You have a few options, and the one you choose will ultimately come down to how much time you have.

By Alyssa Langer RDN
July 14, 2021

It's happened to all of us: It's 5 p.m. and you just realize you forgot to defrost the ground beef you need for tonight's dinner. There's no need to panic, though. The good news is that there are several simple solutions for defrosting frozen ground beef that will help you get the meaty meal on the table quickly and safely.

Perhaps best of all, there are a variety of different defrosting methods you can choose simply based on how much time you have before you need to start cooking. If you have plenty of time, the USDA recommends thawing ground beef in the refrigerator; this is the ideal scenario because "keeping meat cold while it is defrosting is essential to prevent the growth of bacteria." Once thawed, the USDA advises cooking or refreezing the beef within one to two days.

cheeseburger with lettuce onion tomato
Credit: Pat LaFrieda

How to Defrost Frozen Ground Beef When You're Crunch for Time

If you're pressed for time and the aforementioned scenario is all too familiar to you, rest assured there are other options than waiting for ground beef to defrost in the refrigerator. One alternative method done in the microwave. Just remember that if you go this route, you will need to cook the beef right away, as some of the meat may actually start cooking during the defrost, the USDA warns.

If you have a little time to spare (but not enough time to defrost in the refrigerator), you can defrost your ground beef in cold water; simply place the meat in a plastic bag (ensuring it's watertight) and fully submerge it in a bowl of cold water. Every 30 minutes, change the water (set an alarm so you don't forget!). Once thawed, cook it immediately.

If you use either the microwave or cold water method, the USDA advises you do not refreeze the beef until you've fully cooked it.

A Polite Reminder

Keep in mind this general food safety rule: The USDA advises never leaving any perishable food (including ground beef) out at room temperature for over two hours (or one hour at 90°F and above). And if you're curious if that ground beef that you stashed in your freezer some months ago is safe to eat, we have some good news: Ground beef is actually safe indefinitely if kept frozen, according to the USDA, but it will lose quality over time. They recommend using it within four months for best quality. An easy way to keep track? Mark packages with the date they were placed in the freezer so you can keep track of storage times.


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