How to safely thaw meat

Jun 14, 2022

One of the best things about shopping with our online butchers is that you can stock up in a single shop, and safely freeze a portion of your purchase to enjoy a steady stream of delicious meals for weeks on end.

You’ve done your shop and now, it’s Sunday night and you’re planning your family meals for the week. You’re all set to enjoy a nourishing bolognese as well as lamb shanks – perfect for these chilly winter evenings.

Whether it’s meal planning for the week ahead or you’ve simply forgotten to take the meat out of the freezer, knowing some methods to thaw and defrost meat can be useful.

Is there a quick way to thaw meat? What is the risk of bacteria growth? And what is the safest way to defrost meat?

This week, our butchers in Dandenong are taking a look at some of the best and worst ways to defrost meat, how you can do it safely, and importantly, what you should avoid.

Read on to learn more!

Please note that this blog post is intended for general purposes only. Australian Butchers Store will not claim responsibility for individual results following this advice. We strongly advise you to use due diligence when thawing and cooking meat safely. We refer to trusted sources and encourage you to do your own research, too.

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How to thaw frozen meat

Safety is paramount, and it’s important to handle meat correctly. But before we get into some of the methods, let’s take a quick look at what exactly we mean by thawed.

Think of the snow as the weather starts to heat up – it begins to melt away under the warm glow of the sun, turning from frozen ice into liquid water.

The same principle applies to meat – it starts off frozen but over time, gradually softens and defrosts due to an increase in temperature.

It is a process that should be done slowly and gradually to maintain the quality of the meat and to also reduce the risk of harmful bacteria growth.


Do you have to thaw frozen meat before cooking?

Thawing meat is necessary in order to enjoy more even cooking.

Cooking from frozen may mean that the outside cooks faster while the inside of the meat remains frozen. This can therefore increase the risk that the meat will remain in the ‘danger zone’, a temperature range where harmful bacteria is more susceptible to grow.

Thawing is also preferred in order to effectively use marines and seasoning during preparation.


What methods can I use to thaw my meat?

Slowly in the refrigerator

Slow and steady wins the race: this is simply the safest way to defrost your meat.

On the morning of, simply take your piece of meat out of the freezer and move to the lower portion of your fridge. Ensure it’s wrapped properly or in a sealed container.

Provided your fridge is set to 4º or lower, meat can remain safely here for hours. This is because the meat will never reach above this temperature and therefore stay out of the temperature “danger zone”, the temperature range in which bacteria can quickly thrive.

How long does frozen meat take to thaw?

This method may take several hours, but it is without doubt the safest way to thaw. In general, you will need to move meat from the freezer to the fridge on the morning of the day you wish to cook.

Remember larger cuts such as chickens and even whole turkeys will take longer – perhaps even several days.

In a rush? Try this cold water method

If time is of the essence and you don’t have hours on end waiting for meat to thaw in the fridge, this solution may be able to buy you back some time.

Ensure your meat is sealed and submerge it into a bowl of cold water. Thawing must be done within 2 hours to prevent the meat from entering the “danger zone”.

Important: do NOT use hot water as this can quickly create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria!

Can you thaw meat directly in water?

No, you should not submerge unsealed meat directly into water.

It should always be sealed or wrapped in water-proof packaging, which can help reduce the risk of cross contamination. Even if you have sealed the meat correctly, it is still recommended to thoroughly clean and sanitise your sink afterwards.


What NOT to do when thawing meat

Do not leave meat to defrost on the bench

No matter how tempting, we strongly discourage you from leaving meat anywhere in your kitchen that isn’t your fridge or freezer!

While you might assume that leaving the meat at room temperature is a quicker method than the refrigerator thaw process, it’s actually a risky move that leaves meat susceptible to reaching the “danger zone” – a temperature range that encourages the growth of bacteria. (More on that below.)


Can I safely thaw meat in the microwave?

This one’s a bit of a contentious issue. And while it’s not always discouraged, it is advised you only follow this method when absolutely necessary, and ensure it’s done with caution.

In summary: in most cases, it may be safe to defrost meat in the microwave, provided you cook it immediately after defrosting.

This is because the microwave can actually kick off the cooking process, which is why it’s essential to cook it immediately (e.g. in the pan or on the barbeque). Do not put microwaved meat back in the fridge or freezer.

We strongly recommend putting your meat in a sealed, microwave safe container and using the defrost setting in small increments. If possible, move the meat around as you defrost to ensure more even thawing.

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What is the meat “danger zone”?

We’ve mentioned this several times already, so you’d be right to assume it’s something really important!

But what exactly is the temperature “danger zone”? This is a term used by many official bodies and food safety regulators, including the United States’ Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It refers to a temperature range of 4.4ºC – 60ºC (40ºF – 140ºF).

Bacteria mostly thrive in this temperature range, even doubling in just 20 minutes! As such, you need to ensure that food does not stay in this zone for more than 1-2 hours.

In short: keep hot food hot and cold food cold.


Looking to fill your freezer?

If you’re searching for wholesale meat near you, you can’t beat Australian Butchers Store.

With a range of high-quality meats on offer, you’ll find all your comforts and even discover some new favourites! Visit us in-store; we’ve got four locations across Melbourne so there’s sure to be a store close by!

Prefer to shop online? We offer meat delivery in Melbourne so you can order from the comfort of home and enjoy delivering anywhere across Victoria.