Should You Freeze A Casserole Before Or After You Bake It?

The answer is…both! Read on to find out why.

Four-Cheese Macaroni
Photo: Iain Bagwell

Every time you make a casserole ahead of time and freeze it, an angel gets its wings. (Or something like that.) Everyone can agree that any meal prep done ahead of time is time well spent. And a heat-and-eat casserole can be convenient when faced with an unexpected dinner crowd, a week when you're too busy to cook, simply don't want to, or if you have a neighbor in need of meal delivery.

Once you've chosen your casserole and prepared the recipe, the question is whether to bake it, then let it cool and freeze it, or freeze it as-is before it goes into the oven. The answer depends on what's in it.

Casseroles with Raw Protein

If the casserole has raw protein (meat, poultry, seafood), you should cook it thoroughly before freezing. Line the baking dish with enough aluminum foil so that there is an overhang on all sides. After cooking, let the hot casserole cool a bit, then carefully remove it from the pan by lifting the foil on both sides. Wrap the casserole in the foil, then wrap it again in another layer or two. Label the foil, then store it in the freezer until you're ready to reheat.

Casseroles with Cooked Protein (or No Protein)

If the casserole has cooked protein or none at all (like a pan of macaroni and cheese), you can freeze the uncooked casserole without baking it. Again, line the empty baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Prepare the casserole in the dish, fold over the foil to cover, then freeze overnight. Once frozen solid, lift it out of the pan, and wrap it with another layer of foil before labeling it and placing it back in the freezer.

How To Cook a Frozen Casserole

Thaw Before Cooking

Whether you pre-cook the casserole or not, let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking it in the oven for the best results. You can place the casserole into a dish in the fridge for up to 36 hours to allow it to thaw and then proceed to follow the dish's original cooking instructions. Make sure the middle of the container reaches a proper temperature—use a digital or meat thermometer to help determine the temperature.

Cook Frozen

A second way to cook a frozen casserole is to add additional time to the initial instructions. You still want to check the middle of the casserole with a digital or meat thermometer to ensure the correct temperature.

Tips for Freezing Casseroles

Add Garnishes After Freezing

If the recipe calls for garnishes like herbs or a finishing topping, you don't want to add it before freezing your casserole. Wait until you are ready to serve. These ingredients will lose their flavoring in the freezer, so baking is the best time to add a garnish.

Cover Containers Correctly

When covering your casseroles, make sure they are airtight. You don't want to open up your casserole after all that hard work to find freezer burn, so ensure you properly seal your dish with plastic wrap and foil. This step will better protect the texture and freshness of your frozen foods.

Completely Cool Casserole

Before freezing, make sure your casserole is entirely cool. Place your container in the fridge before freezing to avoid unwanted condensation from forming.

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