Freezing steak is a great way to keep it fresh until you’re ready to eat it. But when it comes time to thaw your steak, you need to make sure you do it the right way, because doing it the wrong way can have serious consequences for the flavour of the meat and for your own health. Here are the best ways to defrost steak and other cuts of beef – and what not to do.
The safest way to defrost steak
The trick to thawing steak – and most meats, for that matter – is to keep it within safe temperatures as it thaws, so fast-growing bacteria don’t have a chance to move in and ruin your meal. The ‘danger zone’ that you want to avoid is between 5°C and 60°C – this is basically vacation weather for bacteria, which makes thawing your meat at these temperatures a real food poisoning risk.
By far the best, safest and easiest way to defrost steak is, unfortunately, also the slowest method – simply leave it in the fridge overnight. This will keep the steak at a temperature that prevents harmful bacteria from gaining a foothold, and it won’t take away from the taste and texture of the steak at all.
Depending on the thickness of the cut, you should leave your steak to thaw in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Most pieces of meat will need 18-24 hours to thaw properly, and a particularly thick cut could require up to 30 hours. When you put your steak in the fridge, make sure you place it on a plate to catch any juices that flow from it.
While defrosting steak in the fridge is the most effective (and the most hands-off) method, it obviously requires some planning on your part. Try setting a reminder in your phone at the start of the week to take that steak you’ve been eyeing off out of the freezer, and make sure you take note of the exact time you place your steak in the fridge.
Once your steak has been in the fridge for at least 12 hours, take it out and give it a touch test – when you poke it, it should be firm, but with some give, and with no visible icing. For extra reassurance, stick a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the cut – if the temperature is 4°C or below, you’re good to go. If it’s above 4°C, it’s in the temperature danger zone, and you may need to check if your fridge is working properly.
In a hurry? Try this.
There’s no getting around the fact that defrosting your steak in the fridge overnight is the best way to go – but if you forgot to do this and you still want steak for dinner, there is another option.
Simply fill a large bowl with cold water, place your steak in a resealable and leak-proof plastic bag, and submerge it in the water. If your steak has been frozen individually in a vacuum-sealed bag, it’s okay to leave the steak in the bag when you submerge it.
Check the water every 30 minutes, and if it starts to become tepid, switch it out for more cold water.
Using this method, your steak should be thawed in an hour or two, although a bigger, thicker cut will take closer to three or four hours.
Once your steak has thawed in the water, give it the same touch test described above for steak that has defrosted in a fridge – when it’s ready, it should still be reasonably firm, but with some give and no visible icing.
This is obviously a more hands-on method than simply leaving your meat to thaw in the fridge overnight, but it’s a godsend for forgetful home cooks.
What not to do
Never leave your steak on the kitchen counter to defrost at room temperature. This might be how your mum used to do it, but it’s also an open invitation for harmful bacteria to make itself at home on your meat.
Your microwave probably has a defrost setting, which might seem tempting in a pinch – but if you love your steak and you want to treat it right, you won’t do this. Steak doesn’t respond well to drastic changes in temperature, and defrosting steak in the microwave is likely to strip it of its juices, ruining its taste and texture and leaving you with a tough chew that is bound to disappoint.
If you’re desperate to defrost in a hurry and you absolutely must use your microwave, make sure you check your meat frequently, and only leave it in long enough to thaw, rather than cook. Five to ten minutes should do the job, depending on the size of your steak.
Ultimately, the best option will always be to take your time and defrost your meat in the refrigerator – it takes a little planning, but it’ll all be worth it when you sit down to enjoy your delicious steak with its taste and texture left intact.
This article was first published on 14 February 2020 and updated on 28 June 2021.