The Best Way to Store Meat in Your Fridge and Freezer

Here’s everything you need to know to make sure your meat stays as fresh as possible.

<p>DebbiSmirnoff / Getty Images</p>

DebbiSmirnoff / Getty Images

There’s nothing worse than buying a beautiful piece of meat then having it sit in your fridge for so long that you worry if it’s safe to eat. Are you going to make someone (or yourself) sick if you prepare it? Or even worse, do you need to throw it away and waste the money and a potential meal? Neither of these scenarios are ideal; here’s how to avoid being in this predicament.

First things first:  What’s most important here is that you use your senses, or one in particular: your nose. If the meat smells “off,” i.e. has an off-putting smell, even if the date on the package still says it’s okay, it’s best to go with your gut and toss it rather than upset your gut. Proper storage will help you avoid those moments. Here are the best ways to store your precious meat and poultry so they stay fresh.

What temperature should meat be stored at?

Storing meat and poultry properly is all about keeping the meat at a safe temperature until you are ready to cook it. Because most people buy meat from a grocery store, it’s very important to follow the use by date on the package. Meat that is refrigerated needs to be kept at 40°F or below and frozen meat should be kept at 0°F or below.

Related: What's the Difference Between 'Sell By,' 'Use By,' and 'Best By' Dates?

If you only need a portion of the meat from a package, be sure to wrap the remaining meat tightly in plastic and use or freeze the unused portion within the next day.

Should you store meat in butcher paper?

The number one enemy to meat storage is warm air, so to protect the meat, it’s best to reduce the meat’s contact with air as much as possible. If you will be using the meat within a few days, keeping it in the butcher paper is fine. If you plan to freeze it, it’s best to use plastic, either in a ziplock plastic freezer bag or in a vacuum-sealed bag. If you want to leave it in the butcher paper, you can simply place the entire butcher paper-wrapped meat in the ziplock bag.

Can you cook frozen steak or chicken straight from the freezer?

The short answer is yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, if you are cooking the meat directly from frozen, its will take approximately one and a half times as long to cook in the oven. You’ll also need to reduce the oven temperature, as the outside of the meat will cook much faster than the frozen center. Since it’s very hard to know how long it will take to cook the center of the meat to a safe temperature, it’s best to thaw the meat first for the best results.

What’s the best way to thaw meat?

To preserve the best texture in meat, it’s best to go slow when thawing. Ideally, this means moving frozen meat to your fridge and letting it thaw for at least a day, and up to three or four days if you’re thawing something larger like a whole chicken or roast. If you are short on time, you can thaw meat quickly by placing it in a ziplock bag if it isn’t in one already, then submerging it in a bowl of cold water. Anything less than a pound will take about an hour to thaw, but if your meat is two or three pounds, it will take longer. In that case, change the water every 30 minutes during the thawing process to make sure the water doesn't get too warm.

Does a quick defrost impact the flavor or texture of meat?

A quick defrost is a great option when you’re short on time, but how the meat is defrosted will impact the flavor and texture. If the meat is defrosted in the microwave (which we do not recommend), you will likely ruin the texture, and the flavor will be bland. This is because microwaves work by heating up the water particles in your food, resulting in watery, flavorless, possibly partially-cooked meat. To make sure you get the best texture, if you need to quickly defrost meat, use the water bowl method.

Can you thaw frozen meat and brine it at the same time?

Yes! Instead of using a bowl of water to defrost your meat, you can use a brine solution, which will infuse flavor into the meat at the same time you are defrosting. Try one of our favorite brines (which is a great way to use up pickle brine) with this Pickled-Brined Chicken

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