How to Freeze, Safely Thaw and Cook Frozen Meat

Great Tips for Freezing Meat!

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Freezing meat bought on sale is a great way to save money at the grocery store. But if you don’t properly store and protect the meat, your savings can be wasted due to freezer burn. If you follow the steps your frozen meat will save you money and you’ll rarely be disappointed.

Reader Question about Freezing Meat

How do you freeze steak, and keep it from getting dry and tough? We recently purchased filet mignon from Costco, ate two of them (they were delicious) and froze the others. When we defrosted and cooked them, they were awful. Is there is a better way to store them to preserve the flavor and texture?  

7 Tips for properly and safely freezing meat

We don’t buy filet mignon, so can’t address that cut of meat specifically. But we do successfully freeze lots of other cuts of meat and enjoy it weeks and months later by using the following principles.

There are 5 steps for how to properly freeze and thaw meat. Allow about 2 hours to defrost.

Time Needed 2 hours

Pull Out Plastic Wrap

Great Tips for Freezing Meat!

You’ll need enough plastic wrap to completely wrap the meat two or three times.

Get the Air Out

When we repackage bulk meat, we triple-wrap it in plastic wrap, careful to get all of the air out. Some friends swear by those vacuum sealers for their meat. The careful packaging keeps air out and reduces that freezer-burned taste.

Don’t Store it Too Long

Vacuum-sealed turkeys and other meats in thick plastic wrap can last more than a year without loss of flavor. But storing meat in Styrofoam trays with a single layer of plastic wrap for more than a month or two is asking for trouble.

If you’re planning on long-term storage you may want to invest in a vacuum sealer.

Thaw it Properly – 4 Methods

A raw turkey defrosting in salt water bath in a black kitchen sink.

Thawing meat can be controversial. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns that allowing meat, poultry or eggs to thaw on a kitchen counter could be dangerous.

“As soon as raw or cooked meat, poultry or egg products begin to thaw and become warmer than 40 °F, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to multiply.”

According to the USDA, there are three ways to safely thaw frozen meat:

a. Refrigerator Thawing: Slowest Method
Refrigerator thawing at 40 degrees requires you to plan ahead.

Basic Time: Allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds in weight. A 20-pound turkey would take 4 days to refrigerator thaw.

Smaller Amounts: Things like ground beef or boneless chicken in 1 to 5-pound sizes will thaw in one day.

Refreezing: Refrigerator-thawed food can be refrozen. However, there may be a loss of quality.

b. Cold Water Thawing – Our Preferred Method
Coldwater thawing is the method we use most often at MoneySmartFamily. If you’d like to see it in action, watch our video on how to cook a turkey. We use salt-water brine to immerse the turkey overnight.

Water thawing can be done in these steps:

Sink: Fill your sink with cool water

Waterproof: Put your food in a leak-proof plastic bag or container.

Timing: The USDA recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. For meat that weighs between 1 and 4 pounds we just let it soak in the water for about 2 hours. No need to change the water. 

Estimate about 30 minutes per pound for cold water thawing.

Refreezing: The USDA recommends meat that has been water-thawed should be cooked before refreezing.

Thaw Naturally: 
If you have forgotten to take your meat out of the freezer and need to thaw it quickly, don’t microwave it!

The thaw setting on microwaves can ruin the taste of your carefully stored meats.

Instead, submerge the sealed bag in a sink full of cold water and let it soak for as long as you can.  Be sure to change to water keeping it cold to keep your meat safe!

c. Microwave Thawing – Worst Quality
While this is an acceptable method for defrosting meat, it is not our preferred method. In our experience, it tends to defrost unevenly and can even burn the meat in some areas.

Most microwaves have a defrost cycle – you set a time based on the weight of the item being defrosted. The microwave cycles between cooking and not-cooking to more slowly defrost the meat more.

We’ve never experienced an evenly defrosted piece of meat. And, while we can’t prove it, it seems that the meat is always tougher than fresh or water-bath defrosted meat.

d. Cooking Without Thawing – Good Option
We have successfully cooked frozen meat. The easiest has been hamburgers on the grill. But we’ve also cooked frozen London broil on the grill. 

According to the USDA, It is safe to cook food that is frozen. You just need to be prepared that it can take up to 50 percent more time to cook than thawed meat. 

We always recommend using a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the meat you’re cooking is in the safe range.

Tenderize and Marinate

A steak being cut on a wooden cutting board with a silver knife.

After taking the meat out of the freezer and defrosting it we use some favorite marinades that taste yummy and enhance tenderness.

Marinade Options:

Italian Dressing: One option is Italian salad dressing — we’ve used it on chicken and steak — it tastes great.

Wine & Teriyaki: Another is teriyaki and wine — 1/2 cup of teriyaki, 1/2 cup of the cheapest red wine you can find and 1/2 tablespoon of ginger powder per pound of meat.

We let the meat marinate in a deep roasting pan all day and it’s always tender and delicious after being cooked. Get the marinade recipe here.

Cook to Perfection

While this has nothing to do with freezing meat, it does have something to do with the flavor.

Cooking to a proper temperature kills all harmful bacteria. But with beef, people have different tastes, some like it rare, medium-rare, medium, or well-done.

When we cook beef on the grill, (and other meats), Steve uses a digital meat thermometer to ensure “doneness.”

Annette likes her cuts of beef on the more cooked side, while Steve prefers medium-rare. The thermometer allows us to hit the mark just about every time.


  • Your cut of meat, plastic wrap, and paper labels


  • Vacuum Sealer, Freezer, Sharpie Marker

If you follow our 5-step process your filet mignon, or any other cut of meat, will taste fantastic and even more, you’ll savor the savings if you purchased it on sale!

Freezer Pleaser

This is a reader tip to make the freezing of meat easier.

I just reorganized my freezer using plastic bins.  It’s great and really easy to find what I need. I marked them “Beef,” “Chicken” and “Pork.” This has really helped me to know what I already have in the freezer so I can shop more carefully. Leslie Wilson – Jacksonville, FL

If you’re looking for more options for cooking beef, check out these pages:

We have several of our favorite recipes in the recipe section of our website here.

For other great ideas about food, visit our Pinterest page by clicking here.

What is the best way to freeze & cook meat?

Resources for Saving Money With Meat

2 thoughts on “How to Freeze, Safely Thaw and Cook Frozen Meat

  1. donnba

    I use plastic wrap also. I don’t like freezing meat in the tray, they take too much room in the freezer. since I’m only cooking for myself now, I cut boneless pork chops in half (steaks also) wrap in plastic wrap and put in a zip lock, squeezing air out. I buy meat on sale, cut into smaller portions and I think I save significantly. it helps to keep my portions correct as well.

    1. Steve Economides

      Donna – that’s so smart to eliminate the styrofoam tray to save space. We’re doing the same – usually storing meal sized portion in zippered freezer storage bags.

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