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How to Safely Thaw Frozen Meat

May 11, 2021

You’ve stocked your freezer full of our pasture raised chicken, pork and beef. When it’s time for dinner, how do you get from frozen chicken breasts or smoked sausages to something that’s ready to cook?

Unfortunately, just leaving a package of meat on the counter is not a safe way to thaw meat.

There are three safe ways to thaw meat:

  • In the Refrigerator
  • With Cold water
  • In the Microwave

Thawing Meat in the Refrigerator

In the refrigerator, thawing will take about 24 hours for every 5 lbs of meat. This does mean you need to plan ahead. For me, I often think about what tomorrow’s dinner will be when I start cooking. That way I can pop something from the freezer into the refrigerator to get thawing underway.

Place your frozen meat in a container or rimmed dish and place it in the refrigerator. I often use quarter sheet pans - they are rimmed and are the perfect size to sit on half of one of my refrigerator shelves. The container or dish helps in case there are any leaks from the package - there won’t be a mess in your refrigerator. It is also recommended to place raw meat at the bottom of the refrigerator where it can’t accidentally drip on other food to prevent cross contamination.

After thawing in the refrigerator, the meat will remain in good quality for a few days. You can also refreeze items thawed in the refrigerator without cooking them, although some quality may be lost.

Thawing Meat with Cold Water

Using cold water to thaw meat is faster than thawing in the refrigerator but requires more attention. Small packages (1lb or less) may thaw in an hour. Larger items (3-4 lbs) may take 2-3 hours. This is my go-to method most days. It works especially well with items like bacon or sausage because the salt in them helps them thaw faster.

Make sure your meat is in a leak proof package, putting it into a plastic bag if needed. Submerge the package in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes until it is thawed.

Items thawed using cold water should be cooked before refreezing.

Thawing Meat in the Microwave

Thawing in the microwave will vary by model. Some models have dedicated “defrost” modes while others you will need to manually adjust the power. I do occasionally use this method when I’m in a hurry. I find it does affect the quality of the meat, so I reserve it for dishes that will have a lot of seasoning.

Since some areas of the item may become warm while defrosting in the microwave, plan to cook the food immediately. Items thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.

Cooking with Frozen Meat

If you’re just plain hungry, you can cook without thawing. Your cooking time will increase by approximately 50%.

I usually don’t do this with oven or stovetop methods. However, I will put frozen meat into the Instant Pot. You do have to increase the cook time when using frozen meat, and the pot takes longer to come to pressure. I’m not sure if I’m actually saving time, but it’s hands off. And being able to go do something else while a meal is cooking is often a valuable thing for me.

Julie Lowe
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