The Fastest and Safest Way to Thaw Meat

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It’s 4:55pm.

Do you know where your dinner is?

“Well, sure,” you say.  “We’re having chicken.  It’s….in the freezer!  Oh no! I forgot to thaw the meat.”

Can’t you hear the dramatic theme music now?

I can’t tell you how many times we have gone out to eat because I “forgot to thaw the meat.”  Yes, it’s usually a legitimate excuse, but it really doesn’t have to be.

You can thaw your meat safely in less than an hour. 

4:45pm and you forgot to thaw the meat for dinner! Now you have a plan.

I did an experiment.

I tested five different thawing methods to determine their safety and speed.

To be honest I already knew which one was going to be the best.  I’ve been using it for years.

The fastest way to thaw meat is to put it in a bowl in the sink, with a trickle of water running over it. 

It will be ready to cook in 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size.

The Safety Rules:

  • Food must be below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees to be safe.
  • It can reside in the unsafe zone for no longer than one hour.
  • Raw meat should not come in contact with any surface used for food preparation.
  • If raw meat does come in contact with food preparation areas, those areas must be sterilized before cooking may commence.

The putting meat in the sink with running water on it method does break the raw meat contact rule, so don’t plop your lettuce in there right after you’ve had the meat in there.  If you have any common sense about food contamination, you probably already understand that.

The Experiment:

I already knew the best way to thaw meat, but before I could tell you with absolute certainty, I had to test it scientifically.  (Actual scientist, please note, that was toungue-in-cheek.)

I froze 5 plastic cups of water.  untitled shoot-2457
I know, you’re impressed.  They look varied in volume, but I promise they were all equal amounts when liquid.

I put one in a bowl of cold water.untitled shoot-2460

One in a bowl of hot water.untitled shoot-2459

One in a bowl under running water.untitled shoot-2463

One in the microwave on the quick defrost setting, and just for kicks,defrost frozen meat

One in the oven I was preheating to 400 degrees.  (It started in a cold oven and warmed to 400 by the end of the experiment.)

untitled shoot-2458

After 5 minutes:

It was pretty even.  Hard to tell much difference.

They were all still mostly frozen.

I decided to remove the ice blocks from the cups.

I wouldn’t thaw meat inside a plastic container, so it didn’t make sense to leave the ice blocks in containers either.  Plus, I really didn’t want that cup in the oven to melt onto my cookie sheet.

The microwaved version was the most thawed.  I could have put it back in the microwave and quickly thaw it, but if you were to do that with meat, you’d get cooked meat, not thawed.  So I left it on the counter from this point on.

After 10 minutes:

Microwaved, hot water, and cold water were neck-and-neck.

Oven melting was slightly ahead.

Running water was at a solid second place and gaining.

After 15 mintues, I had to stop the experiment and take the remaining bit of ice from the ice block in running water out of the running water or there would have been nothing left!

Thaw Meat Saftely
15 minutes in a now 400 degree oven still hadn’t melted the ice block.

Fast safe thaw meat

Running water BEAT oven!

Some of you will be satisfied at this point and not wish to continue reading.  To you I say:  Enjoy the rest of the site!

And,  if you want more tips like this, sign up for my Peace & Productivity newsletter.


Others of you are scratching your heads, about to ask Google:

Why does running water thaw the meat so well?

First off, let’s address why the others didn’t work.

There’s basically two other methods here:

1) sitting in water and

2) a heat source/cooking medium.

We’ll start with #2.

Why shouldn’t you thaw your meat in an oven or microwave?

There’s no problem with putting frozen meat in the oven.  It just isn’t the best choice for thawing.

Occasionally, you might want to cook your meat straight from frozen–I put frozen meat in the crock pot all the time–but generally, if you are going to cook supper in a hurry, you’re wanting to cut up or season your meat first.  That’s hard to do with frozen food.

Thawing it in the oven, isn’t really thawing it at all.  It’s cooking.

The microwave does the same thing.  You’ll end up with browned meat before the inside is really thawed.

What’s wrong with sitting in water?

When you first put your frozen meat in a bowl of water, whether that water is hot or cold, the heat will transfer from the water to the meat molecules, thawing the meat.  Eventually, the heat energy will be balanced between the two.  No more heat energy will transfer.  You now have cold water and partially frozen meat.

This is why, my Dad impressed me when I was a 16 year old chemistry student by saying, “your glass of water is coldest when the ice has melted.”  The ice has absorbed as much of the water’s heat as possible and become water.  No more heat can leave the water.

The USDA recommends the sitting in water method to thaw meat, but there’s a catch.  You have to change the water every 30 minutes.

Ain’t nobody got time for dat!

Why does running water work?

When you have the water running, there’s constantly new heat to transfer to the meat.  BUT it’s not enough heat to cook the meat, just warmer than frozen.  This continual transfer of energy thaws the meat most effectively!

It’s called convection.  You may be familiar with convection ovens which cook faster by moving hot air around the food as well.

There you go.

They don’t call it Family and Consumer SCIENCE for nothing!

Actually, I learned this from a Good Eats episode, the epitome of science in the kitchen.  I found it on you tube here: Good Eats–What’s Up Duck .

Hands down, the best way to thaw your meat in time for supper is under running water.

I can usually get enough meat for my family thawed in 30-45 minutes.  

That isn’t super fast, but if you think of dinner at 5:15 and you know a few 30 mintue meals, you can still get it on the table by 6:30.

I’ll be sharing more of my kitchen shortcuts.  If you’d like to learn some secrets to defrost your kitchen fears, sign up to get my Peace & Productivity Guide.

Did I leave anything out?  Got any questions?

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  1. LaNeshe wrote:

    Cool experiment!

    Posted 5.25.16 Reply
    • Christina wrote:


      Posted 5.26.16 Reply