What is the Best Way to Thaw Frozen Meat?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many of us have encountered the solid block of frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning or the packs of 'meatcicles' formerly known as frozen ground beef. The temptation may be to quickly thaw frozen meat in a vat of boiling water or leave it out on a counter at room temperature all afternoon. These two methods to thaw frozen meat are not acceptable. Hot water may partially cook the meat, rendering it flavorless and ripe for bacterial growth, and room temperature thawing can cause contamination. The best way to thaw meat is refrigeration and time.

Frozen meat should be thawed in the refrigerator.
Frozen meat should be thawed in the refrigerator.

Frozen meat will remain safe for quite a while, but the clock begins ticking once the thawing process begins. The first step when you begin to thaw frozen meat is to move the product, packaging and all, from the freezer. Inspect the meat for any obvious signs of contamination - discoloration, unusual odor, or compromised packaging. If everything appears to be okay, place the package in a refrigerator set between 35 and 40°F (approximately 2 to 4.5°C). Place a pan or cookie sheet beneath the package to prevent meat juices from dripping.

Sliced frozen meat.
Sliced frozen meat.

When using a refrigerator to thaw frozen meat, allow enough time for the meat to become completely, or at least partially, defrosted. A small package of ground beef may only require a day to thaw, while a large frozen turkey could require up to a week. The refrigerator method is considered a safe way to thaw meat because the cold temperature does not allow bacteria to grow on the surface.

Various cuts of meat.
Various cuts of meat.

If you need to thaw frozen meat in less time than the refrigerator method, the next safest process is a cold water bath. Make sure the meat is wrapped in its original packaging or rewrapped in plastic before using the cold water method. Excess water in the meat itself may ruin its flavor. Place the packaged frozen meat in a sink compartment or tub containing cold water. As you thaw meat in the sink or other container, you may want to reposition the package from time to time to ensure even defrosting.

The refrigerator method is a safe way to thaw meat.
The refrigerator method is a safe way to thaw meat.

Change out the cold water every 30 minutes or so to keep the meat thawing and the water above freezing temperature. Continue until the meat has become almost completely thawed, or at least able to be prepped for cooking. Fish fillets, for example, can still be breaded while partially frozen, but the cooking time may need to be adjusted. Partially thawed frozen beef can still be browned slowly in a pan, as long as the frozen portions are quickly heated above the danger zone for bacterial growth.

A third way to thaw frozen meat is with a microwave oven, but results are notoriously varied. The defrost setting for many microwave ovens is approximately one-third of full power. If you decide to thaw meat in a microwave, you must be careful not to partially cook the meat in the process. If the meat can be crumbled, such as frozen ground beef, use a meat-safe container to collect and refrigerate the defrosted portions as they develop. If the meat is solid, make sure it is cooked within a few hours of microwave defrosting. The partially-cooked meat could become contaminated with bacteria if not used quickly.

Using a rotating microwave turntable can help ensure that food products, such as frozen meat, are thoroughly defrosted.
Using a rotating microwave turntable can help ensure that food products, such as frozen meat, are thoroughly defrosted.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I'd say if the turkey never actually thawed out completely, then putting it back in the fridge and taking it back out again shouldn't hurt anything. It generally takes a few days at fridge temperature for a turkey to thaw out, anyway. As long as it didn't pick up any outside contaminants while it was out of the fridge, it should be all right.


I had a turkey frozen and took it out to thaw but then put it back in the fridge and took it out again the next day. Is it still good to cook though?


I would say that any meat normally cooked "low and slow", like a beef brisket or pork shoulder, should be allowed to defrost in a refrigerator at its own pace, not in a microwave or under warm water. This isn't a scientific rule, but I have found that defrosting meat in a microwave often cause partial cooking, which may be okay for a quick cooking meat like ground beef, but not so good for slow-roasted thick cuts like pork roasts or beef briskets.

I'd say if you forgot to defrost a large cut of meat you plan to cook slowly, putting it in a slow cooker or crockpot as soon as possible might yield a better result than putting it in a microwave. You can always pull the partially cooked meat out of the slow cooker and finish it off in the oven if time becomes a factor.


Are you people kidding me? No really, no jokes? Were you all raised vegetarians? is this the first time you have cooked for yourself? where have you been for the last 25 years? obviously waiting for your dinners to be served from a drive through. love martha xo


Can i defrost beef brisket in microwave, as it says defrost at room temperature and don't cook from frozen?


can I defrost my beef casserole steak in a saucepan with boiling water then cook it immediately in a preheated the oven? It is possible to do this?


If you defrost your meat, then cook it, you can then freeze the cooked dish afterward.

Otherwise no, don't re-freeze thawed or partially thawed raw meat. That is the standard advice, anyhow.


"Don't microwave proteins. Microwaving changes the structure of protein and causes it to become carcinogenic."

I'm unable to find any evidence that suggests this to be an accurate statement. Also misleading is not noting that baking, grilling, toasting and frying can create tars and char, which are carcinogenic as well.

In fact, microwaving your meat before you do any of the above actually helps prevent their formation! Geepers!

Bacon cooked in microwaves has substantially lower levels of carcinogenic nitrosamines than normally cooked bacon! Mmm.. bacon.

Remember, radiation from microwaves are non-ionizing. Means you don't have to worry about cancer from them.

That micro-misconception being cleared up, the oven method is wonderful. I forgot to pull out some beef skirt to grill for burritos with two hours to prep it tasted wonderful!


I love the defrosting in the oven idea. I forgot to take a roast out last night and hopefully this idea works.


I set my oven to 120-140 degrees and put the meat in for defrosting for about 15 minutes. Then I turn off oven and let it sit for about 15 more minutes. It thaws wonderfully and is quick so no chance of bacteria build up. (The put it in the fridge to defrost and we won't eat till tomorrow method, somehow doesn't appeal to me.

If you do put it in the fridge, always put it on the very bottom, in a separate container so that you don't leak bacteria onto all your other foods.)

Don't microwave proteins. Microwaving changes the structure of protein and causes it to become carcinogenic.


Beef was frozen then thawed. can i freeze it again?


i had spaghetti cooking 10 minutes and i put meat in hot water in the sink. I'm waiting to eat my meat and spaghetti. thanks for info.


Thanks, I would have never thought figuring this out would be that easy. Lol. Cool. Thanks.


is it advisable to freeze meat once again after it has completely finished its defrosting process? sdfh


how daft can you be, seriously? if you think something is wrong with the food, throw it away. why take the risk in harming yourself and others?


i have got meat frozen solid for seven months. Is it still usable or not?


I had ground beef out for one hour but i didn't cook it. is it OK to put it back in the freezer?


i got my frozen beef frying steaks out last night but they now have a slight smell and are going brown. is that a common thing they do? can someone give an answer please?


I have cooked frozen mince. i have then defrosted it and has sat in the fridge for two days. is it OK to eat?


Can you cook frozen meat? Will it impact the taste? Is it safe to do this?


I have some steaks frozen solid for 13 months. Are they still usable?


I had frozen ground meat and sausage I defrosted to make my gravy. is it OK after I cook my sauce to freeze again?


Thank you.


I have prime rib and ribs that are frozen need to prepare them on Thursday to be grilled on Friday. today is Monday. will this happen and if so will the meat be safe. Mike


No! You do not have to thaw in the fridge. And bacteria taking over the meat? Let's not forget that it will soon be cooked.


we are taking steaks with us to a bbq 6 hrs away. do i put the frozen steaks in the ice chest of ice? or do i put thawed steaks in the ice chest of ice?


I don't prefer the microwave method. It always seems to somewhat cook the edges in order to defrost the center and I feel like that negatively impacts the quality of the taste of the meat.

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