Keeping Meat in the Freezer
The best way to protect food against freezer burn is to vacuum seal it. The vacuum seal locks out air and prevents other flavors and moisture from breaching the barrier. All the meats you receive from SLO will come to you vacuum-sealed and frozen.
Handle your meats carefully to avoid breaking the vacuum seal. Don’t stack too high or force the packages into tight spaces in the freezer. We recommend marking your frozen meats with the date that you received them before storing them in the freezer to keep track of your meat inventory.
To keep your frozen food well frozen, you should maintain a freezer temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Some freezers will have thermometers built-in, so that you can check the temperature. If your freezer doesn’t have a thermometer, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska suggests this easy check: If you have ice cream in your freezer, pull it out and take a look at its texture. If your freezer is at the right temperature, it should be rock-hard. If your ice cream is soft and easily scooped, your freezer isn’t cold enough.
Meat that is frozen at a consistent temperature of 0 degrees or lower will stay safe to eat indefinitely, according to FoodSafety.gov.
The quality of the meat may deteriorate with time. The major risk is “freezer burn,” which discolors the edges and surface of meat first. It can be trimmed off and the remainder of the meat used safely. If used with a combination of other flavors any freezer effects are not noticeable.
Safe Thawing Tips
The best way to thaw meat safely is to plan ahead. Defrost overnight on a plate in the refrigerator. By the next day, you’re ready to cook*. (*NOTE: A whole chicken may take up to 48 hours to thaw completely.)
Never keep meat at room temperature for more than two hours. Once you’ve thawed frozen meat, you can refreeze it again, but unless it’s in a stock, soup or liquid, you risk a loss of quality and taste.
Quick thaw: If you have frozen meat you want to cook that day, there is a faster way to thaw: the “cold water” method. Keep the meat wrapped tightly. Note: Our vacuum-sealed packaging prevents bacteria from forming and water from seeping in. Place the wrapped meat in a large bowl and fill with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes as the meat continues to thaw. A 1-pound package of meat can thaw in an hour or less. Packages of 3 to 4 pounds can take more than two hours.
Looking to save time in the kitchen? Consider “batch cooking” on the weekend for meals that will get to your table fast on busy weeknights! Some examples are:
- Taco meat – Thaw and brown 4-5 pounds of ground beef, pork or a combination of both meats. Add your favorite taco seasoning. Cool and package in 1-2 pound packages for tacos, taco salads, and Mexican casseroles. Freeze the cooked meat if you will not be using it within 5 days. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.
- Meatloaf or meatballs – Thaw 5-6 pounds of ground beef, pork or a combination of both meats. Using your favorite recipe, prepare a couple of full size meatloafs, or several dozen 1” meatballs, or meatloaf “muffins” – individual servings of meatloaf in a muffin tin.
Full-size meatloaf should be frozen uncooked, wrapped with foil or plastic wrap in the pan, and then the whole loaf sealed in a plastic freezer bag, being sure to remove all air.
- Meatloaf muffins are made by baking the meatloaf in muffin tins. Cool and place in plastic freezer bags in whatever quantity works for your family.
- Meatballs can be formed, then frozen before cooking on cookie sheets. Freezing them individually allows you to take out as many meatballs as you want each time. Meatballs can also be fully cooked, frozen on cookie sheets and then stored in plastic freezer bags. Meatballs can be added to soups and pasta sauces either frozen raw, frozen pre-cooked, or pre-cooked and thawed.
- Lasagna – When making a dish like lasagna that is time-consuming, why not thaw double the meat, and double the recipe? Prepare two pans of lasagna and cook one for dinner tonight. Carefully wrap the second pan in a double layer of plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then mark with the date and freeze for later use. Be aware that a frozen dish that contains meat that has already been cooked should be in freezer not longer than 2-3 months for the best taste and nutrition.
- Pulled pork or shredded beef – If you are preparing a roast in the crockpot or oven, consider making two roasts of the same cut and comparable size. Carve one for dinner tonight, and shred the other using two forks. Add your favorite BBQ sauce or gravy for sandwiches. If you are not going to use within 3 days, freeze the meat and sauce in a double layer of plastic freezer bags, marked with the date.
Few kitchen utensils are as important and as seldom-used as a meat thermometer. To thoroughly kill potentially harmful bacteria and other pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli in meat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the following minimum internal cooking temperatures:
- Whole chicken and turkey: 165°F
- Beef, pork, veal, and lamb: 145°F
- Ground meat: 160°F
- Ham: 145°F (Just heated or it will get dry.)
But how do you know if your roast or chicken has reached those temperatures? Eyeballing the meat isn’t really adequate; chicken and turkey can appear beautifully browned on the outside yet be undercooked on the inside — particularly if you’re cooking over high heat on a grill.
Overcooking meat “just to be safe” isn’t a tasty option, either. You may kill off bacteria, but you’re spoiling your dinner.
When you’re cooking a large hunk of meat (a whole chicken, a roast, or a ham), you should always use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, but don’t touch any bone with the prong. Bone heats up faster than meat, so you won’t get an accurate reading. The thickest part of the breast meat is best for poultry.
Want to see how different meat thermometers stack up? Here’s a link to check out five of the most popular meat thermometers: http://bestreviews.com/best-meat-thermometers
Need more info? Check out this link: https://www.myfearlesskitchen.com/how-to-use-a-meat-thermometer/