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

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

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. But before you put that casserole into the freezer, brush up on our helpful tips to ensure it thaws and reheats without any issues.

Can You Freeze Casseroles?

Absolutely! Most casseroles freeze beautifully, and will last three to six months in the freezer. Beyond six months, the quality of the casserole might decrease, and frost might develop, but it will still be safe to consume. Once you've chosen your casserole and prepared the recipe, the real question is whether to bake it, then let it cool and freeze it, or freeze it as-is before it goes into the oven.

Four-Cheese Macaroni
Iain Bagwell

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

The answer depends on what's in your casserole.

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

To thaw or not to thaw? It's up to you, but either way you'll need a thermometer.

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

Here's how to ensure fresh flavor and avoid freezer burn when 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. It's also best to save crunchy toppings until after freezing, because they might lose some of their texture in the thawing process.

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.

Casseroles That Freeze Beautifully

If you're looking for recipes guaranteed to freeze and reheat nicely, we've got a few favorites we think you'll love.

Cowboy Casserole- This recipe makes the most of pantry staples (like canned beans) and transforms them into a hearty casserole with a crispy potato top.

Meatloaf Casserole- You can have this dinner staple ready to go in your freezer for busy weeknights.

Chicken-and-Biscuit Cobbler- We all know that biscuits freeze beautifully, and as it turn out, so does this casserole topped with homemade mini biscuits.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you refreeze a casserole?

    Technically the answer is yes. According to the USDA, it's safe to refreeze casseroles and other leftovers, whether previously reheated or simply thawed in the fridge and not reheated. However, that doesn't mean the casserole will hold up to multiple rounds of thawing and reheating. It's best to use up the leftovers, instead of refreezing and compromising the quality of the dish.

  • Can you put a casserole dish in the freezer?

    It depends. You should double check to make sure your casserole dish is freezer safe (it's usually noted on the bottom of the dish), but most glass, ceramic, and metal dishes are. That said, freezer safe doesn't mean they are freezer to oven safe. Glass and ceramic dishes can crack going directly from the freezer into the oven. Don't just assume that because it's Pyrex it can go directly from freezer to oven either; Pyrex is no longer made with borosilicate glass, which is what used to make it thermal shock resistant.

    If you want to store your casserole in a dish, build and freeze it in a disposable foil pan. You won't tie up your favorite dish in the freezer, and you won't have to worry about anything cracking in the oven.

  • What types of casseroles freeze well?

    Most casseroles freeze well, but if there's one category of casserole that's trickier to successfully freeze and reheat, it's anything with lots of dairy. That's because dairy doesn't freeze well. Whether the casserole contains lots of cream or ricotta cheese, dairy tends to separate and become grainy after freezing. The casserole will still be safe to consume, but it won't be as appetizing.

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