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Hamburgers grilling on an open flame.


How to Thaw Meat

Freezing food to eat at a later date is one of the better modern amenities (in our humble opinion). While raw meat can be frozen indefinitely and still cooked safely, thawing correctly can be tricky. So many methods! So many hours! So many food safety facts, myths, and secret family methods to sort through!

Never fear. We care about your health, and our organic, clean, and delicious Organic Valley dairy and Organic Prairie meat prove that. We’re digging into the squishy details to separate fact from fiction and tackling that tricky question: Can you refreeze thawed meat?

Thawing Meat 101

Back to basics here: how to thaw meat. Frozen meat should be thawed to make it easier to cook with and ensure more thorough, even heating. Of course, you can safely cook frozen meat without thawing, but you’ll need to budget about 50% more cook time and be willing to sacrifice a good amount of malleability. (No meatballs from scratch.)

In any case, thawing time depends both on the type and amount of meat. Figuring out how to thaw chicken is going to be different than thawing ground beef, and how to thaw a turkey is another story entirely. (Find a quick list of thawing methods here.)

Organic Prairie ground beef rests in a bowl to thaw.

The Fridge Method

The safest and easiest way to thaw frozen meat is in the fridge, but you do have to plan ahead. For small amounts, like a pound of chicken breast or ground meat, a full day in the refrigerator will do the trick. For large items like ham or turkey, budget at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat.

Things like ground meat, stew meat, poultry, and seafood are safe up to two days after thawing in the refrigerator. Red meat cuts—beef, pork, burgers, chops and steaks—remain safe up to three days.

How to Thaw Meat Quickly

So, you’re in a pinch and you can’t wait days for your meat to thaw. It’s OK, we’ve been there! There are safe solutions for the “how to thaw meat fast” conundrum.

First, frozen meat can be thawed by sealing it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerging it in cold water. Small amounts will thaw in an hour or less, while larger portions can take up to three hours. (Whole turkeys, for instance, need about 30 minutes per pound.)

If you’re going this route be sure to change the water out every 30 minutes and cook your meat immediately. You cannot safely refreeze meat thawed this way without cooking it.

For seriously tight timelines, the microwave is also an option. Keep in mind though, it will likely cook parts of your meat as it thaws, so you need to be ready to cook immediately—no dillydallying. Don’t keep microwaved meat in the refrigerator. Foods thawed in the microwave must be fully cooked before refreezing.

Raw hamburgers ready for the grill. Photo contributed by Real Food Dietitians.

Meat Thawing Don’ts

There are a few approaches that you really shouldn’t use under any circumstance—they’re just not safe! They include, but are not limited to:

  • Thawing out on the countertop or in hot water
  • Leaving meat at room temperature for more than two hours (this gives bacteria a chance to grow)
  • Thawing meat in places like your garage, basement, car, or yard. The temperatures cannot be controlled and thus can’t guarantee your safety

In general, remember to follow common sense sanitary measures like washing your hands, your utensils, and your bowls every step of the way. And enjoy the process! Cooking is fun, and cooking with high-quality, organic ingredients only makes it better.

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