable!
  3. Place bowl in the sink under a rapidly dripping faucet: The dripping water should be slightly cool to the touch. This helps keep the water around the meat at a constant temperature, which speeds up the thawing and keeps the water moving just enough to keep bacteria growth to a minimum while the meat is thawing.
  4. Leave the meat under the water until it has completely thawed: This can take anywhere from 20 minutes for smaller cuts of meat, like a thin chicken breast or a few sausages, to an hour or two for larger for larger cuts. Don’t leave the meat out for more than four hours.
  5. Clean your sink: Last, but not least, be sure to clean your sink thoroughly after the meat has finished defrosting.

This method is approved by the National Restaurant Association and outlined in the ServSafe Coursebook, a standard culinary school textbook.

There’s a third way to defrost your frozen meat: You can also safely thaw meat in the microwave, but be careful since your microwave can actually start to cook the meat before it’s completely thawed.

How do you usually thaw meat?