A Guide to Thawing Frozen Meat

Let’s say you’ve got yourself some sustainably sourced meat from a local family farm and you’re ready to cook up a storm, but your meat is currently frozen, and you aren’t quite sure how to begin. There are multiple ways to thaw frozen meat depending on whether you are preparing in advance or short on time. Follow these guidelines to practice safe food handling techniques.

#1 – Thawing in a Refrigerator

If you can plan ahead, thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator is the best and safest way to defrost frozen meat. This method also helps preserve the quality of your food.

By placing packaged frozen meat in the refrigerator it will typically require a full day to thaw, however, it depends on its weight. For instance, a 15-pound turkey will take three days to thaw in the refrigerator—that’s 24 hours for every five pounds.

Using this method, it’s not necessary you cook your meat immediately upon thawing.

It’s not recommended you refreeze thawed meats, unless they’re fully cooked first.

Items ok to eat within 1-2 days after thawing:

  • Ground meat
  • Stew meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood

Items ok to eat within 3-5 days after thawing:

  • Red meats
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Chops
  • Steaks

#2 – Thawing in Cold Water

While this process is quicker than thawing in a refrigerator, you’ll need to keep a close watch on your meat while it thaws.

First, ensure your frozen meat is placed in a leak-proof package, otherwise, you run the risk of bacteria or water coming in contact with your meat. It’s important you use cold water for submerging your frozen meat, and that you change the water every 30 minutes.

Generally, a one-pound package of meat will thaw in an hour. Packages of meat ranging from 3-4 pounds could take more than two hours.

You must cook your meat immediately after it’s been fully thawed.

Remember, the maximum time you can safely keep meat at room temperature is two hours.

#3 – Thawing in the Microwave

This method works if you’re in a pinch, but works best for smaller cuts of meat like chicken or ground beef.

Before placing your packaged meat into the microwave, first puncture the plastic. Ideally, you’d consult your microwave’s instruction manual to determine the best way to defrost a specific cut of meat. In most cases you can select the “Defrost” button and set the time according to the weight. If your microwave doesn’t have a “Defrost” function you can carefully use a low power level setting and run it in short intervals until your meat has fully thawed.

Same as the cold water method, you must cook your meat immediately after it’s been fully thawed.

Set your Microwave’s power level low to avoid cooking your meat rather than defrosting it.

#4 – Cooking Frozen Meat (No Thawing)

It is in fact safe to cook frozen meat that hasn’t been thawed first, including ground turkey, chicken, and even steak. This cooking method will take 50% longer than cooking a fully thawed piece of meat.


USDA: The Big Thaw – Safe Defrosting Methods

Good Housekeeping // Article by Samantha Macavoy, 2020

The Kitchn // Article by Faith Durand, 2008

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