How to Defrost Ground Beef

Three Methods:RefrigeratorCold WaterMicrowave

There are three basic methods you can use to safely defrost ground beef, and the right one to use depends primarily on how much time you have. Defrosting ground beef with refrigeration is best, but it also takes the longest amount of time. If you are in a rush, your best options are to defrost the beef using cold water or a microwave. Here are instructions on how to thaw your bulk ground beef using the refrigerator, cold water, or a microwave.

Method 1

  1. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 1 preview
    Determine how early to pull the beef out of the freezer. Typically, 2 lbs (900 g) of bulk ground beef takes a full 24 hours to thaw.
    • Significantly larger quantities of ground beef, like 3 or 4 lb (1350 or 1800 g) bulk packages, may take 48 hours or longer to defrost completely. As a general rule of thumb, add an extra day of defrosting time for every 2 lbs (900 g) of bulk ground beef.
    • Ground beef already formed into patties or separated into smaller quantities take less time and defrost quicker. For instance, 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) ground beef patties that were frozen separately usually take about 10 hours to defrost.
    • Keep in mind that the colder you keep your refrigerator, the longer the defrost time might be. Ground beef will thaw quicker in a refrigerator kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) than it will in one kept at 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
  2. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 2 preview
    Place the ground beef in a plastic bag or dish. It is possible that the beef may leak through its packaging as it starts to defrost, leaving behind an unsanitary breeding ground of bacteria. Placing the package of frozen ground beef in another container minimizes the amount of liquid and bacteria it will leave behind as it defrosts.
    • The bag does not need to be sealed, nor does the dish need to be covered. The purpose here is mainly to provide something for the package of ground beef to sit on inside the refrigerator.
    • This is especially important for ground beef packaged by a butcher. Factory packaging tends to be more regulated and more secure, so it may not leak as much. Packaging done to fresh meat sold in a grocery store or at a butcher tends to be slightly less durable and more likely to leak.
  3. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 3 preview
    Refrigerate. Find a place toward the back of your refrigerator to place the package of ground beef and let it sit there until you need to use it.
  4. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 4 preview
    Check the ground beef before you use it. With clean hands, gently press down on the ground beef through its package. If you are able to leave an indentation in the center of the beef, most of it will be defrosted enough to use.
    • To check further, break the bulk of ground beef in half and press into the middle. If the meat is soft enough to press, it is thawed all the way through. If parts of the beef still seem solid, it is not completely defrosted.
    • If necessary, you can finish up the defrosting process in the microwave. Place the ground beef in a microwave-safe dish and cover it. Microwave on 50 percent power for 20 to 30 seconds at a time until it finishes thawing.
  5. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 5 preview
    Use within 1 or 2 days. Defrosting ground beef with the refrigerator is the slowest method, but it is also the most ideal since it breeds the least amount of bacteria. When defrosted this way, ground beef can be kept in the refrigerator for an additional 24 to 48 hours after thawing.
    • You can also refreeze the ground beef if thawed this way. If you decide not to use the ground beef after all, you can stick it back in the freezer as long as you do so within 24 to 48 hours of defrosting it.

Method 2
Cold Water

  1. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 6 preview
    Determine how early to start. Make sure you start the thawing process early enough so that the meat can finish defrosting by the time you need it.
    • Bulk packages of ground beef weighing 1 lb (450 g) or less may thaw in less than an hour. A larger package will take longer, however. A 3-lb or 4-lb (1350-g or 1800-g) can take 2 to 3 hours.[1]
  2. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 7 preview
    Secure the ground beef inside a resealable plastic bag. Place the package inside of a leak-proof plastic bag and seal it up as securely as possible.
    • If the bag leaks, bacteria could get in through the water or the air. Moreover, you could also end up with mushy, watery ground beef if the ground beef absorbs too much water.
  3. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 8 preview
    Submerge the beef in cold water. Place the wrapped package of ground beef in a large bowl or dish and cover it with cold tap water. Make sure that the beef is completely underwater.
    • Only use cold water. Hot, warm, or even room temperature water can create a breeding ground for bacteria.
    • Leave the dish of water and the beef out on the counter as it defrosts.
    • You could also fill a clean sink with cold water and submerge your beef in that. Just make sure that the plug has a tight seal and that the sink is clean before you start.
  4. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 9 preview
    Change the water every 30 minutes. Draining the old water and refilling the bowl with clean, cold water will allow the meat to continue defrosting while preventing the water from gathering too much bacteria.
  5. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 10 preview
    Check how thawed the beef is. Once it is soft enough to press, the majority of the ground beef is thawed.
    • Break the block of ground beef open and press the middle of the inside. If it is still hard, the center of the beef is still frozen.
  6. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 11 preview
    Use immediately. In order to prevent bacteria from growing, you need to use ground beef thawed in this manner within 2 hours.
    • Do not refreeze ground beef thawed in cold water. It is not safe to refreeze raw ground beef defrosted in cold water. If you cannot use it within 2 hours of defrosting it, your best option is to cook it before refreezing it.

Method 3

  1. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 12 preview
    Place the beef in a microwave-safe glass dish. Remove the beef from its packaging and place it flat inside a microwavable container. Cover the dish.
    • Since this is a very quick method, you can perform it immediately before starting dinner. You do not need to worry as much about starting the defrosting process in advance.
    • Prying the ground beef out of the package can be difficult if it is fully frozen and sitting on a Styrofoam tray. If you have difficulty removing the beef from its backing, place the beef inside a resealable plastic bag, zip it closed, and rinse the tray-side of the beef under cold running tap water until it loosens enough to remove.
  2. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 13 preview
    Microwave for about 3 minutes at 50 percent power per 1 pound (450 g).[2] Use 50 percent power instead of 100 percent to help prevent the meat from beginning to cook.[3]
    • Some microwaves have specific defrost settings. These settings automatically calculate how long to microwave the meat and at which power percentage. Select the defrost setting on your microwave, if you have one, and input the number of pounds being thawed.
    • Rotate, if necessary. Most microwaves have rotating turntables that continuously turn the contents of the microwave. If yours does not, however, you should pause the defrosting process every 2 minutes and manually rotate the ground beef 180 degrees.
  3. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 14 preview
    Determine whether or not the beef has defrosted enough. Press into the center of the mass to feel for spots that are still frozen solid.
    • If necessary, split the block in half and feel the inside middle for possible frozen spots.
  4. Image titled Defrost Ground Beef Step 15 preview
    Use immediately. Defrosted ground beef that was thawed in the microwave must be used within 2 hours to be safe.
    • Do not attempt to refreeze raw ground beef that has been defrosted in the microwave. You can, however, cook the beef and refreeze it afterward.


  • Consider cooking the meat directly from its frozen state or from a partially frozen state. Since ground beef is often used to form meatloaves, meatballs, and hamburger patties, it may be impractical to use frozen ground beef. If crumbling the beef and using it for tacos, skillet casseroles, or traditional casseroles, you can break apart as much as possible and allow the beef to defrost and cook at the same time. Just be aware that your dish may take up to 50 percent longer to cook.


  • Do not attempt to defrost ground beef at room temperature. The ground beef will sit out at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) for too long, and this temperature range is ideal for the growth of bacteria.

Things You'll Need

  • Microwave-safe glass dish
  • Resealable plastic bag

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Food Preparation