Freezing your meat wrong can ruin the flavor, cause freezer burn, and ultimately waste your money and time. From chicken to steaks, the proper techniques in packaging will help you freeze with better results.
Let’s lead the most important thing: you need to freeze meat quickly. The slow meat freezes, the more moisture is drawn out of it. Lack of moisture in steaks makes them like leather. Chicken without its juiciness is dry and tough to swallow. This lack of moisture is often called freezer burn, but it’s really just the movement of water out of the meat and into the large ice crystals and frost that forms on the surface. Once it’s pulled from the meat there’s no effective way to put it back, so let’s look at how to freeze meat correctly and avoid that problem.
How to Freeze Meat Fast and Properly
From the way you package the meat to having the right freezer temperature, there are some important things to do that will help you ensure your meat stays as freshly frozen as possible. If you follow these steps, you’ll have better-tasting meat without the freezer burn.
Pick the Right Freezer Temp
For quicker freezing times, be sure that your freezer temperature is at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Some freezers have a quick-freeze shelf, which is the perfect place to put your meat to freeze rapidly.
If your freezer isn’t cold enough or doesn’t have a special shelf for rapid freezing, try an ice bath for your meat. Place your vacuum-sealed meat in an ice bath (water and ice cubes) and add some salt. The salt will make the water colder and help you prechill the meat before putting it in the freezer.
Pack Smaller Portions
The thickness and amount of meat in your freezer bag matter, too. Pack meat in the smallest portions you’ll use. If you frequently cook for just yourself, cut it up and pack it the way you would use it. The same goes for family meal planning.
Not only do individual portions of meat and small cuts in packages freeze faster, but it’s also easier to grab just the right amount of meat out of the freezer for thawing when you have a meal planned.
You can also freeze individual steaks or pork chops, and then stack them together in alternative packaging. This keeps them from getting stuck together and allows for even freezing.
Packaging Meats for Freezing
Always repackage meat when you get it home from the store. The styrofoam and plastic packing most fresh meat come in isn’t ideal for freezing (and isn’t airtight).
You can use freezer paper (like that white paper) or plastic wrap. Follow this step by wrapping the meat again in aluminum foil, or use a plastic bag (pushing as much air out as you possibly can). Blanch fresh fish in a salt-water mixture before wrapping and freezing. This will help with freezing and keep your fillets from drying out.
If you want your meat sealed with no air at all, invest in a vacuum sealer. These machines suck the air out of the plastic packaging and use heat to seal the end. While more expensive than using plastic wrap, it’s the best way to ensure your meat lasts longer in the freezer—if you’d like to get more out of your vacuum sealer and all that meat you’re packaging, you can also use it for sous vide cooking too.
Mark your package with the date and contents. This will help you find what you’re looking for while allowing you to eat older cuts of meat first.
How Long Can You Leave Meat in the Freezer?
Part of proper freezing revolves around how long you leave your meat in the freezer. While you can technically freeze food indefinitely (you just need to cook it as soon as it’s thawed), there are time limits to having your meat taste its best.
Meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other processed deli-style cuts, you should only freeze them for two months or less. Ground meat, including hamburger, is best used within four months of freezing. Fresh steaks, pork chops, and lamb are all good up to a year frozen.
Your meat won’t spoil after these time frames—meat kept frozen has no bacterial growth or spoilage—but flavor and quality will decrease as time goes on. Just because you can eat a steak kept at sub-zero temperatures for the last 30 years doesn’t mean you’ll want to.
Thawing Your Frozen Meat
Proper thawing helps keep your meat tasting good, and it will help avoid the growth of bacteria. If you’re thawing ahead of time, you can put your meat in the fridge, depending on the size of cuts, or how much ground meat is in the package, it could take anywhere from a day to a few days. This is ideal, from a food safety standpoint, as the meat will thaw but not warm to a temperature above that of the fridge.
If you have smaller cuts to thaw, and you want them ready faster, you can run cold water over the still sealed meat. While hot water may be tempting, it is more likely to promote the growth of bacteria.
Never thaw meat on the counter. This opens you up to a huge risk of bacteria growth and possible food poisoning.