Defrosting a big hunk of meat takes time and patience. But given that those are in short supply for a lot of working people, it can be tempting to defrost meat in the microwave. While there is a right way to do that — we’ll explain below — it should be a last resort for most home cooks.
Is It Safe to Defrost Meat in the Microwave?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), it’s safe to defrost meat in the microwave provided you cook it immediately. That’s because warming meat in the microwave could raise its temperature to the “danger zone” at which bacteria grow most rapidly. Additionally, you should never refreeze microwave-thawed meat without cooking it first, the government agency says.
Why You Should (Almost) Never Thaw Meat in the Microwave
While it may technically be safe to thaw meat in the microwave, food scientist Costas Stathopoulos, a professor at Abertay University in Dundee, recommended against it on an episode of “Inside the Factory” on BBC Two.
Beyond the concerns raised by the USDA, Stathopoulos explains that defrosting in the microwave means that parts of the meat might begin to cook, meaning it could be dry or overcooked — not to mention the risk of bacteria growth.
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How to Defrost Meat Fast
Need to put dinner on the table fast? The USDA says there are four safe ways to prepare frozen meat, which we've listed below from fastest to slowest.
Tempted to leave your meat out on your countertop or in hot water? Don't. "Never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, in hot water, outdoors, or on the porch," the USDA warns.
1. Defrost Meat on the Stove, in the Oven, etc.
Of the four, the fastest method is simply cooking without thawing, which the USDA says will take around 50% longer than fully thawed meat or poultry.
2. Defrost Meat in the Microwave
As we explained, defrosting in the microwave is quick and safe so long as you immediately cook your food. Just plop it in, zap it, and cook away. This method may dry out your meat, however, which is why we recommend you pick a different thawing method.
3. Defrost Meat in Cold Water
Defrosting meat in cold water may take longer, but it’ll allow your food to fully defrost without cooking it or drying it out. According to the USDA, you should submerge a sealed bag of meat in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes until it has thawed. Around a pound of meat will take an hour or less, while a 3 to 4-pound package could take two to three hours.
Make sure your meat is in a leak-proof package or bag to prevent the surrounding water and bacteria from contaminating the food. And as with the microwave method, the USDA says that you must immediately cook meat if it’s been completely thawed.
4. Defrost Meat in the Refrigerator
Although it’s a lengthy process, you can also safely defrost your meat in the refrigerator. Simply place the meat in the fridge and wait. Every 5 pounds of weight will take around 24 hours, the USDA says. Even small items could take as long as a day.
The advantage of refrigerator thawing is that you can refreeze the meat without cooking it first. You can also store the meat for longer without cooking it, with “ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood” lasting for an additional day or two, and red meats lasting for three to five days in the fridge.
The Bottom Line: Never Defrost Meat at Room Temperature
If you defrost your meat in the microwave properly, you won’t die. But your meal probably won’t taste that good either. If you’re in a rush — and who isn’t these days — just cook the meat without defrosting it. Otherwise, you can throw it in a cold water bath or place it overnight in the refrigerator. Whatever you do, don’t defrost meat at room temperature. Whether it’s on a kitchen countertop, outdoors, or in your garage, defrosting meat in the open air is unsafe, the USDA writes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to defrost chicken in the microwave?
Yes, the USDA says it’s safe to thaw all meats in the microwave. That said, microwaving meat could raise its temperature to the “danger zone.” Because bacteria thrive at these temperatures, you must cook microwave-thawed meat immediately.
How do I defrost meat in the microwave?
Defrosting meat in the microwave is a simple process. There are just two things to keep in mind: 1) you must cook the meat immediately after thawing and 2) you cannot refreeze thawed meat without cooking it first.
How do I defrost meat quickly?
The fastest way to defrost meat is to simply cook it without thawing. The USDA says it will take around 50% longer than normal. Otherwise, you can microwave the meat or defrost it in cold water, a process which we elaborate on above.