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How to Defrost Meat: A Step-by-Step Guide

31 August 2021
Author: Stéphanie Turgeon - Bachelor of Food Science

Thawing 101

On the countertop, in warm/hot water, in cold water, in the oven, in the microwave, in the refrigerator, etc. Everyone seems to have different ways of thawing food. However, among the mentioned methods, know that there are good and bad ones. So, here's a little guide to Thawing 101 that will help you properly thaw your products.

Why is proper thawing so important?

Because it reduces and even avoids the risks of bacterial contamination that can lead to foodborne illnesses. First, it's important to understand that freezing does not kill the bacteria present in the food; it rather inhibits their growth. Therefore, when we thaw our food inadequately, it can promote the growth of bacteria that were "dormant" during freezing.

The three best thawing methods

  1. In the refrigerator (ideal method!)

Rule #1: Place the food, ideally still wrapped, on a clean plate or an absorbent paper towel to retain the liquid that escapes in the refrigerator during thawing.

Rule #2: Always thaw in the lowest section of your refrigerator to prevent liquids from escaping and contaminating other foods.

Important: You can count approximately 10 hours of thawing per kg of poultry. For other types of meat, 24 hours should suffice, regardless of the quantity.

  1. Submerged in cold water

Rule #1: The food must be wrapped, and the packaging must be watertight.

Rule #2: The container used must be clean and large enough for the food to be completely submerged in water.

Rule #3: Place the food in a container filled with cold water and change the water every 30 minutes until fully thawed.

Important: The water must cover the entire food. A weight can be placed on the food to ensure it is fully submerged.

  1. In the microwave

Rule #1: Place the food in a container or a plate that can collect the thawing liquids to avoid contaminating your microwave.

Rule #2: Place a loosely fitting cover on your container or pierce plastic wrap to allow steam to escape.

Rule #3: Use the "Defrost" function on your microwave. If you don't have this function, count approximately 7 minutes per pound of meat to thaw.

Important: Once thawed in the microwave, the meat must be cooked promptly.

Methods to avoid

  1. At room temperature

Why? This way, the food does not thaw uniformly. The bacteria on the surface, which were "dormant" during freezing, reach temperatures favorable for their multiplication. Moreover, there may be the formation of exudate (liquid on the surface) that encourages this same growth.

  1. Under hot water

Why? Like the previous method, the thawing temperature is too high in this case and encourages the growth of bacteria.

Thawing time in the refrigerator per product

Meat: One day for 2.3 kg (5 lbs) in the refrigerator

Poultry: 16 hours in the refrigerator for poultry weighing up to 2 kg (4.5 lbs)

*Note: Be sure to fully thaw poultry before putting it in the oven; it could overcook on the outside before reaching the correct temperature inside.

Fish: 3 hours in the refrigerator per 450 g (1 lb); but up to 6 hours per 450 g (1 lb) for a frozen block package.

The thawing time in a cold water bath depends on the temperature of the water you pour and how often you change it. Thawing can sometimes be a task you want to do as quickly as possible. However, keep in mind that the faster the thawing, the greater the risks related to consuming the food. So, take the time to do it properly to enjoy your food with pleasure and without any worries! Generally, thawing in the refrigerator preserves a better texture quality of the food, but it really depends on the recipe you want to cook. For example, meat to be served in a stew can be thawed in water, while the same meat to be enjoyed on the BBQ benefits from a slower thawing in the refrigerator.

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Corneau, L. et al. (2017). Visual Encyclopedia of Foods. Québec Amérique.
Santé Canada. (2017). Thawing Foods Safely. Retrieved from
MAPAQ. (2017). Thawing. Retrieved from

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