How to Quickly and Safely Thaw Frozen Ground Meat?

Remember when we talked about not letting meat sit on the counter to defrost? That’s true for all forms of meat, including ground meat or patties made of ground meat.

So, if you stumble upon a video of a quick recipe that involves ground meat, and you can’t wait to try it, you may wonder: how do I quickly and safely thaw frozen ground meat? 

The quickest and safest way to thaw frozen ground meat is to put it in a zip lock bag and run cold water over it. It should take no more than 15 minutes for a pound of ground meat. Using cold water will prevent the growth of bacteria during the process. Never defrost ground meat in warm water. It is neither efficient nor safe.

If you don’t want to waste water by keeping the tap running, put the bag of meat in a bowl of cold water and change the water at least once during this time. It might take a few more minutes than allowing the water to run, so if you are in a rush, leave a thin stream dripping.

Watch how experts do it:

How to Quickly Thaw Ground Beef | The Know It All Guide | FYI

That is pretty much it –  but if you don’t want to deal with the wait time at all, then you should know that it all starts with how you freeze the ground meat.

So, let’s take it from there.

Freeze it Right to Thaw it Fast

I know what you are thinking. Freezing isn’t rocket science. What could we be doing wrong?

Your method may not be wrong but it can definitely be better. You just follow a few more steps before putting the ground meat in the freezer. Instead of freezing the entire pack or container just the way you bought it, transfer it into a zip lock freezer bag instead.

If the meat isn’t completely frozen when you are putting it in the bag, you can even strain some of the juices out during this step.

Now, if you want to be able to thaw that meat when needed quickly, spread it as flat as possible in the bag. You can even use a rolling pin to make it even flatter. The thinner the spread, the quicker it thaws. What takes longer to defrost are dense chunks of ground meat stuck to close together, which is often the case with store-bought packaging.

Flattening meat before freezing is a great way to save time when thawing. Try it next time.

Here is another effective way to freeze ground meat:

How to Store Ground Meat in the Freezer - Best Way!

For that frozen pack of ground meat lying in your freezer at the moment, let’s take a look at some of the most effective methods to defrost.

Before that, let us look at the dangers of not following the right method.

The Dangerous of Defrosting Done Wrong

We have been defrosting ground meat for as long as frozen meat exists, but many methods commonly used can be dangerous.

According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the temperature of meat should not rise above 40 °F. Between 40 and 140 °F is called the danger zone as this is the temperature that allows bacteria to thrive. Bacteria multiply at a rate much faster than you imagine. Bacteria colonies can double in size every 20 minutes. Meat left in the danger zone for two hours can cause food poisoning.

That brings us to some critical thing to know before we learn about the right way to quickly and safely thaw frozen ground meat.

The Safe Zone

If there is a danger zone, there has to be a safe zone.

That safe zone is the temperature high enough to initiate defrosting but not high enough to encourage bacteria growth. That range is between the freezing point and the danger zone.

In simpler words, it is between 34 to 40 °F.

So, if the meat has to defrost for hours, it is vital to keep it in the safe zone.

That said, if there is a process where the temperature exceeds 40 °F but not for more than a few minutes, then the risk is almost negligible. That is what brings us to our first method to quickly and safely thaw frozen ground meat.

Microwave the Meat

This method is for microwave ovens with defrost settings. This setting maintains the right temperature for the right amount of time for the given amount of meat. All you need to do is remove the packaging and place the frozen chunk of ground meat into a microwave-safe container.  

With ground meat, it should take you less time as compared to solid cuts of meat. With ground meat, you can even make sure that the oven defrosts it quite evenly as well. Modern microwave ovens are smarter; they beep every few minutes to let you turn the meat over in the container. If your microwave doesn’t beep, pause it halfway through and turn the meat around a bit.

For instance, if it has to run for 10 minutes for the amount of meat you need to defrost, pause it at 5. Turn it over if possible, and let it defrost for the next 5 minutes. This way, you can avoid the half-cooked meat problem people often complain about when defrosting in the microwave.

Now, microwaves are quick and hence safe. The temperature may be high, but the meat doesn’t stay at that temperature for more than 20 minutes. However, you should immediately cook this meat right away to prevent bacteria growth.

Cold Water Method

If you don’t want to risk it by exposing the ground meat to high temperatures even for a few minutes, then cold water is your best friend.

Yes, it may not be the fastest method for large cuts of meat, but it is quite efficient for ground meat. As the juices inside the meat start to melt, the small chunks of the ground meat begin to come apart. A pound of ground meat shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, provided the tap is running.

Don’t worry, even a thin stream of cold water is enough. But as I said earlier, you can just submerge the meat in a bowl of water and change that water at least once. You will see that the entire process becomes quicker and easier when you follow the right freezing method.

Once again, do not refreeze meat thawed in the microwave. It should be cooked immediately.

To Thaw or Not to Thaw

Speaking of safety and speed, the most effective way I can think of is to cook without defrosting.

It may not make much sense for significant cuts or even chunks of meat, but it is the best way to go when you are cooking ground meat.

It is the liquids in the meat that binds pieces of ground meat together when frozen. It doesn’t take long for that liquid to melt when you put the meat in the pot. Stir around for a while and there won’t be a single frozen chunk left.  

It may add a few more minutes to the cooking time, as you will have to make the liquids evaporate first. Again, if you have followed my advice on freezing it correctly, there won’t be a lot of juice.     

And to think of it, we cook frozen ground meat all the time – sometimes in the form of frozen patties and sometimes as nuggets. Use the right heat and give it enough time, you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

Quick Tip: If you know you will use the meat to make patties, it is best to freeze that meat in the form of patties that can be cooked without defrosting. I love this simple yet efficient patty tray for that purpose.

Related Questions

Can I use hot water to thaw frozen ground meat?

Never use hot water to thaw ground meat or meat in any form. It will not make much of a difference – hardly a few minutes less than the cold water method. More importantly, the temperature will enter the danger zone too quickly, increasing the possibility of bacteria growth.

Can I thaw ground meat in the refrigerator?

Your refrigerator is the safest place to defrost meat in any form. The temperature should ideally be between 36 to 39 °F, never more than 40 °F. The only problem is that this may not be the fastest method to thaw ground meat. It could take anywhere between 12 to 24 hours.


Now you know how to quickly and effectively thaw frozen ground meat. And you also know that thawing may not even be necessary at all. Anyhow, freeze it the right way and make sure you are never exposing the meat to temperature above 40 °F for too long.


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