With a package of ground beef in the freezer, you're only minutes away from a spontaneous grilling session, Taco Tuesday, or a hearty meatloaf. This home cook's staple is a breeze to freeze and can stash safely for months. Here's what you need to know about it.
Safety First When Dealing with Uncooked Ground Beef
Time is of the essence from the moment you purchase refrigerated ground beef, said Laura Hagen, senior director of the Culinary Center at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. It's crucial that you keep the meat well-chilled (at or below 40°F) and not just sitting on your counter while you unpack the rest of the groceries. If you're going to freeze the meat, put it in that ice box no later than two days after purchasing it.
Another thing to keep in mind: Ground meat is more perishable than whole cuts. So be a stickler about safety rules. And that includes cleanup after handling ground beef: Wash cutting boards or other prep surfaces, utensils, and your hands with soap and hot water to prevent contamination.
The Best Ways to Freeze Ground Beef
Keeping that hamburger meat for just a couple of weeks? Go ahead and toss it in the freezer as is, in its store packaging. If you'll be keeping it longer, wrap the store packaging tightly in aluminum foil or place it in a zip-top freezer bag, removing as much air as you can from the bag before sealing it.
Why the extra packaging? Freezer air is the enemy of ground beef — it'll eventually lead to freezer burn and ruined meat.
If you want to repackage the meat into recipe-ready portions like one pound (an amount commonly called for in recipes) before you freeze, consider investing in a vacuum-sealing machine like a FoodSaver. Or just put the meat in zip-top bags and flatten the bags for easy stacking in the freezer.
Always stash the meat on the bottom shelf in the freezer (just as you would in the fridge), Hagen recommends. This way, the meat can't contaminate fruits, vegetables, and other foods in case of a thaw. And be sure to label the package with the cut of meat, portion weight or size, and frozen-on date.
How Long Ground Beef Lasts in the Freezer
The USDA recommends freezing ground beef (and turkey, veal, pork, and lamb, for that matter) for no longer than three to four months. That guideline is for quality and flavor, not for safety, as proper freezing will theoretically keep ground beef safe indefinitely.