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How to Defrost Meat – Different Methods & Safety Considerations

Jul 4, 2023 | Meal Planning | 0 comments

How to Defrost Meat

Wondering how to defrost meat safely? We love using the freezer to maximize meal prep here at Prep Dish so knowing the best methods is a must!

Ever since we started offering weekly Super Fast meal plans here at Prep Dish, we've been utilizing the freezer more and more.

Why? Our Super Fast meal plans include FIVE prep-ahead dinners. If you're not familiar with our system, this means you spend about an hour prepping 5 healthy dinners for the week. The trick is, those meals have to stay fresh until you need them or what's the point?

Enter, the freezer. We often have our super fast meal preppers stash one meal in the freezer or, alternatively, freeze the meat for that meal until they're ready to use it.

All this to say we've been mastering the process of defrosting meat. Few things are more annoying than going to make dinner and finding the meat is not fully defrosted!

I know many of you also have questions about how to defrost meat safely, which we'll cover here too.

How long does meat take to defrost in the fridge?

It's important to know how long meat takes to defrost in the fridge so you know when to transfer your meat from the freezer. The slightly annoying thing is there is no one black and white answer.

How long meat takes to defrost in the fridge depends on two factors.

What cut of meat are you defrosting?

First of all, it depends on the cut of meat. Items like ground beef, meatballs, shrimp or a thin cut of fish will generally defrost in 24 hours in the fridge.

Larger items like a whole chicken or large roast can take 2-3 days to defrost in the fridge. Bone-in cuts of meat also take longer to thaw. According to the USDA, you should allot 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat in a larger item like a turkey.

In general, I like to allot 2 days for defrosting to be on the safe side, moving up to 3 days for larger cuts. 

So how do you remember to actually transfer the meat to the fridge?

Make a note on your weekly meal plan. Our Prep Dish meal plans include what we call “Dish Day” instructions, which are the simple steps our subscribers need to take to complete dinner each night. We always include a note to transfer meat to the fridge when appropriate in our Dish Day instructions.

If you don't use our meal plans, set an alarm on your phone or add a calendar reminder to make sure you remember to defrost in time. (If you're curious, you can try our meal prep meal plans for free here!)

Know Your Fridge

Just like every oven is different, every fridge is different. If you have your fridge set to a lower temperature, your meat will naturally take longer to defrost. I've found that meat takes longer to defrost in my current fridge than others I've had in the past so I account for that in planning when to defrost my meat.

I recommend taking notes while you get to know your fridge. Dedicate a page in your planner or start a note on your phone and track how long different types of meat take to defrost in your fridge for a few weeks. Then you'll really know what works for you, no guess work needed!

Defrosting Meat at Room Temperature – Is it safe?

In a word, no. Defrosting meat at room temperature is not considered safe. Why? It leaves meat in an unsafe temperature zone which can lead to foodborne illness.

So what can you do if you didn't remember to thaw your meat in time? Do you have to resort to takeout?

Not necessarily, defrosting meat in cold water is another viable option, as explained below.

How to Defrost Meat in Water

According to the USDA, it is also safe to defrost meat in cold water and this is a method I've had success with myself. Remember though, the water has to be cold – it is not safe to thaw meat in hot water.

The only downside to this method is it's a bit more hands-on than thawing in the fridge. If you're thawing meat in cold water, you should switch out the water every 30 minutes which, as you can imagine gets somewhat annoying. It is a good option if you need that meat thawed fast though!

OR, Cook Frozen Meat in the Instant Pot

Cook Frozen Meat in the Instant Pot

If you know me at all, you know I'm not a big gadget person. When I see a new kitchen gadget trending, I always approach it with a bit of skepticism. I hate clutter and don't want another big item cluttering up my kitchen counters!

That said, I was a bit late in jumping on the Instant Pot train but am so glad I finally did. I'm a big fan of how hands-off it is AND I love that I can cook frozen meat in the Instant Pot. 

It's not safe to cook frozen meat in the crock pot because it stays too long in that dreaded unsafe temperature zone. However, that's not true with the Instant Pot! This is pretty amazing for when you have nothing thawed and need to get dinner going ASAP.

If this method appeals to you, definitely check out my guide on how to convert recipes to the Instant Pot.

Bonus – Freezer Marinades – Put that knowledge to use!

I can't put together a guide on using your freezer and how to defrost meat without including my personal favorite hack – freezer marinades!

This is something I learned in preparation for one of our popular freezer challenges. All you do is add raw meat and whatever marinade you like to a freezer bag or freezer container. A couple of days before you're ready to cook, you transfer it to the fridge to defrost. The meat will marinade while it defrosts, so easy!

For more details including what types of meat this works well for and marinade ideas, check out episode 94 of my podcast, Meal Prep Monday.

Beginner Menu Guide


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Allison Schaaf Chef, Prep Dish

Prep Dish is a gluten-free, paleo, and keto meal planning website. Celebrity personal chef & dietitian Allison Schaaf thoughtfully crafts each plan using her own well-tested recipes. Each meal plan allows you, the home cook, to spend only 2-3 hours preparing a week’s worth of crave-worthy, healthy meals using seasonal, whole foods (nothing processed!). We aim to save you time while keeping your family’s taste buds happy.

Along with a weekly menu, you’ll get a printable grocery list and recipes for prep day — just one day of preparation yields scrumptious, good-for-you dishes all week long. Learn more…

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