It’s me again, the food safety police! Today, I’m sharing the best way to defrost meat safely. Not quick, but safe!
As a note: I will be interchanging the words defrost and thaw throughout this post. They’re both the same thing, but I was a tad too lazy to go back and change them to just one or the other.
It’s late and you just got home
You just got home from picking your son up from little league and your daughter from ballet only to realize you didn’t take anything out for dinner. Sure, you can make a pot of spaghetti, but you used the last of the box the other day. Maybe you can call for a pizza, but you have about $7 left in your checking account and you’re not getting paid again for another few days.
What’s a busy mom or dad like you to do? Maybe you’ll just grab a pack of chop meat or chicken from the freezer, toss it in the sink and defrost it with hot water. Seriously, that is not the safest way to defrost meat; unless you want to make your family sick.
I did that when I was a young mom. Please learn from my mistakes.
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna leave you hanging.
Safe is the keyword here. Not fast, but safe.
If you rush the process, you or your loved ones are going to be very sick and will be running to the bathroom with explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. Sort of like your dog after he eats a bag of Hershey kisses.
My old dog did that once, and after 15 years, I still can’t get that visual out of my head.
Leaving the frozen meat to defrost or thaw on the kitchen counter is not considered safe. The improper way to defrost food can lead to foodborne illness, aka make you so sick you wish someone would knock you over the head with a hot frying pan.
Raw or cooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish or any perishable foods must always be kept at a safe temperature during the thawing process.
Once they begin to thaw and become warmer than 40⁰, the bacteria that was present before it went into the deep freeze can now begin to multiply at an amazing speed.
Riddle me this.
What multiplies quicker than two rabbits?
Bacteria. Yep, bacteria can multiply rapidly when defrosting or marinating food at room temperature. Most people aren’t aware of that little nugget. By letting your food defrost on the counter at room temperature is one of the riskiest things you can do when preparing food for your family.
Here’s the thing that confuses people. Even though the center of the meat is still a little frozen, the perimeter of the meat has already hit the point of no return of 40⁰ to 140⁰. It’s at that temperature when the bacteria will be going hog wild like kids on spring break.
This is how to thaw meat safely
Cold Water Bath
This is actually one of the quickest ways to defrost food. I know it doesn’t sound like it would be, but it seriously is. The only downside is, you’re gonna need to babysit it. Most meats are placed in a Styrofoam tray covered with plastic wrap. Sure, that’s great and all, but when the meat defrosts, the blood will usually pool at the bottom of the plastic wrap and drip everywhere.
Okay, so now this is the sink with cold water and guess where the blood is going? That’s right girlfriend! It’s oozing into the sink and contaminating the sick for any further use.
So, this is what you gotta do.
Put the package (you only have to do this for meat) in a plastic storage bag and make sure it’s sealed good. You don’t want anything to leak out, so I would recommend a zipper storage bag. If the bag leaks, the bacteria particles that are floating around the water can and will be introduced into the food.
This part is not that super important, but sometimes, the water from the sink can get absorbed into your food causing it to become watery. I’ve never had this happen, but I have heard from others this happens. I’m just lucky, I guess.
Here is where your babysitting skills are going to come into play. You’re gonna need to change the water every 30 minutes. Just let it drain out of the sink, then fill it up again. It may take anywhere between 2-to-3 hours to fully defrost if your package is between 3-to-4 pounds.
You can defrost a turkey this way, but it’s going to take you forever to do so. The estimate is 30 minutes per pound. For whole turkeys, I prefer the refrigerator method.
“Riddle me this. What multiplies quicker than two rabbits? Bacteria. Yep, bacteria can multiply rapidly when thawing or marinating food at room temperature.”
If you’re seriously in a rush, don’t use this method because it will take the longest amount of time. The key to thawing food in a refrigerator is to plan that meal out ahead of time.
If you’re planning on thawing a whole frozen turkey, it’s going to require 1 day per 5 pounds. Most other meats such as steaks or chicken will require a full 24 hours to thaw.
When you’re thawing food in the refrigerator, you can also put it in a leak-proof zipper bag, but I would recommend you place it on a plate that’s large enough to accommodate the package.
Always remember, when you’re thawing meat in the refrigerator, always put it on the bottom shelf, as you don’t want the juices to drip onto the other contents of the refrigerator.
There are some variables to take into consideration when defrosting meat in the refrigerator. Some areas may be cooler than others. I would suggest you put the meat on a plate, on the bottom shelf towards the back of the refrigerator. Foods will also take a little longer to thaw if the refrigerator is set at 35⁰ versus 40⁰.
This is an option, but it’s one I really wouldn’t suggest to you. First of all, it’s going to start cooking your food, and your microwave oven may have some warm spots and the food will not defrost evenly. Yes, you can do it, but I wouldn’t recommend it; however, if you have your heart set on defrosting your food in the microwave, follow these helpful tips.
- Remove the food from the packaging before defrosting. Do not use the foam tray or plastic wrap because they’re going to melt at high temperatures and the chemicals that are bonded in the production of these items can be absorbed into the food during the heating process.
- Cook your meat and/or casseroles, immediately after defrosting in the microwave because some areas of the frozen food may start to cook during the defrosting time.
- Cover foods with a microwave-safe plastic wrap to hold in the moisture. Do not cover it with a paper towel. All that’s going to do is blow off and the splatter from the meat as it defrosts will contaminate the interior of the microwave.
Can I thaw meat anyplace else?
Don’t even think or joke about thawing it in the basement, garage, car, dishwasher, on the kitchen counter or outside on the deck. ICK!
These methods will leave your food rancid and not for human consumption. Heck, I wouldn’t even feed meat thawed that way to my dog, and he eats anything.
I know you’re laughing at thawing it in the dishwasher. Believe me, people have been known to do that. I do not want to know if you’re one of those people.
If you’re in an extreme rush, just buy yourself one of those pressure cooker instapots, and cook the food frozen. It may take a lot longer, but it’s much safer than letting it thaw outside on your porch. When you do cook your food frozen, make sure you have a food thermometer readily available.
I’d really love to know what methods you use to defrost your meat in a pinch.
Until we meet again,