How To Safely Thaw Ground Beef

Knowing how to properly thaw ground beef could make you the hero of the picnic.

As a child learning to cook, you have many questions: Sugar or no sugar in the cornbread? How to release the cake from the pan without tearing it? How to keep the fried chicken from getting soggy? But you probably never asked how to safely thaw ground beef because, quite frankly, there didn't seem to be a question.

Your mom always tossed the frozen package of meat on the countertop in the morning, and by evening it thawed out enough to cook. Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture, we are now acutely aware that thawing any raw meat at room temperature can promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Here are three safe and quick methods to thaw frozen ground beef.

frozen ground beef
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Meat Safety 101

First, let's cover some fundamental food safety issues. Choose a tightly wrapped package when shopping for raw ground beef to make juicy hamburgers for the weekend cookout—the plastic should not be loose, torn, or wet. Place the package inside another plastic bag so any leaking juices won't drip onto your other groceries. Keep the raw meats separate from ready-cooked items.

When You Plan To Use Immediately

Refrigerate or freeze ground beef as soon as you get it home. You can keep it in the original packaging if you plan to cook the meat soon. If refrigerated, use the meat within one to two days.

When You Plan To Use in the Future

Need to freeze for a more extended time frame? Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the raw meat from the original packaging and place it in freezer zip-top bags.
  2. Before sealing the bag, use a rolling pin to gently flatten the meat (do not roll back and forth) to about half an inch thick.
  3. Seal the bag, mark it with contents, amount, and freezer date, then transfer it to the freezer.

You will be glad you flattened the meat when it comes time to thaw it out because the half-inch piece will thaw much quicker than the large mass of meat you brought home. Flattening the meat with a rolling pin also helps to press out any excess air in the bag, hopefully preventing freezer burn or dehydration.

cooked ground beef in a skillet with a wooden spoon
Caitlin Bensel/Southern Living

Three Ways To Defrost Ground Beef

In the Refrigerator

Put the zip-top bag with the frozen meat in the refrigerator. It's best to place the meat on a plate so any condensation from the bag won't drip over other items. When using this method, cook thawed meat within one to two days.

In the Microwave

Put the zip-top bag with the frozen ground beef on a plate in the microwave, and using the defrost setting, start defrosting for three to four minutes, flipping the meat halfway through. Keep an eye on your meat, and remember that microwave wattages vary. These times are merely a guideline. Some ground beef may have started cooking during defrosting, which is safe, but you should cook the meat immediately. It's also safe to place ground beef that is still a little frozen in the middle into your skillet to begin cooking.

In Cool Water

Set the zip-top bag with the frozen meat in a sink or large bowl, cover it with cold water, and weigh the package of meat down with something heavy, like a skillet or big platter. You want to keep the meat submerged in cold water. The water must be changed every 30 minutes to minimize bacteria. Cook immediately after thawing.

Other Ways to Thaw Ground Beef

Pound the Beef

When you pound the ground beef, you make it thinner and easier to thaw. You can do this with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer if you place it between parchment paper.

Thaw it Overnight

If you plan, you can thaw ground beef in the refrigerator overnight, usually for up to 24 hours. Place it in a container that won't come into contact with any other food—This helps the meat's bacteria not to spread and prevents cross-contamination.

Ground Beef Dishes for Dinner

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you use hot water to thaw out beef?

    According to the USDA, hot water should never be used to thaw perishable foods, especially meats that can contaminate other areas with bacteria. Bacteria will begin to grow once the goods thaw out to above 40°F.

  • Can you cook ground beef while it is still frozen?

    Yes, you can cook ground beef while frozen as long as it cooks at the proper temperature. Frozen ground beef should cook at temperatures above 140°F to prevent bacteria from developing.

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  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Ground beef and food safety.

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