3 ways to safely defrost ground beef
Ground beefcan be safely defrosted in the refrigerator, a bowl of cold water, or in the microwave.
- Defrosting in the microwave is the fastest choice, but then you must cook the
- If you thaw ground beef in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze again.
If you, like many other home cooks, keep a supply of ground beef in the freezer, you're likely familiar with the defrosting process — which means you're probably also familiar with the frustration that comes with forgetting to take the beef out of the freezer ahead of time.
Defrosting ground beef properly ensures you steer clear from potential harmful bacteria. Dr. Darin Detwiler, a
The next time you need to bring your beef to room temperature, follow the methods below.
Quick tip: If you plan to use the ground beef within the next week or so, you can freeze it in its original packaging. However, if you're freezing your beef for more than a week, remove it from its packaging and put it in a sealable freezer bag.
Method 1: In the refrigerator
"The safest way to defrost ground beef is to do so in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours," Detwiler says. The refrigerator method is safest because it "keeps ground beef out of the danger zone, which refers to temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where pathogens and bacteria can grow."
Detwiler says the fridge keeps the meat safely cool and warms it enough to fully defrost, which is crucial for "cooking the meat thoroughly to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which is required to kill any remaining pathogens."
To defrost ground beef in the refrigerator, place the package of frozen ground beef on a plate that's large enough to catch any possible drippings from the meat as it defrosts. Next, place the plate on a low shelf in the refrigerator, which will help you "avoid the possibility of juices dripping onto other foods." The ground beef should remain in the fridge for at least 24 hours to fully defrost.
If you don't use all of the defrosted ground beef right away, Detwiler says that it's safe to store the leftovers back in the freezer as long as you do so within 48 hours of the original defrosting. However, for extra safety insurance against pathogens and bacteria, Detwiler advises to cook the meat thoroughly before freezing it again.
Method 2: In cold water
If you need to defrost your ground beef and don't have a full 24 hours to wait, you can defrost it in a bowl of cold water. This method should take less than an hour, and it's safe as long as the water is changed out as it warms to room temperature.
To defrost ground beef in cold water, make sure the beef is sealed in a leak-proof package, like a resealable plastic bag. "Set the plastic bag with the frozen meat in a sink or, preferably, in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and weigh the package of meat down with something heavy," Detwiler says. The weighing-down keeps the meat submerged, which is essential to keep the meat at a safe temperature for even defrosting.
Leave the package submerged in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes. After that, you can "test" the meat's readiness by gently poking it with your fingers. If you feel ice crystals or stiffness, then it needs more time (and a fresh round of cold water). Once the meat is thawed, take it out of the water bowl and cook immediately.
Method 3: In the microwave
For the quickest possible defrosting method, you can defrost the ground beef in the microwave. This method yields safe-to-eat ground beef, but with one major caveat: you have to cook it right away.
"Remove all packaging, then place the meat on a plate. Use the microwave's defrost settings or set it at 50% power for two to three minutes, rotating and flipping the beef every 30 seconds, until it is fully thawed. Cook immediately and thoroughly to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit," Detwiler says.
One important note: You shouldn't refreeze beef if you thaw it in the microwave. Because the meat is exposed to high temperatures (and has therefore spent time in the danger zone), stashing it in the fridge to cook later isn't a safe move, either. Save this method for when you're ready to get cooking immediately.
What to avoid
- Never thaw ground beef at room temperature. "Some people leave frozen meat out on the counter to thaw and will leave it there for six to eight hours, thinking that this will definitely get the job done. In reality, this allows it to get too warm and allows pathogens to grow," Detwiler says.
- Never thaw ground beef using hot water. Just as thawing meat on the counter leaves it exposed to danger zone temps, so does thawing the meat in hot water. The sudden shock of hot water on frozen meat will have negative effects on its texture, and as the water cools down, the meat becomes vulnerable to unsafe temperatures. Plus, the hot water could begin to "cook" the meat, which gives you a totally inconsistent block of ground beef that's partially cooked on the outside and still frozen on the inside.
- Don't keep ground beef in the freezer for longer than four months. It's tempting to assume that ground beef can be kept in the freezer indefinitely. The USDA recommends using it within four months for the best quality, taste, and texture.
Defrosting ground beef in the refrigerator is the safest option, but it takes a full 24 hours. For faster results, submerge the frozen ground beef in cold water for one hour. The quickest method is the microwave method, which will defrost the ground beef in just a few minutes, but you'll have to cook the meat immediately.
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