How to Quickly Thaw Meat

If the only thing standing between you and a hot meal is a hunk of frozen chicken, try one of these techniques.

You can store meat in the freezer for up to a year. But what's the safest way to defrost it? According to the USDA, that would be in the refrigerator "where it will remain at a safe, constant temperature — at 40 °F or below."

But what if you fail to plan ahead and move it from the freezer to the fridge? What if you need to get dinner started right now, and you're looking at a frozen hunk of beef or chicken? There are two safe ways to go about defrosting it: thawing in a bowl of cold water and thawing in the microwave.

How to Thaw Meat in a Bowl of Cold Water

This quick-thaw method, preferred by the Real Simple test kitchen, is the gentlest technique and takes 15 to 30 minutes for about a pound of meat. If you are thawing a whole turkey, it will obviously take much longer. In that case, estimate about 30 minutes per pound.

Step 1: Fill a Bowl With Water

Fill a large bowl with cold tap water (resist the temptation to use hot, or you'll encourage the growth of bacteria and "cook" the outside of the meat).

Step 2: Place Meat in a Sealed Bag and Then in the Bowl

Place the meat in a resealable plastic bag (that doesn't leak) and fully submerge it in the water.

Step 3: Let Sit

Let sit, changing the water with fresh cold water about every 20 to 30 minutes as it warms. Once the pieces are defrosted enough to be separated, pull them apart. (The rest of the thawing will go more quickly.) Continue until the meat is fully thawed.

How to Thaw Meat in the Microwave

This method is fast, averaging 5 to 10 minutes, but requires attention. Otherwise, you'll risk sliding into semi-cooked territory, and your dinner will be tough and stringy.

Step 1: Remove Meat From Packaging

Read the package to identify the weight, then remove it. Place your meat in a microwave-safe dish.

Step 2: Set Microwave to Defrost

Use the microwave's defrost setting or 20-30% power. You may need to consult the owner's manual to find out the code for the type of meat you're thawing and its weight.

Step 3: Keep an Eye on It While Cooking

Check the progress of the food periodically and remove it as soon as it's defrosted. For best results, position thinner portions of meat in the center of the microwave, where they're less likely to overcook.

Step 4: Use Meat Immediately

To prevent the growth of bacteria, cook all meat immediately after thawing. Quick defrosting works best with small- to medium-sized pieces of meat, such as chicken parts, steaks, and chops. Larger items should be thawed in the refrigerator over the course of a day or so.

How Not to Thaw Meat

A typical method of defrosting meat is to leave it out on the kitchen counter, but this is actually dangerous. You are risking bacterial growth and potentially rendering your meat unsafe to eat.

And while it may seem like a good idea when you're in a hurry, never, ever leave defrosting meat on a warm porch or patio.

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