Find out how to defrost ground beef on your schedule with four different methods.
Need to thaw ground beef but aren’t sure what the best method is? A lot of it depends on how much time you have! Don’t just leave it sitting on the counter though, keep reading to find out safe methods for defrosting.
Preparing For The Freezer
While this step isn’t required, it is helpful and can save time. When you bring your ground beef home from the store, try to remember to remove it from the Styrofoam and toss the moisture pad from underneath. It’s best to freeze the meat in a zip-top freezer bag in the amounts that you’ll want to use it. That extra packaging often freezes onto the meat and prevents that side from defrosting as easily, so removing it ahead of time puts you at an advantage when you’re ready to thaw it out.
Defrost In The Fridge
Defrosting ground beef in the refrigerator takes the longest but is the safest, and it results in evenly defrosted meat. This method is hands-off and it doesn’t matter what kind of packaging the meat is in.
With the ground beef still in your zip-top bag or in its original packaging, remove it from the freezer and put it on a big dinner plate or food storage container and into the fridge. The plate is just to make sure no condensation or drips get on anything else in your fridge.
This method can take up to 24 hours for a pound of beef, but once you move it to the fridge, you don’t have to think about it again until you’re ready to cook.
When I’m planning ahead, this is my favorite method because it’s so hands off.
Defrost In Cold Water
Defrosting ground beef in cold tap water is the second slowest method, and it also results in evenly defrosted meat. This method is mostly hands-off. It works best if the meat no longer has its original packaging and has been transferred to a zip-top bag.
To defrost ground beef in cold water, the ground beef needs to be in a securely sealed zip-top bag, whether the meat is still in the original packaging or not. This is so that no water gets to the beef. So start by putting the meat (or the meat and its packaging if the packaging is frozen to it) in a zip-top bag, if it isn’t already.
Fill your kitchen sink or a large bowl with cold water and add the meat in its bag. If the original packaging was frozen to the meat, you can open the zip-top bag periodically to see if you’re able to remove the frozen packaging. Once you do, the temperature of the water can get closer to the meat and it will defrost more quickly.
This defrosting method takes about an hour for a pound of ground beef, so it requires a little bit of thinking ahead. It is hands off if you don’t have to worry about the packaging.
Defrost In The Microwave
Defrosting ground beef in the microwave is the quickest way to go but it is not hands off and it doesn’t defrost the meat evenly.
While defrosting in the microwave is the quickest of the methods, it’s not my favorite. The reason I don’t like this method is because the meat along the outside edges defrosts sooner than the middle, and then those edges start cooking.
The way that I’ve adjusted for this is to only microwave for a minute at a time and then I scrape off any meat that has defrosted and put it onto another plate outside the microwave. You can also break up the meat a bit in the middle as it defrosts to help it along.
You definitely don’t want to just stick it in the microwave and leave it going in there because it won’t defrost evenly and parts of it will start cooking.
The microwave method does take monitoring, but it can get you working on dinner in about 15 minutes for a pound of beef, even if you just took the meat out of the freezer.
Defrost in Hot Water
Defrosting ground beef in hot water is the second quickest method, it is mostly hands off, and it defrosts the meat fairly evenly (or, at least, it doesn’t cook any of the meat while other parts are still frozen). This is totally my favorite method!
While historically frowned upon, recent studies have found that it is safe to defrost meat in hot water if we follow certain rules. This method can only be used with smaller amounts of meat, so that it only takes a short amount of time and there’s not a risk of the growth of harmful bacteria. For ground beef, 1 to 1 and 1/3 pounds as it comes packaged is fine. If you buy a bigger package of meat, package them into one pound packets before freezing, if you’re planning to use this method.
To defrost in hot water, you’ll fill your sink or a large pot with hot tap water. Sealed in a zip-top bag, submerge the ground beef into the water. It can be helpful to use a heavy plate or pot to keep it submerged and surrounded by water. Every 5 minutes or so, check on the meat and break it up some. (Unlike with the microwave, you don’t need to remove any.) Within 30 minutes, you’ll have defrosted ground beef ready to go!
You should cook ground beef that is defrosted using this method immediately.
Using Ground Beef
Short Podcast Episode Explaining How To Thaw Meat Quickly
Click the play button below to hear me explain briefly how to defrost meat. For more episodes of the Recipe of the Day podcast, head over here.Print
Learn the safe way to defrost ground beef in hot water.
- 1 to 1 and 1/3 lb. frozen ground beef
- Fill your sink or a large pot with hot tap water.
- Sealed in a secure ziplock bag, submerge the ground beef into the water. Top with a heavy plate or something similar to keep it submerged and surrounded by water.
- Every 5 minutes or so, check on the meat and break it up some. (Unlike with the microwave, you don’t need to remove any.)
- Within 30 minutes, you’ll have defrosted ground beef ready to be made into a delicious meal.
- Cook the defrosted ground beef immediately.
*For the scientific research from the Journal of Food Science on defrosting meat in hot water, read more here.
This post originally appeared in May 2020 and was revised and republished in August 2022.