We love to keep our freezer stocked with frozen chicken breasts and sausages (hello, easy weeknight dinner), well-marbled steaks, and all the ground beef and turkey you can fit for homemade meatballs or burger nights. And if you know how to defrost meat fast (and safely too!), you can achieve a home-cooked meal on a weeknight in very little time.
The best and safest way to defrost meat is overnight in the refrigerator, until it is completely thawed. After thawing, ground meat, poultry, and seafood should keep well in the refrigerator for an extra day or two, while red meat (beef, pork, lamb, and steak) stays good for 3 to 5 more days. Plus, if you thaw meat in the refrigerator, you can freeze it again safely.
But what if you need to defrost steak in a hurry? What if that chicken breast didn’t completely thaw overnight? What if you’re just really hungry? We’re not here to judge. There are a few methods to speed up the process and defrost any cut of meat quickly and safely. Take your pick based on how much time ‘til dinner.
The Cold Water Method (One Hour)
This is the best way to quickly and properly defrost meat without a microwave. Place your frozen cut of meat in a resealable plastic bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. Fill a large bowl with cold water and submerge the bag in the water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays cold and continues to thaw the meat. Smaller cuts of meat, poultry or seafood (about a pound) can thaw in an hour or less, larger quantities (3 to 4 pounds) may take 2–3 hours. Estimate about 30 minutes per pound for whole frozen turkeys. We don’t recommend refreezing that meat once it’s been thawed, unless you cook it first. Tip: use your thawed meat to make big batches of soups or stews!
The Microwave Method (10 Minutes)
Learn how to defrost meat in the microwave and you can have prepped protein in under 10 minutes — really. This method works best for smaller cuts of meat that will be cooked all the way through after thawing, like chicken breast for a stir-fry or ground beef for tacos. Read up on your microwave’s instruction manual to learn the best way to defrost a specific cut of meat according to the microwave’s settings. If your microwave doesn’t have a “defrost” setting, set it at a lower power level and run in short bursts until the meat is thawed. Be careful though, cooking at too high a heat or for too long can actually cook the meat instead of defrosting. No matter what, as soon as you’re done thawing, cook the meat right away.
Cook Without Thawing
When you’re really in a pinch, you don’t have to thaw frozen meat before cooking. Believe it or not, it’s safe to cook fresh-out-of-the-freezer blocks of ground turkey, solid cuts of chicken, and bricks of ice-cold steak. The meat will take longer to cook (about 50% more time), and it’s not ideal for achieving golden-crispy skin or a perfect sear. However, it’s an option that’s always there for you — even when perfectly thawed protein isn’t.
Just avoid cooking frozen meat in the slow cooker — it can spend too much time thawing and become unsafe to eat.
Methods to Avoid Entirely
We get it — you need to defrost ground beef fast because it’s Taco Tuesday, or maybe you’re craving a Classic Spaghetti Bolognese. While there are sources that claim you can thaw frozen meat in hot water or simply leave it out on the counter, the USDA says this isn’t safe, and any piece of thawed meat should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
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