Cut back on waste, save on costs, and keep your sanity by freezing meat before it goes bad. And here’s another great benefit: freezing your meat can simplify your life for quick and easy meals later on. Here’s how it works for me.
One of my favorite ways to simplify cooking weeknight dinners is to plan and shop ahead. On Sundays I spend a little time browsing recipes and choosing the dishes I plan to make. Then I put together a shopping list that includes all of the ingredients I’ll need, and off I go to the grocery store.
As a result, I don’t need to make multiple trips to the store, and I don’t need to spend any more time during the week planning what to make.
But all of this planning creates a little hole of opportunity for waste.
If we decide to eat out one night, or my mom decides to surprise us with a picnic in the park (like she did this week), I have more food than I need and some of it may go bad. That defeats the purpose.
My solution is to freeze what I can – namely the most expensive fresh ingredient: meat. While some people are casual about freezing it – just throw it in a zip-lock freezer bag and into the freezer – it’s better to follow the right steps to ensure quality and avoid freezer burn. Here’s how:
- Don’t freeze meat in only its original store packaging – it allows air to pass through, drying out the meat and allowing freezer burn. Instead, add a second wrapping with heavy-duty freezer foil or a plastic freezer bag.
- Overstuffing your freezer all at once isn’t good. Any amount of food you freeze needs to be frozen within 24 hours. Stuffing too much room temperature or hot food in the freezer could extend the freezing process. And spread out the fresh items throughout the freezer so that everything freezes evenly. Once it’s frozen, you can pack the items however you want or need to.
- Never freeze stuffed meats. The stuffing can harbor bacteria that will grow once the food is thawed.
- Freezing meat for quick and easy meals is best done in meal-sized portions. Stores sell smaller-sized freezer bags for smaller items, such as quart-sized.
- Always label the outside of the wrapping with the date it was frozen, and the type of meat, if you can’t visually tell what kind of meat it is.
- You should thaw and eat red meats and pork within a year of freezing it, and eat poultry and ground meats within four months of the freeze date. Cooked meat that’s leftover and frozen should be eaten within six months of the date you froze it.
- The best way to thaw meat is by taking it from the freezer to the refrigerator at least 24 hours before you plan to cook it. This lets it thaw gradually. If you’re in a hurry, place the unwrapped meat in a bowl of lukewarm water under running water. Never let food thaw out on the counter – this is a major bacteria hazard!
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