How to Defrost Meat

How to Defrost Meat Safely? How Long Does It Take Meat to Thaw?

Defrosting meat is an essential step in cooking, but it's important to do it safely to avoid foodborne illnesses. There are a few different methods for defrosting meat, and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will explore how to defrost meat, how long it takes, and some tips for safe defrosting.

How to Defrost Meat Properly?

Defrosting Meat in the Refrigerator

Defrosting meat in the refrigerator is the safest method, as it allows the meat to thaw slowly and stay at a safe temperature. 

In the fridge, most meat cuts will defrost in 10 to 24 hours. Give larger cuts a full day to thaw for every five pounds of meat.

Defrosting Meat in the Refrigerator

Here are some tips when defrosting meat in the refrigerator:

  • Place the meat on a plate or in a shallow dish to catch any drips.
  • Put the meat in the refrigerator on the bottom shelf, where it is coldest.
  • Allow the meat to thaw for several hours or overnight, depending on the size and type of meat.
  • Following the recommended food storage order, place the meat in the refrigerator. Foods that are ready to eat should be placed at the top, with seafood, whole cuts of pork and beef, ground beef, and whole and ground poultry positioned at the bottom.
  • Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, but the texture and quality of the meat may suffer.
  • Ground meat, stew meat, poultry, and shellfish should all be safe to eat for a day or two after being defrosted in the fridge.
  • Thawed in the fridge, red meat cuts keep for three to five days.

Defrosting Meat in Water

Defrosting meat in water is a faster method than using the refrigerator, but it requires more attention. Three to four pounds of meat may take two to three hours to thaw, but a pound will usually do so in an hour or less. 

Here's how to defrost meat in water:

  • Step 1: Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water.
  • Step 2: Place the meat in a leak-proof bag and submerge it in the water to prevent any water from seeping into the meat. Make sure the water is covering the meat completely.
  • Step 3: Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. This will help the meat thaw more quickly and prevent it from reaching an unsafe temperature.
Defrosting Meat in Water

Defrosting Meat in the Microwave

Another quick method for defrosting meat is using the microwave. However, it's important to follow the instructions carefully to prevent the meat from partially cooking in the microwave. In the microwave, a 12-oz steak will typically thaw in 10 to 15 minutes.

Here's how to defrost meat in the microwave:

  • Step 1: Use the defrost setting on your microwave, if available. If not, use the lowest power setting.
  • Step 2: Place the meat on a microwave-safe plate and cover it loosely with a paper towel.
  • Step 3: Check the meat every few minutes and rotate it if needed. Larger pieces of meat may need to be turned over to ensure even defrosting.
Defrosting Meat in the Microwave

How Long Does It Take Meat to Thaw?

Here are some general guidelines for thawing times:

  • Refrigerator Thawing: 10 - 24 hours; 24 hours for every 5 pounds
  • Cold Water Thawing: 1 - 3 hours; 30 minutes per pound (Keep the water running as it thaws)
  • Microwave Thawing: 10 - 15 minutes; Rotate meat regularly to defrost evenly

Defrosting Different Types of Meat

The defrosting process may vary slightly depending on the type of meat you are thawing. Here are some tips for defrosting common types of meat:

How to Defrost Chicken

Chickens are at the highest risk of carrying bacteria like Campylobacter and Salmonella. Use these guidelines to safely thaw frozen chicken cuts to stop the spread of these pathogens:

  • In the refrigerator: In a bowl, move the chicken to the refrigerator 24 hours before you cook it.
  • In cold water: Put chicken in a leak-proof bag and submerge it in cold running water for 1 - 3 hours depending on the size.
  • In the microwave: Put chicken in a microwave-safe container and use the defrost cycle. This will take approximately 10 - 15 minutes. Clean and cook the chicken immediately after defrosting.

How to Thaw a Turkey

For a turkey, you must complete a thaw before frying to ensure a safe frying process. Here are some thawing techniques to make sure your turkey is ready to be cooked:

  • In the refrigerator: Give 24 hours for every 4 - 5 pounds of meat. A 16 lb. turkey will take about 4 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • In cold water: Place the turkey in a clean and sanitized sink, submerging it in cold running water. Give it 30 minutes of defrosting time for every pound. A 16 lb. turkey will need about 8 hours to thaw in cold water.
  • In the microwave: Put the turkey in the microwave and apply the defrost feature based on the bird’s weight. This will take about 6 minutes per pound. After that, you can cook the turkey immediately.

How to Defrost Fish

Fish should be gently defrosted because their meat is extremely delicate. For the safest and best results, use these thawing techniques:

  • In the refrigerator: For larger pieces of fish, move the fish to the refrigerator 24 hours before cooking. If shipped in a vacuumed-sealed pouch, leave the packaging in place until you are ready to cook the fish.
  • In cold water: In a plastic bag or vacuumed-sealed pouch, place the fish in cold running water for 20 - 30 minutes.
How to Defrost Fish

Tips for Safe Meat Defrosting

  • Always thaw meat in the refrigerator or using the cold water method. Never thaw at room temperature.
  • If using the microwave, make sure to cook the meat immediately after thawing.
  • Do not refreeze meat that has been thawed in the refrigerator.
  • Use a leak-proof bag when thawing meat in water to prevent bacteria from getting into the food.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure that the meat has reached a safe internal temperature.


Can You Cook Meat from Frozen?

In some cases, it is safe to cook meat from frozen. However, it will take longer to cook and may result in uneven cooking. It is best to thaw meat before cooking.

Can You Defrost Meat in Hot Water?

No, it is not safe to defrost meat in hot water as it can cause bacteria to grow quickly. Always use cold water for thawing.

Can You Leave Meat Out to Thaw?

No, it is not safe to leave meat out at room temperature to thaw. This can cause bacteria to grow and potentially lead to foodborne illnesses.


In conclusion, defrosting meat safely is an important step in cooking. By following these tips and techniques, you can ensure that your meat is thawed properly and ready to be cooked to perfection.

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