The best way to freeze (and thaw) meat

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There’s more to storing meat than just piling them into your freezer after purchase for later use.

Keeping a freezer well stocked with fresh meat is a great way to make sure you’ve covered your bases. Got company over? Quickly whip up a meal with whatever’s in your fridge. Just have time to make dinner for one? Take your pick from the pork chops, chicken breasts, steaks, or fish in your refrigerator. Knowing how to freeze meat the right way can help you make the most of your stored meat.

How to freeze meat: Important rules to remember

1. Wrap it well

The key to freezing meat is sealing it in an airtight container.

  • Start by removing them from the packaging they came in when purchased.
  • Tightly wrap meat using plastic cling wrap, and secure the it in another layer of wrapping. Some recommend using aluminum foil for the second layer, but others would advise against it since it tends to affect the taste of the meat.
  • Finally, slip it inside a zip-top plastic bag.

2. Keep meat in airtight containers

To lessen the chances of freezer burn, or change in texture and taste because of air exposure, wrap it well. Remember to place padding around sharp, protruding parts to keep them from piercing through the package.

When meat is frozen so that no moisture escapes or air passes through its packaging, it stays fresh for longer.

3. The temperature should be just right

Meat should be stored and frozen at just the right temperature, at approximately below 40°F or 5°C for best results. (Though some would recommend going for 0°F.) When the temperature reaches above 40°F, meat can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

4. Label, label, label

Don’t forget to label meat accordingly, noting the quantity, cut, and date of purchase and storage.

For smaller pieces of meat, it would be best to wrap them individually instead of in batches to prevent air exposure in case you need to grab a few from the pack.

5. Shelf life depends on the type of meat

Some would advise keeping store-bought meat in your refrigerator for two days before transferring it to your freezer. But this is entirely up to you. Again, the most important thing is wrapping it well and shielding it from air.

If the meat has stuffing or has been cured, they might not keep for longer, just under two months. Well-wrapped meat can keep for 3 months to even a year, specifically chicken can be kept up to 9 months if wrapped properly.

How do I know the meat hasn’t gone bad?

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Sniff and feel it. If it has a sharp, strong smell, that’s generally a bad sign. For frozen cuts of beef, in particular, some warning signs would be fishy, sulfuric smells.

You can also tell by how it feels to the touch. Is the meat extra sticky? This could be signalling the presence of multiple bacteria.

A slight brownish discolouration is generally fine, but black or green spots are a bad sign. Of course, when in doubt, discard.

For poultry, if you notice grayish discolouration this has likely suffered freezer burn. But if you only notice a few parts that are graying, then you can cut it off these small bits of the meat during the thawing process.

How can I thaw meat the right way?

Ideally, meat should be thawed by first transferring it to the non-freezer level of your refrigerator and leaving it there for 24 hours before taking it out of the refrigerator.

When thawed this way, you can refreeze meat without altering its taste and texture.

But if you have no time to do this, you can place the meat, still well-wrapped, in a bowl of cool water for a few hours. Replace the water every half hour or so to make sure it stays cool.

Avoid refreezing meat that’s been left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.

I confess: I’ve been guilty of just leaving meat on the counter to thaw on its own at room temperature. But I later learned that this practice, along with not thawing it at all before cooking, can be risky.

For starters, it can be an open invitation to bacteria. What’s more, once you do cook this improperly thawed meat, you run the risk of unevenly cooking your meat. For instance, the outside portion could be overcooked even if the inside of the meat isn’t done yet.

What about defrosting using a microwave?

Yes, you can defrost meat in your microwave, but only if they are under 2 pounds. Why? If the cuts are too large, the entire thing might not thaw evenly. Remember to remove the meat from its packaging and use a microwave safe plate or container before thawing.

Take extra care when handling poultry because not freezing it as soon as possible could increase the risk of salmonella poisoning. You can either re-package chicken or keep it in its original packaging. Just make sure to wrap it and label it accordingly.

Storing meat the right way is an essential skill for budding home cooks. It ensures that the flavour and safety of the dishes we prepare is on point!

We hope you found these tips helpful. When it comes to cooking, knowing the basics are what truly make it great! Got anything to add about how to freeze meat? Share them with us in the comments!

Read also: 5 ways to keep your refrigerator smelling fresh naturally