How to Thaw Meat

When you find a big sale on meat at your grocery store, it can be tempting to pick up several packages. To keep it from going bad before you can eat it, it’s normal to freeze the meat into smaller packages for later use. 

When you want to thaw your frozen meat, there are several ways this can be done. Depending on if the meat is raw or cooked when it is frozen will govern which thawing methods are acceptable. You can thaw meat by sitting it in the fridge, putting it in warm water, placing it in the microwave, or laying it out on the counter. 

However, not all these methods can be used on every type of frozen meat. It’s important to know what you are doing when you thaw meat to avoid food-related illness and bacteria growth.

Differences in Types of Meat to Thaw

Before you take your frozen meat out of the freezer, you’ll want to know whether it was raw or cooked when it was frozen. Although you might think this would be obvious, in many cases it can be hard to tell. 

You can get this information by reading the package or by reading notes you made at the time you froze the meat. If you still can’t decide whether the frozen meat is raw or cooked, err on the side of caution and just assume it is raw. 

Thawing Raw Meat

Raw meat poses extra health hazards that cooked meat doesn’t. In order to properly thaw out raw meat, you will have to make sure it never exceeds a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit prior to cooking. This is a high standard to hold yourself to, so it’s best to only try thawing raw meat when you have ample time to do so.

If your raw meat reaches a temperature that is too high too fast, you run the risk of it developing harmful bacteria that could make people sick when it is consumed. Not to mention, the outside of the meat may be thawed while the inside is still frozen solid.

Thawing Cooked Meat

With cooked meat, you have a little more leeway when trying to thaw it. The meat has previously been cooked to a specific internal temperature, so the likelihood of it growing harmful bacteria is lower. 

While you still don’t want to thaw cooked meat for longer than two hours, you can exercise a bit less caution with it. Products like frozen chicken strips, chicken patties, and breaded shrimp are just a few examples of these kinds of meat. 

Methods for Thawing Meat

Each type of frozen meat has the potential to be thawed in a variety of ways, with each method being acceptable for a certain type of food. Do your research before deciding which method of thawing meat will work best for your product. 

Using the Fridge

The safest way to thaw meat, hands down, is to use the refrigerator to your advantage. Staying cool at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower, you can be assured your thawing meat will never be exposed to temperatures above 50 degrees. 

However, if you expect to use the fridge to thaw your meat, just understand this method is also the slowest. The temperature of the meat will slowly rise to the maximum setting of your fridge to ensure no bacteria develops in the process.

If you thaw meat in the fridge, you will need to use it within two days of it completely thawing. This means that the center of the meat will need to be thawed, too, not just the outside. 

You can use your refrigerator to thaw a variety of meat, including raw chicken, steaks, pork chops, whole turkeys, and processed meats.

Placing It In Water

One of the fastest ways to thaw meat is to use water. You’ll want your water to be cold for this task, as using water that is too hot can cause the outside of the meat to reach a temperature that is too high too quickly and can allow bacteria to grow. 

  1. Simply place the meat you wish to thaw in a Ziploc bag.
  2. Seal it up and place it into the cold water. 
  3. Making sure the bag is completely submerged, let it sit for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes have passed, change the water and repeat. 
  5. Continue doing so until the meat has completely thawed all the way through.

For small packages of meat that are between three to four pounds, it can take about 2 to 3 hours to completely thaw. Known as the cold-water method, this is one of the safest ways to thaw meat.

Using the Microwave

A microwave offers a quick way to heat and reheat food, but it does so at a certain level of risk. Cooked foods are perfectly fine to thaw in the microwavebefore, but you have to be a bit more careful with raw meat.

When using the microwave, food doesn’t always heat thoroughly. If you’re using a microwave to thaw raw meat, you’ll have to remember that just because the outside is warm doesn’t mean the inside will be warm. 

You also run the risk of the outside overcooking and become hard, while the inside is still raw. In this case, you wouldn’t even be able to use the meat you were thawing. 

Smaller portions of meat work better for microwave thawing. 

Laying It On the Counter

Let us start by saying you should never leave raw meat to thaw on the counter. You run the risk of it reaching dangerously high temperatures that could lead to bacteria formation. However, if you are thawing cooked foods, you can cautiously lay them out on the counter to thaw for a calculated period.

Tips for Thawing Meat

Knowing how to thaw meat safely has its advantages. It will allow you to stock up on meat ahead of time, take advantage of store deals, and always ensure you have fresh meat available. With a little practice, you can become a pro at thawing meat for your family dinners. 

  • Use a paper towel or bowls sparingly. As meat thaws, the frozen liquid within it will begin to seep out. The last thing you want is a messy fridge full of juice from thawing meat, so be sure to put it on paper towels or in a bowl.
  • Freeze smaller portions. The ability to reheat food quickly begins with how you store it. By freezing smaller portions instead of large chunks, you can simply grab out what you need and thaw it in a shorter amount of time.
  • Use a meat thermometer. When in doubt, use a meat thermometer to ensure your thawing meat stays below the recommended temperature for safe food-handling practices.
  • Don’t mix meat when thawing. If you’re doing hibachi one night and need to thaw different kinds of meat, be sure to keep them separated. You can put them together to cook, but even this is questioned by many concerned about mixing bacteria.

Overall, thawing meat from your freezer allows you to plan for your next meal. The key to doing so safely is to give yourself plenty of time and be patient with the process.