Thawing Meat

I know I’m not supposed to thaw meat on the counter, but how should I thaw meat safely?

If safe, wholesome meat has been purchased, transported, handled, and stored safely, you can thaw it safely.

Properly handled meat stored in a freezer at 0°F will always be safe although the quality will deteriorate over time. Freezing meat keeps bacteria in a dormant stage. However, once thawed, these bacteria can become active again.

Never thaw meat on the counter or let it sit out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. In the summer, reduce this time to 1 hour. Never defrost meat in hot water.

There are 3 Safe Ways To Defrost Meat:

  • In the refrigerator
  • In cold water
  • In the microwave

Thawing in the Refrigerator

As long as the refrigerator temperature is between 34° and 40°F, thawing in the refrigerator will be safe. Use a plate or pan under thawing meat to make sure dripping does not spill on foods, especially foods to be eaten without additional cooking.

ground beefAfter thawing in the refrigerator, ground meat should be used as soon as possible. Once meat has been frozen and thawed, it will deteriorate more rapidly than if it had never been frozen. Whole meat cuts (chops, roasts) will remain useable for another 3-5 days in the refrigerator before cooking.

Meat defrosted in the refrigerator can be re-frozen without cooking, although some quality may be lost. The USDA recommends that meat defrosted by other methods be cooked before refreezing.

Thawing in Cold Water

Meat can be safely thawed in cold, not hot, water. Be sure to thaw meat in a leak-proof package or bag. Submerge the bag in cold water, changing water every 30 minutes so that is stays cold. It is important to keep the meat out of the food spoilage temperature range of 70° to 100°F.

After defrosting, refrigerate or cook promptly. Unlike meat thawed in the refrigerator, meat thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before re-freezing.

Thawing in the Microwave

microwaveMeat can also be safely thawed in the microwave, although it may be more difficult to retain meat quality, especially if the microwave power is set too high.

Remove store wrap and foam trays before defrosting in the microwave. Thaw on low power so that microwave energy penetrates to the center of the meat. Most microwave ovens have a “thaw” setting and may suggest an amount of time and turn schedule to prevent loss of meat quality. Meat thawed in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing.