How to Defrost Meat Safely

Here’s how to defrost meat safely, whether fast or overnight, if you’re in a hurry or not. Hint: You never want to do it at room temperature. The same advice also applies to how to defrost fish.

Several packages of frozen meat that need instruction on how to defrost meat safely.

The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook | Victory Belt Publishing, 2015

How to defrost meat safely, fast, easily, and properly is perhaps one of the biggest conundrums standing between many home cooks and putting supper on the table. Here’s the best technique to thaw meat (or fish) fast. It’s excerpted from The Homegrown Paleo, a collection of everyday lessons that essentially encompasses just about everything your grandparents needed to know to subsist off the land.—Renee Schettler

Each week, I take a bunch of meat from our freezer and defrost it using a slow refrigerator method. I place it in a bowl inside our refrigerator. When it’s time to cook dinner, I look to see what meat is thawed and ready to go. As someone who is certified in safe food handling, I can tell you that this is the safest way to thaw meat since most refrigerators are below 40°F (4°C) and bacteria grows most quickly between 41°F and 135°F (5°C and 60°C). The meat also has more time to reabsorb the ice crystals that formed between the fibers, which gives it a better texture.

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Sometimes, however, I am stuck with no thawed meat and need some fast. To quickly thaw meat, place the wrapped meat in a large bowl in the sink. Place it under cool water for 15 to 20 minutes. This process works great for 1-pound packages of ground meat or steaks, but it isn’t great for a whole chicken or a big hunk of ham—I highly recommend that you use the slow-thaw refrigerator method for larger cuts of meat.

I prefer to get our meat sealed in plastic rather than wrapped in butcher paper. Butcher paper allows water to leak in when the meat is quick-thawed, resulting in soggy meat. Also, with the see-through plastic, I can see if there is any freezer burn before unwrapping it. Originally published January 19, 2016.



  1. We have a sealer and vacuum sealed our sausage. It has parchment paper between each patty. Best to thaw in the fridge still?

  2. I’ve found that it’s necessary to put the packaged meat inside a zip bag before putting under running water. Grocery store wrapping seems to let in water. I also use the microwave to thaw ground beef or a single chicken breast.

    1. Thanks for the plastic bag trick, Martha. Guess it depends on the store and how they wrap things!

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