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Have you ever put together a plan for a wonderful supper only to come home from work and realize that you forgot to take the beef out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge? Yeah, me neither.
Okay. I’m totally kidding. This sort of thing happens to me all. the. time. I forget things – it’s what I do.
As a result of my forgetfulness, I have gotten pretty good at thawing beef on short time. And the good news is that there are a few alternatives to fridge thawing. Said alternatives are just as safe as, but much faster than, the fridge thaw.
You can thaw beef quickly by…
Drawing it a cold water bath.
The cold water bath has a couple of things going for it. I mean, it’s a safe way to thaw beef quickly and evenly – more quickly than a fridge and more evenly than a microwave. Although, it does take slightly more effort than thawing in the fridge.
When you thaw beef in the fridge, it’s as simple as placing the beef on a plate, putting the plate in the fridge, and walking away while the magic happens. But when you opt for the cold water approach, you have to put it in a leak-proof bag, make sure it’s fully submerged, and actually stick around. A fresh cold water bath must be drawn every 30 minutes to keep you beef out of the “Danger Zone” and you safe.
The “Danger Zone” refers to the temperature range between 40 and 140 °F. This is the range where foodborne illness causing bacteria thrive, doubling their numbers in as few as 20 minutes. The “Danger Zone” is also why it is important to cook beef thawed in cold water must be cooked immediately.
Melting it in the microwave.
The microwave is not only a way to thaw beef quickly, it is THE quickest way. It’s so quick that it needs to be watched carefully so that it doesn’t do more than thaw your beef. Microwave thawing is notorious for yielding partially cooked exteriors with still frozen interior. This is especially true if your settings and timing aren’t just right.
The good news is that most microwave nowadays come equipped defrost settings. These settings can be as simple as “Time Defrost” and “Weight Defrost” or as sophisticated as separate settings for defrosting meat, poultry, and fish. Some microwaves even take it one step further, including those settings AND timing increments with alarms that alert (scream at) you when it’s time to flip what you’re thawing.
Speaking of flipping what you’re thawing – that is actually key in achieving and even thaw. A “Time Defrost,” 5 minutes, and flip sequence is my even thaw winning combo. At least that’s what works for me with the microwave I currently have.
If your microwave doesn’t have any defrost settings, not to worry. You the even thaw is still totally attainable. Just turn the power down to 50 percent. Use the same 5 minutes and flip method, and you should be golden. Although, I will say what works in one microwave, may not work in all microwaves. Experimenting with your microwave to nail down your timing is a good idea.
I like this method especially for thawing ground beef, and it’s alright for steaks. But if I forget to take a roast out, I will almost always resort to Plan B. And Plan B is almost always frozen pizza. Anyway…
For the same reason that you must immediately cook beef thawed in a cold water bath, you must also immediately cook beef thawed in the microwave. Lucky for you, you were already planning on immediate cooking on account of the whole forgetting to take it out of the freezer thing, amiright?
Just not thawing it at all.
That’s right. If you’re really in a bind, you can cook your beef without thawing it first. This method works pretty slick if you’re just browning ground beef or braising some stew meat. Although it can be done (and done safely), I would not recommend this method if you are grilling or making something like chicken fried steak. It’s just too difficult and increases the cooking time too much for my liking.
Skipping the thaw and going straight in the pot with your beef will increase you’re cooking times by 50 percent(ish). That means browning a pound of ground round (I couldn’t resist the rhyme…) could take 15 to 20 minutes, instead of 8 to 10. That said, this method could still be faster than the microwave method. But have you ever browned a frozen brick of ground beef? I mean, it works. But it’s kind of a pain.
Contrary to popular belief, this method should never be used if you are slow cooking. Slow cookers cannot heat the frozen beef to a safe temperature quickly enough. This leaves the beef in the “Danger Zone” for too long. And, as we discussed above, that is not somewhere you want your beef to be, especially if you are strongly opposed to contracting foodborne illness.
Final thawing thoughts.
The fridge thaws beef evenly, keeps it out of the “Danger Zone,” and you don’t have to cook it immediately. So, it’s obviously ideal. But if you’re forgetful by nature, like yours truly – that idealness is lost in the time that it takes to get thawing job done.
As someone who is both forgetful (and slightly impatient) but likes evenly thawed beef, I actually prefer the cold water bath method over all. It provides the speed I need without any additional risk of microwave cooking the beef because I forgot to hit the time defrost button before setting the time and hitting start… That forgetful by nature thing is a beast, I’m telling you.
Anyway, what about you? Are you a thaw beef quickly type of person? If so, what’s your preferred method?
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