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Should You Thaw Meat in Water, or in the Microwave?

Not all methods of thawing meat, chicken and burgers are safe. In fact, the safest way to allow meat to thaw is in the refrigerator. But when you're pressed for time and don't have hours to spare, what alternative methods can you try? Take a look at two methods you can consider when you're in a hurry. These methods have been approved by food safety experts from the Department of Food Science at Pennsylvania State University.


1. Thaw meat in cold water

Method: Put the frozen meat in a sealed zip-locked bag and place in a tub of water. To thaw it, either maintain a constant flow of cool, running water or keep in a tub of water, changing it every 30 minutes.

Pros: Thawing frozen meat in cold water works faster than thawing it in the fridge, and is similarly to fridge thawing, it keeps the meat from getting warm enough for germs to grow. Unlike microwave thawing, this method won't partially cook the meat. But how long does this method take? According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the US Department of Agriculture, thawing meat in cold water takes roughly about an hour.

Cons: One of the issues with this method of thawing is that it requires more attention than microwave or fridge thawing. If you leave the meat to thaw in a tub of water, the water would need to be changed. With this method, you also need to ensure that the bag does not leak, as it can lead to soggy meat, as well as allowing bacteria in.


2. Defrost meat in the microwave

Pros: In comparison to fridge and water thawing, microwave is the fastest method of the two. It's convenient and doesn't require much of your attention.

Cons: The microwave can partially cook the meat - though this isn't necessarily a bad thing, you would need to cook it immediately after you thaw it to prevent bacteria from accumulating in warm spots. It's also important to pay attention to packaging instructions as they may not be designed to withstand heat and may emit harmful chemicals, like styrene.

The preferred method

Microwaving is the fastest and safest method because you don't need to worry about changing water, and there's less of a chance you'll forget about the half-thawed meat that may be growing bacteria. Nevertheless, it is not the perfect solution, so keep these additional tips in mind: 

  • Remove the meat from its packaging, especially foam trays. Heat it up on a plate.
  • Cook the meat as soon as it is done thawing.
  • Ideally, plan ahead next time, thawing meat in the refrigerator. You can store meat in the fridge for up to five days before cooking it.



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