How to Defrost Ground Beef Safely

Learning how to defrost ground beef is essential for every home cook. Read through these three easy methods for the one that best fits your time frame.

Ground beef dinners like lasagna, burgers and casseroles are almost always in the dinner rotation. So, stocking up on ground beef when it’s on sale and freezing extra packages is a no-brainer. But, when it comes to defrosting and using that ground beef, things can be a little less clear. To help out, we’ll walk you through how to defrost ground beef, regardless of whether you have a day, an hour or five minutes.

Before we talk about defrosting ground beef, you should know how long ground beef can be kept in the freezer.

How to Defrost Ground Beef in the Fridge

If you have 24 hours, defrosting ground beef in the fridge is the way to go. The fridge is the best method for thawing ground beef because it works slowly to evenly defrost the meat. Plus, the fridge will keep your ground beef under 40°F, above which is the “danger zone” for bacteria growth.

To defrost ground beef in the fridge, place your beef in a bowl or zip-top bag and place it on the bottom shelf of your fridge. The bag or bowl will catch any condensation from leaking all over your fridge. After 24 hours, a pound of ground beef should be fully thawed and ready to cook. If you’re defrosting a larger or thicker package of ground beef, it might take a little longer than a day. The best way to defrost steak has a similar method and time frame, by the way.

How to Defrost Ground Beef in Water

Defrosting ground beef in water takes a fraction of the time it takes in the fridge, usually only about an hour. For this method, place your package of ground beef in a zip-top bag, push out as much air as you can and securely close the top. Then, place the bag of ground beef in a large bowl, covering it with cold water. You might want to place something heavy, like a bowl or plate, on top of the bag of beef to keep it under the water. Let the beef defrost for about an hour, being sure to change the water out when it warms, around the 30-minute mark.

Like with the fridge method, defrosting ground beef in water could take a little longer than an hour, depending on the weight and thickness of the package. Don’t try to rush the process by using warm or hot water; It will encourage bacteria growth and even start cooking parts of the ground beef. You should check to make sure you’re not making any of these other common food safety mistakes.

How to Defrost Ground Beef in the Microwave

While professional chefs avoid defrosting in the microwave, you can safely defrost ground beef in the microwave in just a few minutes. To do so, transfer the ground beef to a microwave-safe container and pop it in the microwave. Set your microwave to the defrost setting (or, change it to 40-50% power) and microwave the beef for 30 seconds. Flip the ground beef and continue to microwave in 20-30 second increments, flipping after each, until the beef is defrosted.

Since the microwave’s a much hotter method, your ground beef might start cooking a bit on the outside while the inside isn’t fully defrosted. This is perfectly safe, as long as you fully cook the ground beef immediately after it’s microwaved. If you prefer to not have any of your beef cooked in the microwave, you can always transfer and cook the meat in a skillet when it’s still a little frozen in the middle.

Common Questions for Defrosting Ground Beef

Are there ways I shouldn’t defrost ground beef?

Yes, there are methods you definitely shouldn’t use to defrost ground beef. The main method to skip is leaving frozen ground beef out on the counter. The reason goes back to that danger zone of 40°F-140°F.

Leaving ground beef, or any meat, out at room temperature can make bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses to grow and get you very sick. This doesn’t just happen with defrosted meat, either.

How long does defrosted ground beef last?

If you defrosted your ground beef in the fridge, it can be stored there, raw, for up to two days. Here’s how long other defrosted foods last in the fridge, including cooked ground beef.

However, ground beef that has been defrosted in water or the microwave should be cooked right away to prevent bacteria growth.

Can I refreeze defrosted ground beef?

No, we wouldn’t recommend it. While you can technically refreeze ground beef that’s been defrosted in the fridge (we can show you how to refreeze meat safely), it will affect the meat’s flavor and texture. Ground beef that’s been defrosted in water or the microwave should never be refrozen as it has gotten too close or entered the bacteria danger zone.

If you need to refreeze some or all of the ground beef you’ve defrosted, we recommend fully cooking the beef, allowing it to cool and then freezing it.

How do I use up defrosted ground beef?

There are a ton of recipes that call for ground beef. Our best ground beef recipes include chilis and soups, pastas, meatballs and much more. If you have an entire package of ground beef, you should browse our list of over 100 recipes that use up a pound of ground beef.

Extend foods’ shelf life and avoid freezer burn by reading our ultimate guide to freezing food.

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Caroline Stanko
As Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.