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Ground beef can often be purchased in bulk and stored for a long time if it is frozen correctly. Several factors can help to ensure that the meat not only lasts for a long time, but also retains much of its original flavor and nutrients. The temperature of the freezer and the way the beef is wrapped are both important elements. The preparation for freezing ground beef also is different depending on whether it is cooked or raw. The ingredients added to the cooked meat also can sometimes have an effect on the outcome when freezing ground beef.
The first thing to check before freezing ground beef is whether the freezer that will be used is set at the correct temperature. The meat will keep the longest and in the best state in a freezer that is at 0° Fahrenheit (around -18° Celsius). Temperatures that are too warm will allow ice crystals to form very quickly and ruin the taste and texture of the meat. If the temperature manages to rise too much, then bacteria also could grow and spoil the beef.
When freezing ground beef, especially raw beef, it should not be frozen in the packaging in which it came if it was not frozen when purchased. It is important to make sure the meat is wrapped in something thick enough to prevent moisture from reaching the meat, because this prevents freezer burn. This can involve several layers of freezer bags, heavy foil inside of bags, or even just a few layers of heavy aluminum foil. The objective is to create a barrier in which the moisture will either be captured before arriving at the beef or that will stop moisture completely.
Time is important when freezing ground beef that is raw. If the meat will not be used within two days of purchase, then it should be frozen as quickly as possible. This will preserve the meat, as well as its texture and taste when it is eventually cooked. For convenience, the meat can be separated into usable portion sizes. Another method is to flatten the meat out in a single bag and use the blunt end of a utensil to make grooves along the meat; after it is frozen, the grooves will allow chunks of the meat to be easily broken off and used, leaving the rest frozen in the bag.
A few things are different when freezing ground beef that has been cooked. If the beef is being browned explicitly for freezing, then salt should be avoided, because it will affect the texture and flavor of the meat over time. Alternately, ingredients such as onions and bell peppers will help the meat to keep its flavor. Using a baking sheet to freeze spread-out crumbles of beef or individual burgers or meatballs can help the final bagged collection of beef not stick together as much during the freezing process so it can be separated when needed.
In the case of freezing ground beef, whether cooked and raw, it is always better to freeze and store the meat flat when possible. This makes it easier to break apart, defrost and use later. Flat packages also take up less space in a freezer. Ground beef should be disposed of after three months in the freezer.
I think it's important to label the frozen meat packs with a date, since the original package label can fall off or become unreadable. I like to use freezer bags that can be marked with a wax pencil or magic marker. Once it all gets in the deep freezer, it's hard to tell older packs from newer ones.
I find buying ground beef in bulk and freezing it in one pound portions is the best way to go for my family. We tend to go through a lot of ground beef throughout the week, starting with spaghetti with meat sauce, then sloppy joes, then hamburgers and finally meatloaf. Sometimes I measure out a two pound portion if we need to make something for a covered dish dinner, like lasagna.
If I'm freezing individual packs of ground beef, I usually flatten them out before storage. They will thaw out faster than a thick ball of meat.
Sometimes I will try to break the meat up into smaller crumble sizes before freezing, and we will use that package exclusively for spaghetti sauce or sloppy joes.
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