Freezing ground beef is a useful way to ensure that it will keep until you’re ready to enjoy it. That poses the question: how long is ground beef good after thawing? It’s important to know the answer in advance. Otherwise, your meat might spoil.
How Long Can Thawed Ground Beef Stay in the Fridge?
Once thawed, raw ground beef will keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days, depending on how long it was stored in the fridge beforehand. If the meat was thawed using cold water or the microwave, it needs to be cooked immediately. Thawed cooked leftovers should keep for 2 to 4 days.
How Long is Ground Beef Good For?
It’s a good idea to cook ground beef on the same day you buy it. The following day is also acceptable, but in general, it will start to go downhill after 2 days.
You might be wondering why this is the rule of thumb for ground beef, when whole muscle cuts can retain their freshness for up to 4 days. But when meat is ground, more surface area is exposed to the surrounding air, meaning it’s more likely to harbor bacteria.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the meat will spoil as soon as 48 hours have passed. The total shelf life depends on how long ago it was packaged for sale, the storage conditions, and the quality of the meat itself.
That said, you shouldn’t expect ground meat to keep in the fridge for longer than a day or two. Once it starts to take on a sour or overly sweet scent, or if the meat becomes slimy or discolored, it’s time to throw it out.
How Long Can Thawed Ground Beef Stay in the Fridge?
The thing to remember about frozen meat is that the clock was ticking before you even put it in the freezer. If the ground beef was already starting to turn the corner, freezing it won’t reverse the process.
This means that if you freeze the ground beef as soon as you bring it home from the butcher counter, you’ll have two days to cook it once it’s thawed. If you froze it after keeping it in the fridge for two days, you should cook it off immediately after thawing.
Think of the freezer as the stop button on a stopwatch. It doesn’t reset the clock, it only halts the count. You can preserve the ground beef by freezing it, but once it defrosts, the count resumes where it left off.
It’s important to note that the shelf life of the thawed ground beef will depend on the defrosting method (see How To Defrost Ground Beef, below). In some cases, you’ll need to cook the meat off immediately to ensure food safety.
How To Freeze Ground Beef
When it comes to freezing ground meat, you have a couple of options.
First of all, you can freeze the meat in its original packaging. This method is carefree, as the meat is already labeled and you won’t have to worry about contaminating your hands or work surfaces. Just put the package in the freezer until you’re ready to cook it.
However, this method is problematic because the packaging is probably not airtight. You can still freeze the meat in one large chunk, but it’s better to take it out of the wrapper and re-package it yourself.
To do this, use a double layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Label the package with the contents and today’s date before putting it in the freezer.
We prefer to portion out the meat when freezing it. That way, you can defrost only as much as you need at one time. As a bonus, the meat will thaw out more quickly. Weigh the portions before wrapping them, and don’t forget to label each one.
All meat will keep indefinitely when frozen at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but there is a catch. Long stints in the freezer will dry out the meat, giving it a sawdust-like consistency once it’s cooked. Try to thaw and cook the ground beef within 3 months.
How To Defrost Ground Beef
There are three popular defrosting methods. The first one is preferable, as it allows you to wait a day or so before cooking the ground beef. But the others are permissible when you’re in a hurry.
The best way to defrost ground beef is to put the package in the refrigerator. Set the wrapped meat on a plate to catch any liquid, then place it on a rear shelf toward the back of the fridge. A pound of ground beef should be fully thawed within 24 hours.
For faster thawing, ensure that the package is sealed tightly, then place it in a sink or large bowl filled with cold water. You might need to weigh the package down with something heavy to keep it submerged.
When you use this method, the meat should defrost at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound. If necessary, swap out the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays cold.
You’ll need to cook the meat off immediately if you thawed it in cold water. Ditto if you thaw it in the microwave, which we would rely on only as a last resort.
Microwaving ground beef isn’t the best idea because the meat cooks through so quickly. Even if it was frozen when you started, you’ll have to keep a close eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t start to cook through in patches.
If you do use the microwave, use the defrost setting, or change the settings so that the machine is only running at 30 percent. Take the meat out of its wrapper, set it on a microwave-safe plate, and zap it for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it’s fully thawed.
How Long Does Cooked Ground Beef Keep After Defrosting?
We’ve set out the guidelines for thawed raw ground beef, but what if the meat was cooked before you froze it? The basic principles remain in place, but ground beef will keep for a day or two longer once it’s cooked.
Freezing the ground beef on the same day it’s cooked will give you a window of 3 to 4 days to use it up after it’s thawed. If you hang onto the cooked meat for a couple of days before freezing it, reheat the thawed leftovers within 2 days.
Don’t forget that meat loses moisture through the cooking process. Cooked leftovers are even more prone to drying out as a result of long freezer storage. Defrost and reheat cooked ground beef within 1 to 2 months for best results.
Can You Cook Ground Beef Without Thawing It?
One of the reasons we like to portion out ground beef before freezing it is that you can cook off patties without bothering to thaw them. Sure, the cooking process is faster and more consistent when the meat is thawed, but you can work around that if you’re careful.
Cooking meat from a frozen state requires extra time and attention. It’s not recommended for larger cuts, as these take a long time to cook to the optimum temperature in the first place. But for hamburger patties, cooking from frozen can save a lot of hassle.
After unwrapping the ground beef patties, season them as best you can. The spices might not adhere to the meat very well. If that’s the case, you should add more salt and pepper once the meat has thawed out a bit on the grill.
Heat the grill to medium. You’ll want to use lower heat than you normally would when cooking frozen burgers. If the heat is set to medium-high, the meat might char on the outside while it’s still frozen solid in the middle.
Cook the burgers for 5 to 7 minutes per side, rotating the meat a couple of times before and after flipping to ensure even cooking. On average, meat that’s cooked from a frozen state will take about 25 percent longer to reach the optimum temperature.
When the burgers have cooked to 160 degrees, remove them from the heat and add cheese, if desired. Let them rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving. During this time, you can place the buns (if using) on the grill to heat up and develop a crisp texture.
The shelf life of thawed ground beef depends on the defrosting method, as well as the length of time it was stored in the fridge beforehand. To make sure that the meat is as fresh as possible, freeze it within a day, then use it as soon as it’s defrosted.