The fastest way to thaw meat
You know that sinking feeling you get when you open the fridge to grab that pack of chicken breasts to make for dinner only to realize it’s not there? Your first instinct might be to blame the kids for eating it, but no, it was you. You put it in the freezer and now it’s hard as a brick and dinner looms. There isn’t enough time to thaw it overnight, so what are you going to do? First don’t panic, we can help. Here’s how you can thaw frozen meat faster and save dinner in the process.
A few thoughts on food safety
Before we begin, let’s just start with a small but very important disclaimer: This is NOT an approved method for thawing meat. The FDA and even your home economics teacher from high school might want to argue with us about this, but in a pinch it does work and as long as you cook your meat at the proper temperature as soon as you thaw it, everything should be well (done that is. Get it?).
The safest, and most common way to thaw frozen meat is overnight in the fridge. For large items like whole turkeys, experts recommend that you thaw them in a bucket of cold water in your refrigerator—which could take several days. Shellfish like shrimp or lobster should be thawed in the fridge and cooked soon after it’s thawed.
But for those days when our mind slips and we don’t have a few days to get dinner on the table, we need to think fast. This method works well for food you plan to cook within 30 minutes to an hour of thawing (keep it in the fridge once you thaw it if you don’t take it straight to the pan) and cook it thoroughly to kill any bacteria. Remember to never re-freeze meat after you have thawed it. If you aren’t sure what temperature to cook your meat to, use a digital meat thermometer and these guidelines:
- Ground beef (well done): 160 degrees
- Steaks (medium well): 145 degrees and it should rest three minutes before slicing
- Pork chops (well done): 160 degrees
- Chicken, any kind: 165 degrees
To thaw your meat, remove any original packaging or wrapping. Then place the meat inside a zip-top plastic bag, remove the extra air and seal it shut. It’s best to use a thicker freezer-style bag and not a sandwich bag to prevent water leaking in, but if some does get in, it shouldn’t hurt anything. Just drain it away and get a new bag.
Bring a large pot of water to just under a simmer. If you see a few bubbles, that’s okay but just don’t boil the water. It should be steaming and hot. Turn the heat off and place the bag with the meat in the water. Use something heavy like a can or small plate as a weight and place it on the meat to keep it under the water.
Allow the meat to sit 10-15 minutes and then turn it over. If you notice that some of the meat is starting to thaw, remove the thawed portions and then reseal the bag and place it back in the water until the rest is thawed. You may need to reheat your water once during this process depending on how large your meat is. To do that, remove the bag, rewarm the water then turn off the heat and put the bag back in. Easy.
What foods work best with this method?
This rapid-thawing method is best for small cuts of meat without the bone. That means boneless skinless chicken breasts, ground meats, thin cut pork chops, fish fillets, etc. Anything larger than 1-2 pounds isn’t ideal here because of its size. It will just take too long. And foods like large pork loins or whole chickens would never get thawed in the center before the heat would rubberize the outside and raise the risk of food-borne illness. It’s best to plan ahead and thaw those properly.
The best way to avoid a dinner snag is to set yourself up for success. When you bring meat home from the store, break large amounts into smaller sections. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then place them in a gallon freezer bag before you drop it in to the freezer. Then you can grab one or two chicken breasts, a half pound of hamburger or whatever you need and have a much better chance of thawing it out than if you’re staring at a 2-pound mass of frozen chicken. Here’s to happy thawing and even happier eating.
Written by: Rachel Ballard