Defrost Frozen Meat Faster in a Water Bath

Buying meat when it’s on sale and then freezing it when you need it is great … in theory . In practice, it is difficult (some even say it is impossible) not to forget to defrost frozen meat in advance. The recommended method – thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator overnight – can take more than a day. It also requires planning, which is, LOL. As a quicker alternative, many people immerse frozen meat in cold water . But there is an even faster method: hot water baths.

You may have heard that using hot water to defrost frozen meat is a bad idea because water can damage the surface of the meat or lead to bacterial growth. But a study sponsored by the USDA and published in the Journal of Food Science and Food Control in 2011 found that for thinner cuts of meat – inch steaks, chops, and chicken breasts, which likely make up the cuts you cook more often in total – defrosting in hot water can be cooked in just 10 minutes without compromising the quality and safety of the meat.

Harold McGee reports in the New York Times :

At USDA labs in Beltsville, Maryland, Janet S. Eastridge and Brian S. Bowker thawed over 200 one-inch beef tenderloin steaks in a dough in three different groups: some refrigerated at 37 to 40 degrees Celsius. Fahrenheit, some in a constantly circulating water bath at 68 degrees, and some in a water bath at 102 degrees.

Air thawing in the refrigerator took 18–20 hours, the steaks thawed in a water bath at room temperature in about 20 minutes, and in a hot summer bath – in 11 minutes. The bath time is so short that any bacterial growth will remain within safe limits.

Not only that, but methods for defrosting water can lead to a better flavor (or at least a juicier) steak:

In fact, steaks thawed in water produce less juice than steaks thawed in air.

Similar results were obtained for chicken breasts, with one-inch cutlets defrosting in 9 minutes and half-inch breasts in just over 3 minutes. It’s pretty fast.

McGee says his method is to use 125-degree tap water and immerse the plastic-wrapped meat in a large saucepan, stirring occasionally. Stirring is important because it prevents a cold zone from developing around the food, which insulates it from the remaining warm water. Alternatively, pour a continuous stream of hot water into the bathtub. In addition, defrosted meat should be cooked immediately after defrosting it in a water bath; there is no re-freezing.

Do not try this with large roasts or turkeys, as they are still safer to eat when thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water. But for finer cuts, this hot water bath method can save you valuable time – great news if you’re cooking at the last minute.

This story was originally published in 2012 and updated on January 27, 2021 to update dead links and revise content to match the current Lifehacker style.


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