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If you’ve ever mentally kicked yourself for forgetting to take frozen meat out so it can thaw before you head out for the day, you definitely aren’t alone. We’ve all come home in the evening at some point, only to realize that our dinner plans are still on ice. But here’s something we just discovered: You don’t have to wait around for frozen food to defrost. You can start cooking without waiting.
What’s the secret? You can cook food that’s still frozen, without changing its taste or texture (or exposing anyone to potential food borne illness. It’s true! We’re breaking down how it works and why it’s totally okay to do.
It’s perfectly safe to cook frozen meat – seriously!
It might sound counterintuitive, but you can take food out of the freezer and drop it right into a searing hot pan or over the flames of your grill.
According to the USDA, it’s safe to cook foods that are still completely frozen. It’ll just take you longer to take your food from raw (and rock hard) to thawed and thoroughly cooked. It takes approximately 50 percent longer to cook meats like beef and poultry from a frozen state. If your meat is just partially frozen, it’ll take only a little longer than usual.
In fact, if you’re torn between thawing frozen meat at room temperature, microwaving it, or cooking it while still frozen, the USDA says cooking frozen meat is the way to go. Leaving food out at room temperature or microwaving it until it’s thawed can bring your food into what’s called the “danger zone,” making it more susceptible to bacteria growing and multiplying. Plus, meat can thaw unevenly with these not-so-safe methods, exposing some areas to even more rapid bacterial growth.
Cooking frozen meat doesn’t significantly affect taste or texture
So, cooking food while it’s still frozen is safe – but does it affect how your dish tastes? Is it really a good idea?
Cook’s Illustrated actually ran an experiment to test whether or not cooking frozen food messes up your recipe in taste or texture, comparing still-frozen steak to thawed steak. Both the frozen and thawed beef were cooked on the stove for 3 minutes, then transferred into the oven. Cook time and moisture loss were both monitored.
When both the frozen and thawed steaks were finished cooking, the results showed little difference between the two. While the frozen steaks took longer to cook completely through (18 to 22 minutes compared to 10 to 15 minutes for the thawed meat), the final product was just as nicely browned. And the frozen steaks actually had a couple of advantages the thawed steaks didn’t. The frozen meat lost about 9 percent less moisture while cooking and had less gray, overcooked areas.
And in a blind taste test, the frozen steaks won out unanimously.
However, the thawed steaks did win in one area: texture. Frozen meat in general can get a little chewy, depending on how long it’s been frozen for. That can account for a slight difference in texture, though in this experiment it clearly wasn’t noticeable enough for taste testers to care.
So, the next time you discover your meat isn’t fully thawed or you need to get food on the table, try throwing it on the stove or grill. It’ll take a little longer, but it’ll help you out in a pinch and won’t alter your recipe in any negative way.
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