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Safe Thawing Instructions for Frozen Meat

All meats are safe indefinitely while they are frozen. While it's perfectly safe to cook meat directly out of the freezer — it just takes about 50% longer — there are reasons to work with thawed meats instead, including faster cooking, more even cooking (especially on the grill), and the ability to apply seasonings or use marinades early on in the cooking process.

Methods for Thawing Frozen Meat, Turkey, Chicken, Pork, Ground Beef, and more:

There are three safe methods for thawing frozen meat: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Let's look at each in detail.

Stick it in the ’fridge!

Thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator is the best method, but requires that you plan your meal ahead. Small amounts of frozen meat — a pound of ground meat (including ground beef, ground turkey, ground pork, etc.) or boneless chicken breasts — require a full day in the refrigerator to thaw. Larger frozen meat items — roasts, ham, turkey — require at least 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, the temperature on the shelf matters. Variations in temperature as your refrigerator cycles on and off can add to thawing time.

Items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, and seafood, remain safe up to 2 days after thawing in the refrigerator. Red meat cuts — beef, pork, burgers, 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 forgot to plan ahead — it happens! — 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, transfer to a sealable, leak-proof plastic bag. It's imperative to seal the meat in a closed container because bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food through the water, resulting in an inferior product. Completely submerge the sealed 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 likely be portions of the meat that have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow. Always cook immediately after thawing in a microwave. Foods thawed in the microwave must be fully cooked before refreezing.

More safety tips for thawing frozen meat:

  • 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.

Can You Cook Frozen Ground Beef, Meat, Poultry, and Pork?

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

For more information on thawing, visit the USDA website.