Do Not Defrost Frozen Steak Before Cooking

“So she buys an instant cake and she burns a frozen steak” is a lyric that has been in my head for about 30 years. The song, which I’m sure you’ve heard , touches on two topics that I talk about a lot: semi-finished products and the horrors of the nuclear family. (The former may help to alleviate some of the suffering caused by the latter.)

While they have no way of keeping late-50s housewives from Valium, baking mixes and the invention of the freezer are two things that have helped housewives cut labor and costs. Buying groceries in bulk can help save money, but things can get a little tricky when you’re dealing with meat. This is where the freezing (obviously) begins.

A steak that has been frozen and then cooked will not taste as good as a steak cooked right after a cow is slaughtered, but it can still be quite tasty, especially if you skip the defrosting and cook it directly from the frozen one. But before we get to cooking, let’s talk about freezing.

How to freeze a steak the right way

You want to start with individual freezing and place the steaks on a baking sheet, making sure they don’t touch before placing them in the freezer overnight. According to Cook’s Illustrated , this can help get rid of moisture, which means less spatter when you’re about to cook the steak (it also keeps the steaks from sticking together in the bag).

Wrap each steak in plastic wrap or vacuum seal if you have the technology, then place the wrapped steaks in a freezer bag and date the bag ( duct tape will help make sure the labels don’t freeze). Steaks will last anywhere from four months to a year in the freezer, depending on how cold your freezer is and how often it cycles.

How to cook a frozen steak without defrosting it

Great news: there’s no reason to defrost a frozen steak before cooking it, unless you have a marinade you’re desperate to use. In fact, Cook’s Illustrated found that not defrosting actually results in a piece of meat that cooks more evenly. To determine this, they cooked two steaks — one frozen and thawed and the other straight from frozen — measured them before and after for moisture loss, and visually inspected their cross section. A non-thawed steak retained more moisture when cooked and had almost no “grey stripe” around the perimeter. According to Cook’s Illustrated, the cooler temperatures helped the meat brown on the outside without overcooking the inside:

Because a frozen steak is very cold, the surface can reach the very high temperatures required for the browning reaction before the inside is overcooked. As for the difference in moisture loss, it is known that when meat is cooked to a temperature above 140 degrees, its muscle fibers begin to squeeze out a significant amount of moisture. As indicated by the slightly thicker gray bar, the defrosted steak was more overcooked around the edges, so it was clear that it also had more moisture loss.

To cook a frozen steak, you need two sources of heat: direct and indirect. If you’re cooking at home, use the stove and oven; if you are cooking outdoors, set up a direct heat zone (above hot coals or flames) and an indirect heat zone (side without coals or lit burners).

You will start by frying the steaks. For indoor cooking, Cook’s Illustrated recommends adding 1/8 inch of neutral oil to the pan and heating until it shimmers. Cook the steaks for about 90 seconds on each side until browned, then transfer to the oven at 275℉ and cook until the center reads 125℉ on a medium instant read thermometer. (Season with salt once it’s thawed enough to be sticky. Salt won’t stick to a frozen steak, so just apply it when the frost has melted enough to make the surface moist.)

The procedure for grilling is very similar. Grill over charcoal or over flame until nicely browned, then transfer to the non-charcoal or non-flame side and close the grill, cooking until you reach 125℉ on an instant read thermometer. (This ensures your steak doesn’t overcook, unlike the ill-fated meat in early Stones sausage.)


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