How To Defrost Ground Beef

Ground beef is pretty much a staple in American households. It's especially useful for weeknight dinners when we all need something quick to cook up. Ground beef always fits the bill perfectly. Whether you're thinking spaghetti sauce, burgers, tacos, or more, you can have a perfect ground beef recipe ready fast. That is, if your ground beef is defrosted. However, if you haven't done that yet, we've got your back!

There are two easy and safe ways to defrost ground beef to keep your family full and happy. Neither of these is a quick fix, though! Option one, thawing a package of frozen ground beef in cold water, takes anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. Meanwhile, option two, thawing it in the refrigerator, is an overnight process. 

Don't take shortcuts, though. Thawing ground beef on the counter at room temperature promotes bacterial growth. And though thawing ground beef in the microwave is pretty common, we don't recommend it because it could begin to cook.

How should you freeze ground meat, anyway? Whenever you're freezing raw meat, make sure it is sealed tight in its packaging. You can repackage your ground raw meat in a sealable freezer bag. Be sure you get all the air out of the bag and remember to write the date on the bag with a permanent marker.

After removing your ground beef from the freezer and thawing, remove the packaging. At this point, your ground beef should not smell, be brown in color, or feel slimy. Any of these indicate your ground beef has gone bad. If your thawed ground beef is browner in color on the inside, don't worry. This is natural because of the lack of exposure to oxygen while freezing.

Thaw frozen ground beef in cold water

Yes, this step is really just as easy as it sounds! To thaw your frozen ground beef in water, just take the package of beef out of the freezer and place it in a bowl of cold water. Make sure your package of ground beef is fully submerged. If it is floating up towards the top, simply put a bowl or mug on top of the ground beef to weigh it down into the water. Fully submerged ground beef will typically defrost in 15 to 30 minutes. If you're defrosting a rather thick chunk of ground beef, plan on this step taking up to an hour. Better yet, if you have the time, consider thawing especially large packages of frozen ground beef overnight in the fridge, described next.

On that note, if you'd like to make your life easier from the get-go, you can also repackage your thicker chunks of ground beef in a freezer bag and use a rolling pin to flatten them out. Then remove all the air and seal the bag. Flattened ground beef will not only defrost faster but will stack better in your freezer and take up less space overall.

Once everything's properly warmed up, get ready to make your meal as soon as you can. Ground beef thawed in cold water should be cooked immediately, to ensure that any bacteria that may have popped up is killed via thorough cooking.

Thaw ground beef in the refrigerator overnight

The second way to thaw your ground beef is by placing it on a plate or in a bowl and simply putting it in your refrigerator overnight, as you can do for other meats. Alternatively, you could also pop it in your fridge before leaving for work in the morning. It should be ready by the time dinner prep rolls around in the evening. 

Defrosting ground beef with this method typically takes close to eight hours, so you'll need plenty of time for this method. That said, this admittedly time-consuming thawing technique comes with some pretty useful benefits. Though it's the slowest way to defrost ground beef, since it is refrigerated the entire time, there is little to no room for bacteria to grow on and in the ground beef. Of course, please remember to cook the ground meat thoroughly anyway, just to be on the safe side. Both the USDA and the CDC recommend a minimum internal temperature of 160° F for ground beef. 

This method has another benefit too when it comes to timing, surprisingly enough. Because the meat has been refrigerated the entire time it's been thawing, you don't have to cook this particular ground beef right away. In fact, it can sit in the refrigerator for one to two days before cooking, lending some serious flexibility to your meal planning schedule. If you can plan a little bit ahead, this is a terrific way to defrost frozen ground beef.

How To Defrost Ground Beef
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Ground beef is often a staple in American households, but how can you freeze and defrost it safely? Here's how to defrost frozen ground beef the right way.
Prep Time
Cook Time
frozen ground beef in cold water covered with bowl
Total time: 15 minutes
  • 1 pound frozen ground beef
  • Bowl or plate
Optional Ingredients
  • Water
  1. To thaw frozen ground beef in water: Place ground beef in a bowl with cold water making sure it is fully submerged. Let sit until thawed, usually 15 to 30 minutes. Cook immediately.
  2. To thaw frozen ground beef overnight: Place ground beef on a plate or in a bowl. Put it in the refrigerator for at least eight hours. Cook within one to two days of defrosting.
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