Why you should stop defrosting meat in the microwave

You get home from work and realize you forgot to put your frozen hamburger in the fridge to defrost for the dinner you're about to make. Tossing any frozen, raw meat into your microwave and hitting the "defrost" button gets the job done, but is this the best way to defrost meat? Probably not. Here's why you should probably stop defrosting meat in the microwave — and if you decide to do it anyway, how to safely do it.

The USDA says that yes, you can defrost meat in the microwave, but it's not necessarily the best way to do so, and there are multiple caveats you must keep in mind before jabbing that defrost button. The main problem is that the microwave brings the raw food into the so-called "danger zone" temp, which is anywhere between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 

While you do want to actually cook your food at high temps, if your defrosted meat hangs out in the danger zone for too long, any bacteria loitering within can start to multiply rapidly. This means the meat now has the potential to be dangerous to the health of anyone who consumes it. 

To combat this, the meat must be cooked immediately after microwave defrosting. Don't let it sit in your microwave for a half hour while you chop veggies, or loaf around in a pan on the stove for 15 minutes before you actually turn the burner on. 

For the best, safest results, however, the USDA says that thawing in a refrigerator is the way to go. Even something as small as a pound of ground beef takes about a full 24 hours to thaw in the fridge, though, which means that if you come home from work and realize you didn't do this, you'll have to try another method.

The next best method that doesn't take nearly the amount of time as refrigerator thawing is cold-water thawing. If your meat is in a leak-proof container, you can submerge the whole thing in cold tap water, which must be changed every 30 minutes until the package is thawed out. 

Typically, cold-water thawing takes about an hour per pound of meat, making this a viable alternative if you're making tacos and just need a pound of ground beef. If you have more meat to thaw, though, or just don't have one hour to wait, you can use the microwave method, but be sure you cook it immediately once the microwave beeps. 

The USDA also notes that you can cook food from a frozen state — it will just take about 50 percent longer than it would if it was raw. 

There are several places you should never "thaw" red meat: on your kitchen counter, in the garage, out in your car, in the dishwasher, on the porch, or outside. 

While you technically can defrost meat in the microwave, do you really want partially cooked, potentially bacteria-ridden ground beef going into your tacos? This is definitely a time where "just because you can, doesn't mean you should" comes into play. Your tacos will thank you.