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Safe Thawing Instructions for Frozen Meat

All meats are safe indefinitely while they are frozen. While it is possible to cook meat directly out of the freezer (it just takes about 50% longer), there are many reasons why most people like to work with thawed meats in the kitchen.

The three safe methods are thawing in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Stick it in the ’fridge!

This is the best method and requires that you plan your meals ahead, which is also a good practice. Small amounts of frozen meat—a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts—require a full day in the refigerator to thaw. Larger frozen meat items—roasts, hams, turkeys—require at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, the temperature of the regrigerator matters. Variations in refrigerator temperature can add to thawing time.

Items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, remain safe up to 2 days after thawing in the refrigerator. Red meat cuts—beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops, steaks—remain safe up to 3 days. Meats thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking.

Cold Water Bath

If you didn’t plan ahead, meats may be thawed more quickly in a cold water bath with a little attention. If the meat is not sealed in a leak-proof package, take it out of the package and seal it in a leak-proof plastic bag. This is imperative because bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food, and the meat tissue may absorb water, resulting in an inferior product. Submerge the bag in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes.

Small packages of meat may thaw in an hour or less. Roasts or whole chickens may take up to 3 hours. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. If thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately. Do not refreeze foods thawed by the cold water bath method without cooking.

Microwave Thawing

If you choose to thaw your meat in a microwave, think of it as part of a pre-cooking process. Plan to cook your meat immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may begin to cook during mircrowaving. Do not hold microwaved meat in the refrigerator because there will very likely be portions of the meat that has reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. Always cook immediately after thawing in a microwave. Foods thawed in the microwave must be cooked before refreezing.

No-thaw Cooking

It is perfectly safe to cook meats from the frozen state. Cooking will be approximately 50% longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.

  • DO NOT thaw meats on the counter or in hot water.
  • DO NOT leave meat at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • DO NOT thaw meat in a garage, basement, car, outdoors or on the porch.

For more information on thawing, visit the USDA website.