Secrets of the thaw, right this way.
Creamy Kale and Pasta Bake
Hector Manuel Sanchez, Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Torie Cox
| Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Everyone has their own style when it comes to casseroles—preparing them, baking them, serving them, storing them, thawing them—and we wouldn't dare tell Aunt Joan that she's doing it wrong. We do have a few tips, though, for those moments when you have a frozen casserole waiting and are unsure how to proceed. How do you get that currently-iced-but-potentially-warm-and-delicious casserole from freezer to table? The laws of thaw are as follows.  

Taking the casserole from the freezer and putting it straight into the oven is not a good idea. You'll probably end up with overdone edges and a chilly middle. There is a caveat to this, though. If it's a frozen, store-bought casserole, you should follow the instructions on the package. Many of these store-bought numbers recommend putting the casserole into the preheated oven straight from the freezer, no thawing involved. If there are instructions, they should be your guide.

If you're working with a homemade casserole, though, most Southern cooks will tell you that defrosting is an essential step. Thawing the casserole first can help to ensure even baking—no icy centers allowed. The biggest mistake in this process is not giving yourself enough time. It's not advisable to attempt to thaw your casserole in the oven or in the microwave. Instead, you should place your frozen casserole in the refrigerator and let it thaw overnight. The refrigerator's cool temperature will allow for a mild thawing process and, in turn, will help your casserole bake evenly.

After the casserole has defrosted, it's then time to place it in the oven for the reheating step. Check the center of the casserole with a thermometer to ensure it has reached the appropriate temperature, and you'll be on your way to dinner with a beautifully defrosted and reheated casserole. (Check our some of our favorite make-ahead casseroles for your mealtime inspiration this week.)

Unless store-bought instructions tell you to do so, don't even think about skipping the thaw. Clear a shelf in the refrigerator and give your casserole ample time to defrost—when you do, you'll be rewarded with an evenly heated casserole that will delight friends and family.

How do you defrost your casseroles? Which recipes are currently in rotation, and what are your favorite casseroles for busy weeknights and weekend potlucks?