How to Thaw Meat Fast

Vacuum sealed frozen cut of beef

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Did you forget to take meat out of the freezer for tonight's dinner? Or do you have a Thanksgiving turkey that didn't thaw out on time? Use one of these tricks to thaw your meat quickly while still keeping it safe for you, your family and guests to eat. Since it's too late for the safest method of thawing, slowly in the refrigerator at a constant temperature, these are the next safest methods.

dos and don't of thawing meat
Illustration: Alex Dos Diaz. © The Spruce, 2019

Cold Water Meat Thawing Method

This method works best for small cuts of meat such as steaks, chicken breasts, ground beef, pork loin, etc. rather than for whole birds and large roasts. Remove the meat from its packaging, and place it in a clean plastic zip lock bag, pressing out as much air as possible (otherwise, it will float and not thaw as fast).

Then, submerge the bag in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, until the meat has thawed. A pound of meat will often thaw in 30 minutes using this method, but shouldn't take more than an hour. To speed the process along, separate the individual pieces or cuts of meat as soon as they've thawed out enough to pull them apart. If you are thawing more than a pound of meat, you can also hurry things along by dividing the meat up between multiple bowls of cold water, or separate sides of a divided sink.

Microwave Meat Thawing Method

Use the defrost setting on your microwave (50% power) to thaw your meat in a matter of minutes. Most microwaves allow you to enter how many pounds of meat you need to thaw, and will automatically calculate the recommended defrost time for you. Just keep a close eye on things because defrosting can quickly cross over to cooking. You may need to interrupt it reposition the meat to get more even thawing.

Cooking Meat Without Thawing

If you have a whole turkey, chicken, ham, or roast that you need to get on the table post haste, your best bet is to cook it from a frozen state. It's perfectly safe to cook frozen meat, but it will take about 50% longer. That's a pretty good deal when you consider that it typically takes two days to thaw out a 10-pound bird in the fridge! Just use a meat thermometer to determine when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature. Here's what you're aiming for:

  • Chicken: 165 F
  • Turkey: 165 F
  • Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb: 145 F
  • Ground Meat: 160 F
  • Cooked Ham: 140 F
  • Uncooked Ham: 165 F

*All recommendations are based on current USDA guidelines.

Do Not Use These Thawing Methods

Never thaw your meat at room temperature or in a cool area such as outdoors, in the garage or basement. Those conditions can allow bacteria to multiply, resulting in food poisoning.

Bacteria that can cause food poisoning will begin to multiply on meat that it above refrigerator temperature. It is the cold temperature that keeps them from growing. You don't want your meal or feast to result in misery, or even worse. Practice safe thawing methods.