Can you refreeze meat? Is thawing and refreezing meat ever okay? The minute some of you start reading this, I know what you are thinking.
You can’t DO that, Marie. It’s not safe. It’s not … well, it’s just not ALLOWED.
Everyone knows this. I asked a half dozen people I know about food refreezing, and they all nodded sagely and agreed – it is absolutely not safe to refreeze meat. Heads nodded emphatically. It’s a food safety issue, everyone said. You can’t do it.
But how to preserve large amounts of already frozen meat when you do not have a pressure canner?
Is there a safe way to thaw and refreeze meat? Without pesky little food safety concerns like everyone in the family dying …
A reader asked me how to deal with an already frozen whole deer leg when she doesn’t have a pressure canner or even any large pots. She figured that she would need to thaw it out in order to cut it up, but
“Marie, can you refreeze meat? I don’t think it’s safe!”
Is there any solution at all?
Of course there is.
The answer to to “can you refreeze meat?” is …. sometimes. And yes, you’ll still need to worry about food safety.
Keep It Frozen
While it’s not a perfect solution – eventually you’re going to have to thaw it and eat it – the truth is that keeping a large chunk of meat, poultry or fish frozen – like a whole, frozen leg of venison – until you have everything gathered and prepped means that it’s safely preserved.
Just leave it as it is until you’re ready, and then you don’t have to worry about refreezing it.
In the winter, that can even mean storing it in a plastic bin outside if you don’t have a chest freezer.
Yes – that’s safe, as long as it’s a clean, animal-safe container and the temperatures stay cold enough. When we were living without a fridge off-grid, we stored meat outside all the time.
Find a Butcher
Butchers have wonderful equipment that allows them to cut right through bone and frozen meat. This lets you deal with that giant cut of deer meat without having to worry about refreezing it.
If you can find a butcher who will do it for you, have the wide part of the leg cut up into steaks, or cut the leg into two roasts. The top one will be more tender than the lower one. Either pot roast it with low, moist heat, cut it into stew meat, or grind it up.
Or maybe it’s a turkey you’re trying to deal with. They can cut those up, too. No more excuses for not buying the huge turkey that’s on sale!
Cut It Up and Re-freeze
Yes, you can.
I promise I would never lie to you about this. It is perfectly safe to refreeze thawed meat as long as it was thawed properly and recently.
Here’s something to keep in mind.
If the meat in question was bought at a grocery store, it has probably already been frozen and thawed between slaughter and purchase. I remember finding that out, many years ago, from a butcher. It is actually rare to find “never been frozen” meat at the grocery.
Therefore most people are already thawing and refreezing meat – or at least refreezing thawed meat.
If the meat in question is game, or has been slaughtered locally, you can likely find out if it has been frozen and thawed. If it hasn’t, then you are only thawing/refreezing once.
Defrost the meat in the refrigerator – NOT in cold water or in a microwave and most certainly not at room temperature – and cut it off the bone as soon as it is thawed enough.
Raw meat is easier to cut if it is still partially frozen, which is best if you plan to refreeze the meat. If you have a pot big enough for the bone, definitely make broth.
Otherwise, make someone’s dog very happy.
Repackage the meat in smaller amounts and wrap carefully for freezer storage. The lower on the leg you go, the tougher the meat will be.
I find that stew beef chunks are very versatile. This is a great opportunity to add marinades to the bags.
Gimme Some Marinades
Okay, here are three good ones. Just mix up enough to gently coat your meat, toss it back into the bag and pop it in the freezer. When you want to cook, don’t even thaw – just dump it into the crockpot or roasting pan and cook it low until done.
Once you have the idea of how this works, have fun. Barbecue sauce is good on its own, as is Italian salad dressing.
Lemon and Garlic – mix 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and some pepper.
Mustard and Garlic – mix 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 3 tablespoons mustard (Dijon is nice!), 2 tablespoons lemon juice.
Rosy Sauce – This is really easy. Mix 1 part cranberry sauce and 2 parts tomato sauce. It tastes amazingly good for such simple ingredients. And yes, I’ve frozen it, so I know first hand that it works.
Cut It Up, Cook and Refreeze
It is safe to freeze cooked meat that was previously frozen. That is, once you thaw and cook meat, you CAN safely freeze it again.
In fact, if you have thawed it in cold water or in the microwave, you really must cook it before freezing it again. Harmful bacteria has been allowed to grow at this point and it must be destroyed.
And don’t ask about thawing it on the counter because that’s just a recipe for disaster. You might have thawed food on the counter before now, but you’re really playing Russian Roulette. It’s not safe, especially, oh, most especially for ground meat! I’m surprised at the times I’ve seen people thawing ground beef or chicken or pork on the counter.
Don’t do it.
Food can be safely thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave, but NOT on the counter.
You might like:
Living Without a Fridge and What You Can Learn
Some tips when buying meat in bulk
Pressure Canning Meat For Food Storage
Concerns About Re-Freezing
There’s actually a valid reason behind the myth that frozen meat can’t be thawed and refrozen.
That’s because bacteria can start growing on your meat when you thaw it. And if you thaw and refreeze and thaw again, the theory is that you have even more bacteria.
But the USDA, who always errs on the side of caution, has clearly stated that it is safe as long as you thaw the meat properly.
So don’t thaw your meat on the counter where it can grow bacteria, and don’t let it sit around until it starts to go green.
Do not allow frozen food to become warmer than 40F/4C unless it is being cooked. That’s very important. (And remember, no more than two hours in the danger zone of 41F/5C – 140F/60C .) Do not ever, ever refreeze foods that have developed a bad odor or have become slimy (particularly poultry, pork and lamb).
And if you have any doubts about the safety of the food, toss it. Nothing is worth food poisoning.
Can I refreeze Seafood?
There’s that very notable exception. Please do not thaw and refreeze seafood. It spoils far too quickly.
How Long Do I Have?
If the frozen meat is properly thawed and then kept at refrigerator temperatures (that is, less than 40F or 4C), you can expect to keep ground red meat, stew meat or defrosted chicken for two days, and bigger cuts like roasts, chops and steaks for three to five days after thawing.
After The Second Freeze
Make a note on any refrozen foods “Use as soon as thawed”.
When you remove your repackaged meat from the freezer, treat it as extra-perishable. Cook it immediately. Use it up completely within twenty-four hours. This means packaging it in portions that will produce few leftovers. Thawing and refreezing meat, while safe when done correctly, does decrease the usable life of the food.
And then go get a pressure canner. 😀