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How to Thaw Ground Beef So It Defrosts in Time for Dinner

PureWow logo PureWow 8/5/2020 letters@purewow.com (Alexia Dellner)

a sandwich sitting on top of a wooden table © Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

The grill’s fired up, the wine is perfectly chilled and you’ve been dreaming about sinking your teeth into a juicy burger all week. Only problem? You forgot to take the meat out of the freezer. Oops. Relax—you can still save dinner. Here’s how to thaw ground beef so it's defrosted in time to devour.

RELATED: The 71 Best Ground Beef Recipes the Whole Family Will Love

The best way to freeze ground beef

Here’s a nifty trick, known as the flat-pack freezing method, that will make next week's taco night so much easier.

1. Before freezing, divvy up the ground beef into resealable bags. Use a scale to measure exactly half a pound per bag, if you’re feeling fancy.

2. Using a rolling pin or your hand, gently flatten the patties so that they're approximately a ½-inch thick.

3. Press out any excess air, seal the bag and that’s it—no more freezer burn, and it will defrost way faster. How fast? Keep reading.

If you have 2 hours (or days): Defrost in the fridge

The best way to safely thaw ground beef is in the refrigerator, says the USDA. If you use the flat-pack freezing method, you’ll have ready-to-cook meat in just a couple of hours, whereas half a pound of ground beef in its original packing can take up to 12 hours to thaw.

1. Take the meat out of the freezer up to two days before you plan on cooking it. Put it on a plate and transfer it to the bottom shelf of your fridge.

2. Once defrosted, cook the meat within two days. 

If you have 30 minutes: Submerge in cold water

Ground beef that’s been frozen flat should thaw in about ten minutes, while denser hunks of meat will a little take longer, about 30 minutes per half-pound.

1. Put the frozen meat in a leak-proof resealable bag (if it isn’t already) and place it in a bowl of cold water. Make sure it's totally submerged.

2. Once thawed, cook immediately.

If you have 5 minutes: Use the microwave

It's the speediest way to defrost ground beef and comes in clutch when you're pressed for time. Just remember that microwave wattages differ, so you may need more or less time for your beef to totally thaw.

1. Place the beef a microwave-safe, resealable bag on a plate, leaving a small opening for steam to escape.

2. Use the defrost setting on your microwave to thaw the meat for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the meat over halfway through.

3. Cook the ground beef immediately. Some may have started to cook while defrosting.

How long does frozen ground beef last? 

Frozen ground beef is safe indefinitely, but loses its quality over time. For the sake of texture and flavor, frozen ground beef should be used within four months of freezing. For best results, freeze ground beef as soon as you bring it home to preserve its freshness. If you're going to use the beef soon after you buy it, you can keep it in the fridge instead. Use it within a couple days, says the USDA

Can I refreeze ground beef once it's thawed?

So your beef is finally defrosted, but you've decided that you don’t want to make burgers after all. No problem. You can safely refreeze ground beef (or any meat, poultry or fish) that’s been thawed in the fridge—but this is the only method where this works. Though this method requires a bit of foresight since it can take 24 to 48 hours, it's the safest there is and the only viable route if you end up wanting to refreeze what you defrosted. Once thawed, ground beef or meat, stew meat, poultry and seafood are safe to cook for another day or two. Roasts, chops and steaks of beef, pork or lamb will keep a bit longer, about three to five days.

According to the USDA, any foods left outside the refrigerator for more than two hours or for more than one hour in temperatures higher than 90°F shouldn’t be refrozen. In other words, raw meat, poultry and fish can be refrozen as long as they were thawed safely in the first place. Raw frozen goods are also safe to cook and refreeze, as well as previously frozen cooked foods. If you want to skip thawing altogether, meat, poultry or fish can be cooked or reheated from their frozen state. Just know it’ll take about one and a half times as long to cook, and you may notice a difference in quality or texture.

Ready to cook? Here are seven ground beef recipes we love.

RELATED: *This* Is the Best Way to Defrost Chicken

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