Ground beef: It’s delicious, affordable, and easy to prepare.
With dozens of recipes that feature ground beef as the star of the show, it’s no wonder the average American eats just over 56 pounds of ground beef every year in the U.S. From burgers to chili, you might be tempted to stock up on ground beef to have ready to go whenever the mood strikes.
Still, ground beef doesn’t last particularly long in the fridge. Like most meats, ground beef will only safely last in the fridge for about three days — which is exactly why we deliver all of our beef frozen and why you’ll have to continue storing it in the freezer, especially if you plan on buying beef in bulk.
So, we know freezing beef can be an essential way to keep it better for longer. But frozen beef can end up becoming dry and tough to chew more often than not if you cook it straight from the freezer, so you’ll want to thaw it back out before preparing.
Don’t worry, you’ve got a few options depending on how much time and energy you have available, and none of them are particularly difficult.
Thawing is an easy but long process. Some ways are much safer than others, and there are certain techniques you should definitely avoid. Here’s how to safely defrost your ground beef.
How Do You Thaw Frozen Ground Beef in the Fridge?
The safest and most consistent way to start the defrosting process for ground beef is by putting it in the fridge … but it’s also the slowest.
Dethawing in the fridge means you avoid the temperature window in which the meat will begin to develop harmful bacteria. That’s why a classic fridge de-thaw is the safest method, but we also realize that sometimes we just forget to pull out the beef on time before needing it for the meal we're cooking.
Thawing in the fridge might take a day or two to go from fully frozen to malleable beef. If you’re planning out your week and know that you’ll be making burgers in a few days, definitely take your beef out of the freezer and put it into the fridge well in advance.
Can You Thaw Ground Beef on the Counter?
Thawing on the counter can be a lot faster than thawing in the fridge, it’s much warmer on the counter. However, this is where we start to see some safety concerns.
Your counter needs to be completely clean, or your beef needs to sit on a clean surface like a recently washed plate. This keeps cross-contamination to a minimum.
Thawing beef on the counter also means it can reach about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the danger zone when illness-causing bacteria growth happens. If you need to cut down on time and thaw beef on the counter, keep an eye on it so that it never warms up past this point.
Don’t leave beef on the counter overnight; keep a clean meat thermometer handy to regularly check the temperature.
Can You Thaw Meat in Water?
If you really need to speed up the thawing process, the cold water method might be your best friend — but it can easily become your enemy.
Only thaw your raw ground beef in a large bowl of cold water. You should never use hot water to defrost ground meat. While this might seem like a faster way to thaw frozen meat — and it is — you dramatically increase the risk of the beef getting to a temperature where bacteria will thrive. More bacteria means it’s more likely that you’ll make yourself sick.
That being said, thawing your beef in cold water is still much faster than previous methods without increasing your odds of getting food sickness. After a few hours in water, your beef will be ready to go!
What Are the Best Methods To Avoid Ground Beef Going Bad?
As we’ve mentioned above, thawing out ground beef is no problem- Unless you want it done quickly. Then you start to run the risk of your beef going bad and becoming inedible. But why is it going bad in the first place?
As with all other meats, ground beef will eventually develop bacteria that will induce fever, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Most people will recognize bad beef, but if your meat has gone gray, has any noticeable odor, or is slimy to the touch, throw it away — it’s already gone bad. These types of bacteria grow quickly with two primary conditions: They need oxygen and reasonable temperatures.
The FDA identifies the dangerous temperature zone for bacteria between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and it doesn't take long. Raw, ground beef left out of the fridge for just two hours will likely develop bacteria quickly, so it’s important to be smart and safe when handling meat.
What Is the Quickest and Best Way To Prepare Ground Beef for the Freezer?
Getting beef from the grocery store and just putting it straight into the freezer is an option, but you won't make the most out of your purchase by doing so.
To optimize your freezer space and the quality of your ground beef, we have a few pointers on putting your meat into cryosleep.
Use an Airtight Container
Oxygen is the enemy of raw meat — or, at the very least, it’s bacteria’s BFF. That’s right: We’re talking about the bacteria that can ruin our meat and increase the risk of a foodborne illness. Because of this, you’ll always want to ensure that your meat is vacuum sealed or as close to it as possible.
Whether your purchased patties, meatballs, or other ground beef comes in an airtight package or not, you’ll want to pick an airtight container for storage. Before placing beef in the freezer, transfer it to a plastic bag instead of its original packaging. Doing so will prevent oxygen from ruining your beef. Plus, it’ll fight off freezer burn, which makes meat quite unpleasant to eat.
An additional benefit of transferring your meat to zip-top bags is that, regardless of the portion you bought, you can separate appropriate amounts of beef to be pulled out later.
For example, if you bought a three-pound grain of ground beef to make meatloaf and it’s all in one package, you can separate each pound into its own individual bag. That way, you don’t have to thaw out the whole three pounds if you only need to use one or two.
Label Your Meat
Here’s a tip every home cook needs to know before freezing ground beef: If you’ve ever purchased meat, put it in the freezer, then checked back weeks later not sure when you put that meat there before then you’ll definitely understand why this is a solid tip.
If you’re already separating your raw beef into separate ziplock bags, it’s just one more step to take a sharpie marker and write down the date on the bag. This makes it much easier when assessing your fridge and freezer before grocery shopping and helps you plan your weekly meals.
Put Recently-Bought Meat in the Back
Depending on how much beef you’re buying in bulk and how often, you might have ziplock bags with different dates filling up your freezer. In order to make the most out of your purchases, you definitely don’t want to eat recently bought beef when you have some that are older and will go bad sooner.
Instead of forcing yourself to read every date on each bag in your freezer, make it easier on yourself and do what restaurants do: Put recently purchased beef in the back of the line, and move older beef up to the front.
Using this technique helps you go through beef in the order that you buy it, so no package ever gets left behind and ends up going bad.
This step might seem a bit extra, but it can be a lifesaver. If we know that beef only lasts three months in the fridge, you can use your phone to set an alarm in your calendar to let you know when your beef is going bad.
You might not notice if your supply starts running low or if all of your ziplock bags of ground beef are all going bad at the same time. Programming some reminders into your phone is a smart way to let your future self know that it’s about time to go to the grocery store!
The Safest Way To Get Ready-To-Cook Ground Beef
Whether you’re making burgers, chili, or having taco Tuesday with the family, ground beef is a classic meat option all year round. In order to get the best quality of beef to last the longest, freezing it is your best option, and safely thawing it back out is absolutely necessary to avoid any illness.
Always make sure to properly thaw raw ground beef using the fridge or, if absolutely necessary, under cold tap water or on the kitchen counter if properly observed.
Never let beef get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature before cooking; make sure to heat it up past 140 degrees from raw. If you’re reheating already cooked beef, ensure that it reaches 160 to kill off any potential bacteria by using a meat thermometer.
It doesn't take much to develop a system for making the best out of your beef purchases, with a few resealable zip lock bags, a marker, and a little diligence, you can have ground beef ready to go for months to come. Just make sure you never use warm water to unfreeze it!