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How to Defrost Meat (3 Easy Ways!)

Want to know how to defrost meat quickly and safely? This post walks you through three ways to defrost meat and also shares one way you should never defrost meat. 

photo of how to defrost meat

Learning How to Defrost Meat Safely 

Defrosting meat overnight in the fridge is something we all know we should do, but often forget until we’re standing in the kitchen making dinner.  

So, what should you do when you’re in a bind and need to defrost meat fast? As we’ve already established, defrosting meat in the fridge typically requires advance preparation so that’s not an option.  

Can you actually defrost meat quickly and safely? Thankfully, you can! 

This post will walk you through three methods for defrosting meat. Each method is perfectly safe, though there are pros and cons to each. 

In this post, I’ll also share which method for defrosting meat you should NOT use. (Spoiler: it’s one of the most common methods for thawing meat, so make sure to keep reading!) 

How to Defrost Meat 3 Ways 

There are three safe ways to defrost meat: in the fridge, in a water bath, and in the microwave. 

The refrigerator method is the best way to defrost meat, as it keeps the raw meat at a constant temperature of 40 degrees F or less — this is an important temperature to remember, as meat that’s exposed to anything hotter than this will start to grow harmful bacteria. 

However, if you need to defrost meat quickly, your best option is to use either the microwave or a cold water bath. 

Here are the specific details on how to defrost meat using one of the three methods I’ve just shared. 

1. Defrosting Meat in the Fridge 

To defrost meat in the fridge, simply transfer it from the freezer and leave it in the fridge for at least 8 hours. The meat can be defrosted in whatever container you froze it in, be that its original packaging, a Tupperware container, a freezer bag, or something else. 

Just make sure to always freeze and defrost meat in an airtight container, as you don’t want the meat to dry out or be exposed to airborne bacteria. 

How Long Does Meat Take to Defrost in the Fridge? 

There are no hard and fast rules on how long certain items take to defrost in the fridge. It all comes down to the type and quantity of meat you’re thawing. 

However, here are some general guidelines you should remember: 

  • Smaller packages of ground meat (2 pounds or less), stew meat, and steaks take roughly 24 hours to thaw completely. 
  • Bone-in cuts of meat and roasts will take two days or more to thaw. 
  • Whole turkeys will take two to six days to thaw. It just depends on how large it is! 

2. How to Defrost Meat in Water

Defrosting meat in water is a safe way to thaw frozen meat quickly. 

First, transfer the meat to a zip-top bag. Make sure the bag is sealed tightly. If the raw meat touches the water, bacteria could start to grow on it. 

Once the meat’s been sealed inside a bag, place it into a large bowl. Submerge the meat in COLD tap water. Change the tap water every 30 minutes. 

Once thawed, you must use the meat immediately. 

Tip: Never use hot tap water to defrost meat. Exposing frozen meat to hot water (even sealed in a plastic bag) will raise the external temperature of the meat while keeping the interior frozen solid. This creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow! 

How Long Does Meat Take to Defrost in Water? 

Again, the exact timing will differ based on the type and amount of meat you’re thawing in a water bath. Here are general guidelines to follow: 

  • 1-pound packages of meat (such as ground turkey or beef) will take roughly an hour to defrost. 
  • 3- to 4-pound packages of meat will take closer to 3 hours. 
  • Whole turkeys take about 30 minutes per pound. 
photo of meat defrosting in the microwave

3. How to Defrost Meat in the Microwave 

I avoid defrosting meat in the microwave whenever possible, as it often leaves parts of the meat perfectly defrosted and other parts partially cooked through. However, defrosting meat in the microwave is the quickest defrosting method on this list, so if you’re in a time crunch this may be the best option for you! 

Just keep in mind that smaller quantities of meat defrost better in the microwave. Keep the amount of meat to 2 pounds or less for best results. 

Also, be sure to transfer the meat from its original packaging to a microwave-safe container. The styrofoam and plastic packaging that most meats come in is not safe to put in the microwave! 

To defrost meat in the microwave: place the meat (in a microwave-safe container or on a plate) into the microwave. Then, cook the meat for short bursts on the “Defrost” setting. If your microwave doesn’t have a “Defrost” setting, adjust the power level to the lowest setting. 

Tip: I don’t recommend defrosting seafood or fish in the microwave. Seafood cooks very quickly, and even the “Defrost” setting might be too strong for delicate fish. 

How Long Does Meat Take to Defrost in the Microwave? 

Depending on the amount and type of meat, it could take up to 10 minutes to defrost meat in the microwave. Check the meat every 45 seconds to 1 minute and flip it over regularly to ensure it defrosts evenly.  

What’s the Quickest Way to Defrost Meat? 

Hands down the fastest way to defrost meat is in the microwave. However, this method is only recommended for smaller quantities of meat (2 pounds or less) and isn’t recommended for seafood and fish. 

When I’m in a time crunch, I prefer defrosting meat quickly in a cold water bath. The water has to be changed every 30 minutes, but in my experience meat defrosts more evenly in a water bath and there’s no risk of it getting partially cooked like it does in the microwave. 

photo of meat defrosting on a cutting board

Defrosting Meat on the Counter — Is it Safe? 

Short answer: nope! 

The USDA has stated that thawing meat on the counter isn’t safe. When raw meat is left out on the counter, it’s easy for it to enter the “Danger Zone.” 

The “Danger Zone” refers to raw meat that exceeds a temperature of 40 degrees F. This is the temperature that bacteria starts to grow on meat, making it unsafe to consume even after it’s been cooked. 

However, if you do leave frozen meat on the counter — whether by accident or on purpose — it should still be fine to cook and eat so long as it isn’t left on the counter for more than 2 hours. After 2 hours have passed, it has to be thrown away. 

Can You Cook Frozen Meat Without Defrosting it First? 

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to cook frozen meat without thawing it first. Whether you’re adding frozen meat to soups, stews, Crockpot or Instant Pot meals, or baking it, you don’t technically have to thaw it first. 

However, cooking frozen meat without defrosting it first will extend the cook time by half (or longer!). Also, the texture of the meat may be affected.

Adding frozen meat to soups and stews is generally a safe bet, in terms of texture, whereas baking or roasting frozen meat often results in a perfectly cooked interior and a tough and chewy exterior. 

Can You Put Defrosted Meat Back in the Fridge? 

It depends on how you originally defrosted the meat. 

  • If the meat was originally defrosted in the fridge: yes, it may be put back in the fridge and stored in an airtight container until ready to cook and eat. 
  • If the meat was originally defrosted in a water bath or in the microwave: no, it cannot be put back in the fridge. It must be cooked as soon as it’s finished defrosting. 

Can You Refreeze Defrosted Meat? 

Again, it all depends on the original method you used to defrost the meat. 

  • If the meat was originally defrosted in the fridge: yes, it may be refrozen. This is because a refrigerator will keep raw meat at a constant temperature of 40 degrees F or lower, so there’s almost no chance that harmful bacteria will have grown on it between being defrosted and refrozen. 
  • If the meat was originally defrosted in a water bath or in the microwave: no, it cannot be refrozen. The temperature of the meat will have fluctuated during the defrosting process, thus making it unsafe to refreeze. 

Note that the texture of the meat may change once defrosted and refrozen. However, it will still be safe to eat. 

How Long Is Meat Good After Defrosting? 

Assuming you initially froze the meat at its peak freshness or within 24 hours of buying it: 

  • Ground meat, poultry and seafood will last another 1 to 2 days after being defrosted.
  • Red meat like beef, pork, and lamb will last another 3 to 5 days after being defrosted.

When in doubt, touch and smell the raw meat. If it smells rancid, toss it. Likewise, if the meat feels slimy that’s a sign that it’s gone off. 

Defrosting Pre-Cooked Meats 

Can you freeze and defrost pre-cooked meats? Yes! 

Use the same defrosting methods listed above to thaw frozen cooked meats. Just remember that cooked meat cannot exceed 40 degrees F during the defrosting process. 

Tips and Tricks for Defrosting Meat 

  • Smaller cuts of meat defrost well in a water bath or in the microwave. Larger cuts of meat are best defrosted in the fridge. 
  • If defrosting meat in the fridge, plan in advance. Meat takes 8+ hours to defrost in the fridge, depending on the type and quantity. 
  • I know it’s tempting to thaw meat on the countertop, but this defrosting method can lead to bacterial growth and isn’t safe! 
  • If you know you’ll be buying meat with the intent of freezing it, consider investing in quality zip-top freezer bags or a vacuum storage food bag system to help prevent freezer burn. 
  • Note that meat with freezer burn is safe to defrost, cook, and eat but the texture may be affected. 

Easy Meat Recipes

Now that you know how to defrost meat, you can put your new-found kitchen skills to use! Here are some meat recipes my family loves that work well with defrosted meats. 

More Useful Kitchen Tutorials: 

Freezing pie dough is a great way to save time when preparing for busy holidays! This post will show you how to freeze pie dough, how to freeze unbaked pie crusts, answer questions about freezing and thawing pie dough, and shares some of my favorite pie recipes.

Knowing how to freeze soup and which soups that freeze well makes meal prep a breeze! In this post, I share the best ways to freeze soup, plus how to defrost soup and which soups you can and can’t freeze.

Whether you stocked up on buttermilk in preparation for the holidays or like to keep it on hand for your favorite baked goods, freezing buttermilk is the perfect way to ensure you never run out!

Can you freeze butter? Absolutely! In this post, I walk you through how to freeze butter and how to defrost it. Plus, I answer other FAQs about freezing butter.

Cookie dough freezes extremely well and is the perfect sweet treat to keep stashed in your freezer to instantly satisfy those sweet tooth cravings. Here’s how to freeze cookie dough and bake it later.

Who doesn’t love a good kitchen tip? Looking for more kitchen tutorials? Check out the entire Kitchen Tips and Tricks archive for lots of great ideas!

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photo of meat defrosting in a bowl

How to Defrost Meat

Yield: 1 pound
Prep Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours

Want to know how to defrost meat quickly and safely? This post walks you through three ways to defrost meat and also shares one way you should never defrost meat. 

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound Frozen Meat

Instructions

1. Defrosting Meat in the Fridge 

To defrost meat in the fridge, simply transfer it from the freezer and leave it in the fridge for at least 8 hours. The meat can be defrosted in whatever container you froze it in, be that its original packaging, a Tupperware container, a freezer bag, or something else. 

Just make sure to always freeze and defrost meat in an airtight container, as you don’t want the meat to dry out or be exposed to airborne bacteria. 

How Long Does Meat Take to Defrost in the Fridge? 

  • Smaller packages of ground meat (2 pounds or less), stew meat, and steaks take roughly 24 hours to thaw completely. 
  • Bone-in cuts of meat and roasts will take two days or more to thaw. 
  • Whole turkeys will take two to six days to thaw. It just depends on how large it is! 

2. Defrosting Meat in Water

Defrosting meat in water is a safe way to thaw frozen meat quickly. 

First, transfer the meat to a zip-top bag. Make sure the bag is sealed tightly. If the raw meat touches the water, bacteria could start to grow on it. 

Once the meat’s been sealed inside a bag, place it into a large bowl. Submerge the meat in COLD tap water. Change the tap water every 30 minutes. 

Once thawed, you must use the meat immediately. 

How Long Does Meat Take to Defrost in Water? 

  • 1-pound packages of meat (such as ground turkey or beef) will take roughly an hour to defrost. 
  • 3- to 4-pound packages of meat will take closer to 3 hours. 
  • Whole turkeys take about 30 minutes per pound. 

3. Defrosting Meat in the Microwave 

To defrost meat in the microwave: place the meat (in a microwave-safe container on plate) into the microwave. Then, cook the meat for short bursts on the “Defrost” setting. If your microwave doesn’t have a “Defrost” setting, adjust the power level to the lowest setting. 

Tip: I don’t recommend defrosting seafood or fish in the microwave. Seafood cooks very quickly, and even the “Defrost” setting might be too strong for delicate fish. 

Notes

How Long Is Meat Good After Defrosting? 

Assuming you initially froze the meat at its peak freshness or within 24 hours of buying it: 

  • Ground meat, poultry and seafood will last another 1 to 2 days after being defrosted.
  • Red meat like beef, pork, and lamb will last another 3 to 5 days after being defrosted.

When in doubt, touch and smell the raw meat. If it smells rancid, toss it. Likewise, if the meat feels slimy that’s a sign that it’s gone off. 

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Nutrition Information
Yield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 256Total Fat 14gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 7gCholesterol 104mgSodium 80mgCarbohydrates 0gFiber 0gSugar 0gProtein 31g

GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy. This provided information is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

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