6 Basic Guidelines for Freezing Food That You Need to Know
Make the most out of your next bout of batch cooking.
If you have any sort of interest in saving your money and time (you definitely do…), freezing food is an absolute necessity. Whether you’re cooking for one or an entire, hungry family, adopting a routine of sending certain foods and dishes into the freezer can lead to an easy, breezy life of delicious home-cooked meals. Not only will this practice keep you away from eating out and ordering in, it will help you actually use all of that food that you buy from the grocery store, a tricky feat that most underestimate.
With these basic tips for the best ways to go about freezing various food items, you’ll be more prepared than ever to embark on your new life of using all of your food, and enjoying every bite of it, to boot. Ready to finally start enjoying those freezer meals while saving a couple dollars along the way? Let’s do this.
If You Dread it, Don’t Bother
Your freezer is not a magician—if the food or dish that you are putting in it is something that you’re not looking forward to thawing later, is way past it’s prime, or you’re not excited about eating it in the present moment, then you’ll likely feel the same way in 3 months. By putting said food into the freezer, you’re only taking up valuable space and costing yourself added guilt in a couple months when you absolutely refuse to eat it. Just toss it now, and be done with it.
Let it Cool
I know you might be in a rush to get your kitchen back to its original, clean state after a bout of serious batch cooking, but don’t you even think about putting food into the freezer that’s still warm. It’s only going to warm (and partially thaw) the surrounding items in the freezer, which is bad news for any of those foods. Additionally, if there is fat to be skimmed off of the food you’re about to freeze (think stews and braises), go ahead and do so, as fat causes food to spoil much quicker in the freezer.
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Avoid Repetitive Thawing and Refreezing
For a majority of foods, refreezing is not a good idea. According to the USDA, all meat, poultry and fish should not be refrozen once it’s thawed above 40°F for over two hours. The same goes for all dairy products (with the exclusion of some hard cheeses), vegetables, cakes/pastries, and frozen meals or casseroles. The only foods that you don’t need to discard once they’re thawed initially are fruits, breads, and flours, although repetitive freezing and thawing is going to compromise the quality of food, regardless.
Portion it Out
One of the most common mistakes of freezing foods is not divvying up whatever it is into manageable portions for yourself and/or your family. Since refreezing is clearly not a practice to rely on, it’s best to avoid freezing foods into one gargantuan brick, as you likely won’t be able to use all of it when it’s thawed. From raw meats to fruits to extra cookie dough or a batch of chili, if you likely cannot eat all that you’ve purchased at once, then you absolutely need to break them up and freeze each part separately. For even portions, don’t be afraid to whip out the ol’ muffin tin. Freeze individual portions of soups, oatmeal, grains, or beans, then pop them out of the tin and seal them up in a zip-top bag, squeezing out any excess air.
Don’t Be Afraid of Plastic Wrap
In order to keep your frozen food in tip-top condition, you’re going to want to make sure that it’s wrapped as tightly as possible, to minimize air coming into contact with your food items. Using the technique that restaurant professionals swear by, hotel wrapping, is a surefire way to not only prevent spillage, but to ward off that icky freezer flavor that can develop as foods sit in the freezer for extended periods of time.
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Defrost with Care
Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid thawing food at room temperature, especially meat, poultry and fish, as this can pose an elevated risk for contamination. Instead, allow frozen foods to thaw in the refrigerator—in the case of meats and poultry, a good rule of thumb is about 1 hour per pound. If you want to cook your frozen food immediately, always warm up your food on the stove (great for beans or broth) or in the microwave—you can take frozen food straight from the freezer to the oven, however it’s not recommended because this usually leads to unpredictable bake times and uneven cooking. Additionally, if your frozen food is encased in a glass ceramic dish, it’s best to avoid sending this straight into the oven, as the drastic change in temperature can cause your dish to shatter.