Does that steak feel heavier when you take it out of the freezer than it did when it went in, or is that just your imagination? In other words, does meat weigh more frozen? Let’s explore this intriguing phenomenon.
Does Meat Weigh More Frozen?
A piece of meat weighs more when it’s frozen because the natural moisture within the protein strands has turned to ice. On average, meat will weigh 15 to 30 percent more in its frozen state than it did when it was fresh. Once the meat is thawed, it will expel moisture, which reverts it to its previous weight (or close enough).
Why We Freeze Meat
Storing meat products in the freezer extends their shelf life. Because bacteria can’t grow at subzero temperatures, the meat will keep indefinitely as long as it’s frozen.
That’s not to say that it’s a good idea to keep it in there for too long. Although the meat won’t technically spoil, it will go downhill in terms of texture. Extended exposure to freezing temps will dry out the meat, especially if it’s already cooked.
We would recommend storing large cuts, like whole turkeys and pork butts, in the freezer for no longer than 1 year. Smaller raw cuts like steaks and pork chops should stay in the freezer for a maximum of 6 months.
Cooked leftovers should be thawed and reheated within a shorter time frame. It’s best to take these out of the freezer after 2 to 3 months.
Does Meat Weigh More Frozen?
You’re not imagining things—frozen meat does weigh more than fresh meat. In fact, after a stint in the freezer, the meat will weigh 15 to 30 percent more than it did before you put it in there.
Why the change? It’s because fresh meat contains a great deal of moisture. When the liquid freezes, it turns to ice, thereby increasing the weight.
As the meat thaws, some of this moisture is expelled. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep meat products on a plate or platter during the defrosting process. When this liquid is left behind, the meat reverts to its original weight—not precisely, but close enough.
You probably already know that cooked meat weighs less than the raw product. The reasons are similar. When the meat cooks, it loses moisture, which reduces the weight. A cooked chicken breast will weigh about 25 percent less than it did when it was raw.
Breaking Down the Chemical Process
Why does meat weigh more frozen? We’ve covered the simple answer, but let’s take a closer look at what exactly happens during the freezing process.
When the meat is exposed to freezing temperatures, chemical changes occur within the protein strands. In essence, they become crystallized, which shrinks the strands while also increasing their moisture content.
As the protein fibers crystallize, the natural moisture within the strands becomes trapped in the smaller cells. After the liquid has entered this state, it can’t be reabsorbed as well, which explains why meat that’s been frozen for a while will be drier once it’s cooked.
Why The Method Matters
Studies have shown that the meat will lose more moisture—and therefore more of its weight—when it’s defrosted at higher temperatures. If you want to preserve the quality of the product, it’s always better to thaw it in the fridge.
The refrigerator is the ideal place to defrost meat for several reasons. For one thing, you don’t have to keep a close eye on it. The meat will stay nice and cold as it thaws, so you know it will be safe to eat when it’s fully defrosted.
You’ll also have more flexibility in terms of cooking time. If you thaw raw meat in cold water or in the microwave, you have to cook it off right away. When it’s thawed in the fridge, you can wait a day or two before you start the cooking process.
Of course, thawing meat in the fridge also takes longer. If time is a pressing concern, the cold water method is an acceptable substitute.
We don’t recommend defrosting meat in the microwave. Though it does save time, you could end up partially cooking the meat instead of merely thawing it, which would yield unpleasant results.
Also, as we’ve pointed out, thawing meat at higher temperatures results in more moisture loss. That means the finished dish could turn out too dry.
Does Freezing Meat Reduce Its Nutritional Value?
Some folks worry that freezing meat will destroy nutrients. This isn’t a valid concern. Most of the vitamins and minerals in the meat will remain stable during the freezing process, so the thawed product will be just as nutritious as it was before.
The only thing you need to worry about is moisture loss, as we mentioned earlier. To ensure that your meat products retain their best qualities after thawing, try not to keep them in the freezer for longer than a few months.
Freezer Storage and Thawing Tips
—Set your freezer temperature to 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) or below. If the freezer temp is too high, the meat won’t freeze properly and may even be unsafe to eat.
—While we’re on the subject of safe temperatures, check your refrigerator temp as well. It should be set between 33 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower, and the meat will freeze; if it’s too high, your meat products might spoil.
—If you don’t think you’re going to cook off the meat within a few days, put it in the freezer as soon as possible. The fresher the meat is when you freeze it, the longer it will keep after defrosting.
—Wrap all meat products tightly before storing them in the freezer. Adding a layer of freezer-safe paper or plastic wrap will help to prevent freezer burn.
—If you freeze large quantities of meat on a regular basis, consider investing in a vacuum sealer. This provides extra protection against the dreaded freezer-burn phenomenon.
—Try to store raw and cooked meat on separate shelves. Even though the freezing process halts bacterial growth, there’s still a slight risk of cross-contamination.
—It’s safe to refreeze thawed meat without cooking it first, but doing so can result in loss of moisture. Keep that in mind when you’re preparing to take raw meat out of the freezer.
—Don’t attempt to defrost meat at room temperature. This practice keeps the meat in what’s known as the “danger zone,” the range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for a dangerously long period of time.
—When defrosting meat in the fridge, keep it on the bottom shelf, back towards the rear. You want to store it as far away from the door as possible so that it stays cold as it defrosts.
—It’s also permissible to cook meat from a frozen state, bypassing the defrosting process altogether. This practice works best with smaller cuts, as huge cuts like whole turkeys take a long time to cook even when they’re fully thawed.
The Bottom Line
Freezing meat doesn’t just halt bacterial growth—it also alters the physical structure of the product. That explains why it weighs more when you first take it out of the freezer than it does after defrosting.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!