Can You Refreeze Ground Beef?

It'a matter of method and timing.

Whether it's due a change of schedule, realizing you've defrosted way too much, or simply forgetting about the defrosted meat entirely, there'll likely come a day where you find yourself with more thawed ground beef than you need. Life's too short and food too precious (and expensive nowadays) to go in the garbage.

There is, perhaps, nothing more important when cooking than the safe handling of raw meat. Chicken and other poultry are, of course, the biggest risks in this area, but ground beef, with pesky E. coli and such, poses its own problems. Practicing safe freezing and thawing methods and paying attention to the temperature danger zone (40 to 140 degrees F) is imperative to the health of you and your family.

What exactly is the etiquette for the freezing and refreezing of ground beef?

Related:25 Best Ground Beef Recipes

Can You Safely Refreeze Ground Beef?

That ground beef you placed in the fridge and forgot you defrosted? Go ahead and stick it back in the freezer (as long as it's been three days or less, that is). But, if you thawed the beef in cold water or the microwave, it must be cooked before it can say hello to the freezer again, and it must be cooked immediately – all the way up to 160 degrees F to annihilate any and all bacteria.

A word of warning — anytime you freeze, thaw, refreeze, thaw again, the meat inevitably loses moisture in each step, altering the texture. If your beef has gone down the long and lonely road, it might be wise to save it for stews or casseroles, where the texture won't be noticed rather than something so prominent, like a hamburger.

How to Freeze Cooked Ground Beef

Once you've fully cooked your ground beef (no pink here), freezing it is easy. Simply transfer the cooked, drained, and fully cooled meat to an airtight, freezer-safe container or a bag with the air pressed out, label, and date it. For the best taste, use it within two to four months. To help me remember, I like to write the "use by" date on it under the date I froze it for good measure.

Related:What to Substitute for Ground Beef

Like thawed and refrozen beef, precooked ground beef sent to the freezer may also lack in the texture department - better to stick it in a slow-simmering soup than use it for tacos.

How to Thaw Ground Beef

Fridge Method: The best method, and the one recognized by the USDA as the safest, is to defrost ground beef in the fridge. This is because it is essential to keep meat cold while it defrosts, else bacteria will thrive. Simply place the frozen beef, still in whatever packaging, on a plate on the bottom shelf. This method takes the longest, though – anywhere from a couple hours to a whole day.

Cold Water Method: Make sure your beef is in a sealed zip-top bag with as much air removed as possible. Place it in a large bowl or plugged sink and cover completely with cold water. Then, use a weight such as a kitchen utensil, plate, or can of beans to submerge the meat. Check the meat every 30 minutes, rotate it, and swap the cool water out at each interval to ensure the meat stays cold.

Microwave Method: The microwave should be a last resort in a kitchen, especially when it comes to thawing. Even with the handy defrost setting, some areas of the ground beef will likely begin to cook during the thaw, turning grey in the process. Remove the meat from the packaging or bag, place it on a plate, and follow the instructions on your appliance for how long to defrost it.

The Best Way to Store Frozen Ground Beef

After I go grocery shopping, I divide any ground meat that's freezer-bound into half-pound or one-pound portions. This goes a long way in setting me up for success, since most recipes call for ground meat in those amounts.

If the meat is already in these portions upon purchase, leave it in its original packaging but add an extra layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Then, place it it in a freezer-safe bag to go the extra mile against freezer burn.

To take the convenience-factor up a notch, use a rolling pin to gently roll out the ground meat flat in the zip-top bag, making one thin sheet of meat and further removing the air. Lay the beef flat in the freezer and it'll store nicely in a space-saving vertical sheet. This method also saves on defrost time because something so thin will defrost in a jiffy.