Stocking up on meats when they’re on sale at the grocery store and then freezing them for later is a great technique for saving money. That is, until you pull out a frozen steak and discover it has freezer burn because it wasn’t properly wrapped, has been in the freezer too long, or both.
The good news is that freezer burn doesn’t have to derail your meal plans. Here’s what the experts say about eating meat with freezer burn, plus tips for reducing the chances of freezer burn in the first place.
Is It Safe to Eat Meat With Freezer Burn?
“In my opinion, it is safe to eat if the meat has been handled properly before freezing,” says Gill Boyd, a chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education who holds a ServSafe Manager Certification. “The meat should have been kept out of the temperature danger zone (41°F to 135°F) for no more than two hours before it was put in the freezer.”
If you know that the meat was properly handled, then freezer burn won’t be an issue, but the flavor may be different. If you’re not sure if the meat was properly handled, your best bet is to toss it to avoid taking any risks.
What Causes Freezer Burn?
Freezer burn occurs when there isn’t enough water in the meat. “Freezer burn is caused by water sublimation,” says Allie Echeverria, RD, modern home economics expert and ServSafe Certified. “The frozen water particles in foods turn to gas–skipping the liquid phase–and the meat becomes dehydrated.” When this occurs, meat can easily become tough and dry, which in turn influences the flavor, she explains. “Freezer burn changes the texture and taste of meats,” she says.
The amount of time the meat has been in the freezer can also trigger freezer burn. “Usually by the time it gets freezer burn, the meat has been frozen for a good amount of time,” says Boyd. How long is considered long? The answer may surprise you. “More than a month,” he says. The way the meat is packaged can influence the flavor, too. Boyd explains that if the meat is not sealed properly or if it’s wrapped in plastic, it can take on flavors of other foods in the freezer.
How to Prepare Freezer Burned Meat
“If you were going to use a piece of meat with freezer burn, you should use a larger cut and trim all access discolored portions,” says Executive Chef Norman Hunt of Nicholls State University Dining in Thibodaux, Louisiana. And you’ll likely want to prepare your dish in a distinct way so you don’t notice texture or flavor differences. “Braised and stewed meat dishes are better because the cooking time is longer, which will help tenderize the meat fibers,” says Boyd. “The ingredients in the dishes will impart flavors that can mask any off tastes that were in the meat from it being frozen.”
Avoiding Freezer Burn
Ideally, the best way to avoid freezer burn is to avoid it occurring at all.
Seal meat properly: The best way to avoid freezer burn is to properly store meat in a zip lock bag or vacuum seal the meat; vacuum sealing is the best because you are taking the oxygen out,” says Boyd. The meat should have as little contact with air as possible, so squeezing as much air out of the bag as you can and sealing (or vacuum sealing) is best.
Label packages: “It’s important that you label and date the outside of the package, as this will help you use the oldest meat in your freezer first,” says Boyd. “If unlabeled, you might be confused as to what type of meat it is or what cut it is.”