Ground beef is a weeknight staple at my house. I use it for quick and easy meals like loaded ground beef quesadillas and ground beef bulgogi. Not only is ground beef great for quick weeknight meals, it also freezes well, helping to avoid food waste if your dinner plans change.
Ground beef can safely be cooked from frozen but will take twice as long, plus it can’t be shaped into hamburgers or meatballs, so I prefer to defrost beforehand. When thawing ground beef, the USDA guidelines specify that it’s important to keep ground beef cold in order to avoid food-borne illnesses—bacteria can grow in the “danger zone” of 40 and 140°F. Each of the methods below keep the thawing meat colder than 40°F to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Whether you have 24 hours or 5 minutes, we have a method for thawing ground beef that will work for you. I tested the methods listed below and include the pros and cons of each as well as step-by-step instructions.
How to Thaw Ground Beef In the Refrigerator
My #1 recommended for thawing ground beef is in the refrigerator. All you need to do is take the ground beef out of the freezer 24 hours before you want to use it and move it to the refrigerator. That’s it! After thawing, it needs to be cooked within two days. If plans change (as they so often do), it’s okay to put the thawed ground beef back in the freezer.
- Pros: Other than inactive time, this method is the least hassle and most flexible, especially since you can use it a day or two later or refreeze it.
- Cons: You need to plan ahead and have the ground beef in the refrigerator the day before to ensure that it has enough time to properly thaw.
How to Thaw Ground Beef In a Cold Water Bath
1 to 2 hours
For the cold water bath method, you’ll need a pan or bowl large enough for the package of ground beef to be completely submerged. Fill the container with cold water. Ensure the ground beef is in leak-proof packaging, then submerge it in the cold water.
I used a 9×13 pan and place a glass bowl on top to keep the package from floating. Set a 30-minute timer. When the timer is finished, press on the ground beef and see if it’s thawed. If it’s still hard, pour out the water and add fresh cold water. Set another 30-minute timer and repeat the process. During my test, half of the ground beef was thawed in 1 hour and it was fully thawed in 2 hours.
It’s possible to cook partially thawed ground beef, so you can go ahead and use this method even if you don’t have the full amount of time. Any amount of thawing will make cooking easier.
- Pros: This method comes in handy when you don’t have time for the refrigerator method but want evenly thawed beef. It takes minimal hands-on time.
- Cons: You do need to set a timer and be available to switch out the water. The cold water bath method requires immediate cooking and unlike the refrigerator method, the ground beef can not be placed back in the refrigerator or refrozen without cooking it first.
How to Thaw Ground Beef In the Microwave
3 to 5 minutes
The quickest method by far is the microwave. To defrost, remove the ground beef from the packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate that is large enough to catch any liquid. The USDA recommends checking your microwave’s instructions for defrosting; some microwaves have a defrost button. Set the number of pounds and follow the instructions. Usually, it takes about 5 minutes and will need to be flipped halfway through.
If you don’t have a defrost button, simulate one by setting the power at 50% and cooking for 1 minute at a time. Flip the ground beef and cook at 50% power for another minute. Continue microwaving and flipping each minute until completely thawed. Mine was completely thawed after 4 minutes.
- Pros: Using the microwave method to defrost ground beef is the fastest method, period!
- Cons: It also requires the most active participation. Removing packaging from frozen ground beef can be challenging and I didn’t enjoy flipping the ground beef each minute. There is a chance that the beef will defrost unevenly and parts will be slightly cooked by the time the whole pound is defrosted. Once thawed, the ground beef needs to be cooked immediately and can not be placed back in the refrigerator or refrozen unless cooked.
Methods to Avoid
Remember that ground beef needs to stay out of the “danger zone” (40 and 140°F). Because the ground beef will be warmer than 40°F, avoid soaking in hot water or leaving it on the counter to thaw. These methods do not maintain a safe temperature throughout the thawing process and can lead to the growth of bacteria.