To Freeze or Not To Freeze Meat - Every Thing You Need To Know
I have bought more delicious, custom-cut, responsibly raised meat than I can eat this week from my favourite neighbourhood butcher. Do I take the risk of it going bad, or can I put it in the freezer and hope for the best?
Always know your enemy
First thing firsts, you have to know what attracts that pesky boogieman of the icebox, freezer burn. Freezer burn occurs when meat surface moisture sublimates. Okay, that is a fancy way of saying turns from a solid, into a gas.
As a frozen, piece of meat loses its moisture, the meat gets discoloured and dry, creating microscopic pockets that cause chalky, hard texture and off-flavours. You cannot stop freezer burn; it is one of those pesky laws of physics. But you can slow it down, there is 5 freezer do’s and don’ts to make sure your preserve your meats as best as possible.
Freeze Fresh Eats
This might look obvious, but even my mother froze her meat the day before expiration, rather than the day she bought it. A freezer or refrigerator is not a time machine. If you freeze ground beef that is about to go bad, chances are you’ll have rotten meat when it is thawed.
Freeze fresh meat for the best outcomes, not those about to spoil. The sooner they go into the freezer, the fresher they come out.
Undress meat and towel it down
We have got to ensure our meat is dry before it heads into the freezer. The issue is meat, wrapped up in paper – or any other grocery store wrapping – starts to sweat the moment it leaves the shop, particularly if left unrefrigerated during transport.
Unwrap meat when you get home and inspect for moisture. Sop up any puddles and pat the meat dry with a paper towel or cheesecloth. Do this again just before freezing to keep away the burn.
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Wrap It Up
Now that we have got the moisture out, you’ve to account for air, specifically oxygen. We want as little as possible. Large pockets or voids are exactly where the freezer burn boogieman loves to lurk. The key here is to have 2 layers – preferably of different materials – and as little air as possible.
Here are some options to consider:
- Vacuum Sealer – Freezer junkies might want to consider a vacuum sealer or Cryovac machine. They work well, but are expensive, particularly the bags – and become yet another appliance sitting on your counter.
- Plastic wrap and zip top – This is my go-to method. Wrap in plastic then plop it into a zip-top. It is so cheap, simple to perform, and extremely efficient, though, not the most eco-friendly. Wash and reuse those bags if you want to save a turtle.
- Butcher or foil paper – Butcher or foil paper are fine freezer layers and may be more eco-friendly, but they are brittle, and less durable than plastic. I tend to avoid these options. Check frequently for tears if you go this way.
Date that Bag and Flip it!
First in first out is one of the primal rules of butchery. It is also one of the most forgotten laws when freezing. If your memory is as bad as mine, you have got a get out that Sharpie and date and label every meat item that you put in your freezer.
Trust me! You are going to forget, and the reality is, freezer burn will affect even the correctly wrapped meats after 6 to 12 months. Stack meats with the oldest up front and organize them monthly.
Know Your Freezer
For the best outcomes, know your equipment. If your freezer is not cold enough to start, your meat will start to sweat again while waiting to freeze.
Set your freezer to -17 degrees Celsius to minimise any cold sweats.
Also, keep meats away from the freezer door and keep them closer to the blower.
Finally, try not to open or close your machine too often. There you have it – 5 easy steps to freezer success.
How long can I freeze?
The short answer is always or at least thousands of years. Just ask these guys who recently thawed a whole rhino in Russia after 25 thousand years. But I would not eat the meat. Well, maybe I would. Regardless, there are tradeoffs. I say 3 to 4 months or assume some freezer burn. Take your pick.
It’s still freezer burned! What do I do now?
If you do get freezer burn on your meat, it is more unpleasant than it’s dangerous to eat. Simply remove the affected portions after thawing, or include it with your braise or stew and cross your fingers it might eventually rehydrate.
What is with all this liquid?
All frozen meats release some moisture in the thawing procedure, particularly ground meats. Use a sheet tray or other container to catch the extra juice when thawing. Also, do not throw the purge in the drain. If the meat is going into a soup, sauce, or stew, you can also add the moisture back into the pot for further flavour. If you just seared a steak, use the purge to deglaze your pan.
Are some meats better suited for the cold?
For sure, ground meats are the most robust. They have got high moisture, soft texture, and portion with super ease. Stew and braising cuts and other low and slow cuts do great but bear in mind to portion these cuts before freezing; you will need a hacksaw to cut through a chuck roast until fully thawed.
Chops, steaks, and searing cuts are most affected by the freezer. The moisture expands when freezing and ruptures the muscle fibres in the procedure. This affects moisture and texture loss. Pre-frozen steaks might be mushier and drier when thawed.
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