How To Defrost Meat Quickly

New scientific studies have found that it is safe to thaw meat in hot water. Find out how to defrost meat quickly and safely using hot water below.

New scientific studies have found that it is safe to thaw meat in hot water. Find out how to defrost meat quickly and safely using hot water below.

Do you know what you want to have for supper the day before? Or even the morning of? I rarely do.

I try to plan meals for the week (I’ve even tried doing it for the month!) but I rarely stick to the plan. But while I know I’m not good at meal-planning ahead of time, I’m also not one of those people who can just stop into the grocery store every day and grab some things for dinner that night.

Which is why I was so excited to hear Harold McGee, author of Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, telling Lynne Rosetto Kasper on The Splendid Table that recent scientific studies have found a new way to defrost meat safely and quickly. As some of us may have already found, relying on the microwave can be tricky. It can do things really unevenly.

For me, this means that I don’t have to plan as far ahead. I can have some chicken breasts, thighs, sausages, steaks and pork chops in the freezer and then defrost them quickly right before I’m ready to cook. I also found a few ways to cook steak, chicken breasts, fish, and shrimp from their frozen state and that works well, too.

However, I’ve tried this new technique several times and I’m now ready to tell you how to thaw meat quickly and safely in hot water.

How to Thaw Meat Quickly and Safely in Hot Water

  1. When you bring your meat home from the grocery store, transfer it into 1 gallon freezer-safe sealable bags. Four chicken breasts per bag, 2 steaks or large chops per bag. Lay the bags flat in the freezer and spread the pieces of meat out so that they not touching. Once they’re frozen you can stack the bags upright or however you want. The key here is that you want each piece of meat to have as much room around it as possible so that the heat of the water will reach it easily. If the meat freezes together into a clump of pieces, it won’t defrost quickly enough and that isn’t safe.
  2. Fill a large pot (think big stock pot) with your hottest tap water. Full. You want lots of water here, lots more hot water than icy meat so that the temperature won’t drop too much when the two meet up.
  3. Add 1 or 2  ziplock bags of frozen meat. Put something on top of the meat to weigh it down (a plate or large serving spoon work).
  4. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
  5. Return to the pot and give it a stir every few minutes so that the water stays at an even temperature and is not cooler next to the meat. When your timer goes off, your meat should be defrosted. Cook it immediately or refrigerate it until you’re ready to cook.


This method only works for small cuts of meat like steaks, chops and chicken pieces (including breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings). It is not safe to use this method for larger cuts of meat like roasts. The idea is that the meat is in hot water for such a short time that bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow. If the cut of meat were larger and required more time in the hot water, then bacteria would have a chance to begin growing and the method ceases to be safe. Furthermore, there is always a risk of contracting or consuming bacteria when you eat meat and poultry. I am not responsible for any illness or sickness you may contract from meat or poultry defrosted using this method or any other method. Handle meat and poultry with care and always consult a reputable source to find the safe temperatures to which the meat or poultry you are cooking needs to reach before eating.

Do you have a tip for getting dinner on the table quickly? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.

*Click here to read/listen to what McGee has to say about how to thaw meat quickly. Click here to see the abstract of the study about thawing meat in hot water from the Journal of Food Science.

This post originally appeared in July 2013. It was revised and republished in September 2018.
How To Defrost Meat Quickly

5 responses to “How To Defrost Meat Quickly”

  1. Marx says:

    In my experience, 1 gallon freezer-safe sealable bags leak and saturate the meat with water when I try this defrosting method. However, If I clip the seal part of the bag to the pot’s lip, then there is very little leakage. Vacuum sealed bags do not leak.

  2. […] Read all about this defrosting technique and safety over here. […]

  3. lb says:

    Me too! Who has time to plan ahead? Thanks for the great tip!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      You’re welcome! Being able to defrost meat this way has totally changed my life. I love being able to make more spur-of-the-moment decisions about dinner.

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