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How to Thaw Large Cuts - Roasts, Ribs & Brisket

Knowing how to thaw large cuts of meat is a big part of cooking. Why? Because whether you're cooking a special dinner or simply planning ahead for the week, how you thaw large cuts of meat makes all the difference in how the meal turns out. When you properly thaw a brisket, roast or ribs, you’ll end up with the best taste and texture when you plate your dinner. You’ll also meet the safety standards for thawing frozen meat, a critical consideration for every cook. 

The following explores the different methods for properly thawing meat, as well as guidelines for each method. It’s the first step to creating a delicious meal!

Key Takeaways

  • Proper thawing is essential for the safety, flavor and texture of large cuts of meat.
  • Different cuts may require different thawing times and methods.
  • Planning and patience are key to effectively thawing large cuts of meat without compromising quality.
  • Slow-thawing is the best way to retain the premium taste, texture and nutritional benefits of grass-fed and pasture-raised meats like those sold by Acabonac Farms.

What is the Thawing Process?

Before getting into how to properly thaw large cuts, it’s worth taking a moment to understand the thawing process itself. With large cuts, the thawing process refers to taking a frozen piece of meat and raising its temperature to over freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius). This process is sometimes referred to as “defrosting.”

You want to defrost brisket and other large cuts of meat to bring it to a temperature suitable for cooking and eating. The thawing process also requires following food safety guidelines to ensure your cut of meat remains safe to eat. To maintain the best quality of taste and texture, you should cook meat after thawing it rather than refreezing.

how to thaw large cuts of meat like brisket, ribs and roast


3 Safe Ways to Thaw Large Cuts of Meat Like Roasts, Ribs & Brisket

When you decide how to thaw a roast or other large cuts of meat - for example,  Osso Bucco, London Broil, ribs and brisket -  you have three main methods to choose from: in the refrigerator, submerged in cold water, and in the microwave. All three meet safety standards when done properly, although we only recommend the first method. We’ll go into the details below. At Acabonac Farms, we recommend you only thaw in the refrigerator. When you order from our online store, our meats are flash-frozen for delivery to preserve freshness. Slow thawing is the optimal method to maintain the superior flavor, texture, and nutritional advantages of our grass-fed, regeneratively raised meat compared to conventional store-bought options.

As you choose a method, keep in mind the factors about the meat that can influence the time it takes to thaw. These include the size and thickness of the cut, the level of marbling, or whether it's bone-in or boneless. Keep in mind that patience is a virtue when it comes to thawing meat! Faster does not mean better. 

1. Thawing Brisket, Ribs and Roasts in the Refrigerator

This is the best method for thawing a large cut of meat, but it requires planning. You’ll need to decide ahead of time what you want to cook in the next 24 to 48 hours. You’ll also have to remember to put the large cut of frozen meat into the refrigerator ahead of time. Everyone gets busy, so setting a reminder on your phone or wherever you leave notes and messages in your home is a big help. 

Slow thawing is the best way to retain the rich flavor and texture of premium cuts like grass-fed and pasture-raised meat. 

A key advantage of the refrigerator thawing method is flexibility. Once you defrost a brisket or defrost a prime rib in the refrigerator, you have some wiggle room in deciding when to cook them. In general, ground meat, poultry and seafood can last for a day or two. Beef, pork and lamb can last three to five days. 

How long does it take to thaw a brisket when you put it in the refrigerator? That depends on the weight. Guidelines from the USDA call for 24 hours of thawing for every five pounds of meat. Generally, it’s best to plan for a full day of thawing even for smaller cuts of beef. Also, note that meat will take longer to thaw in a refrigerator set at 35 F rather than 40 F. 

Keep these tips in mind to prevent contamination of other foods when you defrost meat in your refrigerator: 

  • Use a plate. Put the cut of raw meat on a plate to catch any drippings as it thaws. 
  • Place it below other foods. Ensure that drippings from the meat do not contaminate other food by placing it on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator. 
  • Check the temperature. Some areas of the refrigerator might keep food colder than other areas, slowing the thawing process.

2. The Cold Water Thawing Method

Even when you make a cooking schedule, things don’t always go as planned. That’s where the cold water thawing method can help you out. It’s the next best choice if using the refrigerator method is not an option because you’ve run out of time and want to cook your London Broil for dinner. Done properly, you can thaw frozen ham or defrost frozen ribs in about an hour, but we do not recommend it. Here’s the step-by-step process for defrosting large cuts of meat using the cold water thawing method.

  • Place the frozen meat in a leak-proof package or resealable plastic bag.
  • Squeeze as much air out of the package as possible.
  • Fill a large bowl or other container with cold water.
  • Completely submerge the bag in the water.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes so that it stays cold and continues to thaw the meat

The time it takes to thaw the meat depends on the size of the cut. Small packages (about one pound) of meat, poultry and seafood can thaw in an hour or less. A larger package (three to four pounds) may take two to three hours. For l a large rack of ribs, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. 

If you decide to use the cold water thawing method, it’s best to cook the meat immediately rather than refreezing. While you can safely refreeze, the meat will lose moisture, lowering the quality. 

3. Defrosting Meat in the Microwave

If you really have almost no time to thaw your meat, then the microwave is the only choice remaining to thaw large cuts of meat. In as little as 10 minutes, you can have a smaller cut of meat thawed and ready to cook. It’s good for situations where you need to thaw small patties for burgers, defrost ground beef for tacos or thaw a frozen chicken breast. 

Many microwaves come with a defrost button. If that is the case, remove the frozen meat from its packaging, place it on a microwave safe plate and push “defrost.” If your microwave does not have a defrost button, set it to a lower power (30% or less) and then run the microwave for short bursts until the heat is thawed. The bursts should last two minutes or less. The time it takes to thaw depends on the weight. A rule of thumb is 8 to 10 minutes per pound.

Using a microwave to thaw large cuts of meat requires attention to several important steps:

  • Make sure you don’t heat the meat so long that it starts to cook.
  • Plan to cook the meat right after it’s finished in the microwave, as parts of it might get raised to a temperature that allows bacteria to grow.
  • Never refreeze meat that you thaw in the microwave. Always cook it immediately.

While thawing in the microwave is the fastest method, it’s also the last option. It’s best to avoid it all together. Acabonac Farms does not recommend the microwave thawing method. The quality of our premium grass-fed and pasture-raised cuts are better preserved when it’s slowly thawed in the refrigerator. Using cold water or microwave methods for thawing meat can raise concerns about meeting health and safety standards for handling raw meat. It also can lead to uneven thawing or, in the case of the microwave defrosting, partially cooking the meat. 

So, What is the Best Way to Thaw Grass-Fed Beef?

For the optimal thawing of grass-fed beef, Acabonac Farms only recommends refrigerator thawing. This approach, distinguished for its gentle and consistent thawing process, ensures that every cut—from brisket to ribeye—maintains its integrity, nutritional value, and exquisite taste. This method, which mirrors our dedication to quality and sustainability, is ideal for those who cherish the unmatched flavor of grass-fed beef. By allocating adequate time for a slow thaw, typically 24 hours for every five pounds of meat, you embrace a method that aligns with the meticulous care we devote to raising our cattle. This section underscores our belief in mindful preparation, emphasizing that the finest culinary experiences commence with patience and respect for the natural qualities of grass-fed beef

Read more about our commitment to delicious and nutritionally dense meats.

The Importance of Planning Ahead When Thawing Frozen Meat

Properly thawing meat is a “practice makes perfect” skill. If you’re not used to defrosting brisket in the refrigerator or thawing roast in cold water, it will take time to get used to making it part of your meal prep plans. But once you do, you’ll enjoy the better flavor of a properly defrosted, fork-tender cut of meat. 

One tip to help you remember is to write thawing times on your recipes, whether they are in a notebook, on index cards or in your favorite cookbook. That way, you’ll get a reminder to thaw the meat and also know how long it will take. 

You may also have to adjust thawing times based on your schedule. The cold water thawing method may have to come into play more often on busy weeknights. Also, ensure you build in extra time for thawing in case of unexpected delays.

how to thaw large cuts like steak and delmonico

How Long Are Large Cuts of Meat Good for After Thawing?

Large cuts of meat remain safe to cook after thawing in the refrigerator longer than the other methods. A general rule is that ground meat, poultry and seafood can last 24 to 48 hours, while beef, pork and lamb can last three to five days. Meat thawed with the cold water method should be cooked or refrozen immediately. 

Keep in mind that If you thaw meat in the refrigerator or with the cold water method, it’s generally safe to refreeze it. However, the meat will lose moisture, leading to a lowered quality of taste and texture. This does not apply to meat thawed using the microwave, which requires you to cook the meat immediately rather than refreeze it.

Buy 100% Grass-Fed Brisket, Ribs & Roasts Online

At Acabonac Farms, we make food the right way. Our cattle roam freely over lush fields near the banks of the Atlantic Ocean, grazing on local grasses and vegetation - as far from the grain-feed, mass-produced big cattle farms as you can get. The result is high-quality, nutritious beef that’s as tasty as it is healthy. 

We’re sharing the best thawing techniques for large cuts of meat because we want you to get the most flavor out of our 100% local grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken and lamb. We only recommend using the refrigerator method because it preserves the high quality of our premium cuts. We believe in giving our customers the best product possible, and that’s achieved when meat is flash-frozen and then slowly thawed. 

You can shop Acabonac Farms online and order directly from us, including the option tobuy meat in bulk. We offer a wide variety of large meat cuts likegrass-fed beef brisket, Osso Bucco, London Broil, ribs and roasts. You’ll taste the difference!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Thawing Large Cuts of Meat

How long does it take to thaw a brisket, rack of ribs and large steaks?

Thawing a brisket in the refrigerator is the safest method. Plan for about 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of brisket. If you need to thaw the brisket more quickly, place it in a waterproof plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and then submerge  in a large container of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. Thawing time is about 30 minutes per pound. Thawing a brisket in the microwave is not recommended.

How long does it take to thaw steak?

Thawing steak in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours of thawing time. Thinner steaks may thaw quicker, perhaps as fast as 12 hours. If you need to thaw a cut of steak quickly, place it in a waterproof plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and then submerge it in a large bowl of cold water, allowing about 30 minutes per pound for thawing. Remember to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. Thawing steak in the microwave using the “defrost” button is possible, but it’s important to monitor the process closely to ensure the meat doesn’t cook. We do not recommend the microwave for thawing meat.

Can I cook meat directly from frozen if I forget to thaw it?

Yes, you can take frozen meat and cook it without thawing. Allow about 50% more cooking time than what is required to cook thawed meat and poultry. Acabonac Farms does not recommend this method as it can severely compromise meat quality. 

How can I tell if meat is properly thawed?

Follow the timelines for the different defrosting methods when thawing meat. Generally, it’s 24 hours of thawing for every five pounds of meat in the refrigerator, and about 30 minutes for every one pound of meat if submerged in cold water. You can check yourself by cutting into the meat and looking for ice crystals that indicate it’s still frozen on the inside.

Is it safe to refreeze meat after thawing?

It is safe to refreeze meat after thawing it in the refrigerator. You can generally keep ground meat, stew meat, poultry and seafood for up to 48 hours in the refrigerator before refreezing. Beef, pork, lamb and steaks can be refrigerated for three to five days before cooking or refreezing. You can also refreeze meat that you’ve thawed using the cold water method, provided you refreeze it not long after you’ve thawed it. Meat defrosted in the microwave should be cooked, not refrozen.

What should I do if the meat starts to cook while thawing in the microwave?

Stop the microwave if meat starts to cook during the thawing process. This is a common issue when you attempt to thaw meat in the microwave. Immediately remove the meat from the microwave and cook it. 

Can you thaw meat on the counter?

No, the USDA warns that you should never thaw meat on the counter because bacteria can form and grow quickly at room temperatures.

What’s the fastest way to thaw meat?

The microwave is the fastest way to thaw meat. However, it is not the best way. It’s better to thaw meat slowly in the refrigerator or by submerging it in cold water. 

What’s the best way to thaw meat?

The best way to thaw meat is using a slow-thawing method, like thawing in a refrigerator. Place the frozen cut of meat into the refrigerator and allow it to thaw slowly. It takes about 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of meat.

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