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Thawing frozen meat in hot water

I've heard that thawing frozen meat in hot water is a bad idea, and my husband always freaks out when I do it, like he's going to die or something. I've done this many many times before without a problem. I am horrible at preplanning dinner and about 75% of the time figure out dinner plans on my way home from work, then pull out the frozen meat and put it in hot water (packaged). I don't leave it for more than 30 minutes Sometimes I thaw it in the microwave if it is still a tad frozen. How bad is this, really?

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  1. If you are going to thaw something using water, the water must be running and should be below 70 degrees according to safety guidelines. If you hot water thaw stuff eventually you will make someone sick. If you are thawing it and cooking it immediately its not TERRIBLE, but its still not good. If you use hot water then try to hold the thawed product for more than 6 hours, its pretty bad.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Very interesting. I only thaw things like chicken breast, bacon and ground meat. I would never thaw a roast this way. I'm showing him this article, thanks a ton! And yes, I always cook it immediately after thawing. Also, after about 15 minutes or so I drain and add more fresh hot water.

        1. re: Mojave

          I don't do roasts, but the ground meat would be the one I would not thaw that way. There are way too many nooks and crannies in the ground meat for bacteria to gain a toe hold due to temperature differences. With steaks, not much gets beyond the surface, and then that is cooked directly. Chicken would be OK I assume as long as you wash it thoroughly. Bacon should be easy since it is so thin.

          1. re: ocshooter

            The safety issue has more to do with how long it takes to thaw the piece of meat, rather than to the 'nooks and crannies'. According to the article if it takes 10-20 minutes to thaw the meat, there isn't a safety issue. Even if it is in the optimal bacteria growth temperature range, there isn't enough time for dangerous growth. The problem with a roast (or a whole bird) is that it still needs hours, long enough to grow bacteria at the warm surface.

            The nooks-and-crannies of ground meat just means there might be some bacteria in the interior of the meat package at the start of the thawing time. Bacteria on the surface is an issue regardless of whether it is ground meat, a steak or a roast. That is why you want to limit the potential growth time, regardless of the thawing method.

            1. re: paulj

              I understand, but if there is a small amount of growth with ground beef, it has a much, much greater chance of surviving the cooking process because there is so much surface area, and the bacteria may end up inside whatever is cooked. With a whole cut, the exposed surface area is the part that is subject to the highest levels of heat.

      2. I don't see why it would be a problem at all.

        1. I've done it the New York Times way mentioned above for years without a problem. Don't know why a roast wouldn't be possible, since a water bath is one of the recommended ways to thaw a turkey. I just wouldn't use hot water.

          1. Cooks Illustrated tested the NYT method and here is what they say about it.
            To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria when thawing frozen meat, we use one of two methods: We defrost thicker (1 inch or greater) cuts in the refrigerator and place thinner cuts on a heavy cast-iron or steel pan at room temperature, where the metal’s rapid heat transfer safely thaws the meat in about an hour. But a recent article by food scientist Harold McGee in the New York Times alerted us to an even faster way to thaw small cuts—a method that’s been studied by and won approval from the USDA: Soak cuts such as chops, steaks, cutlets, and fish fillets in hot water.

            Following this approach, we sealed chicken breasts, steaks, and chops in zipper-lock bags and submerged the packages in very hot (140-degree) water. The chicken thawed in less than eight minutes, the other cuts in roughly 12 minutes—both fast enough that the rate of bacterial growth fell into the “safe” category, and the meat didn’t start to cook. (Large roasts or whole birds are not suitable for hot thawing because they would need to be in the bath so long that bacteria would proliferate.) Note: The chicken breasts turned slightly opaque after thawing. Once cooked, however, the hot-thawed breasts and other cuts were indistinguishable from cold-thawed meat.

            1. It's a "safety" issue, they don't want the meat to be in the "danger zone" for too long.

              Fine as a rule for institutional cooking. Not necessary for home cooks.

              1. I have always used cold water baths for thawing packaged frozen meat and heartily object to the idea that the water must be continually running. I've never done that since it's a needless waste of water. The water stays plenty cold thanks to the icy temps of the meat. If I want to speed the thawing a bit more I use a metal vessel of some sort to contain the water, then place it on a metal cooling rack to wick out the cold and dissipate it faster. I don't like thawing ground meat in a water bath. It seems to exude more liquid that way - paler colored meat swimming in a bloody bag. The blood seems to stay in the meat more if it is thawed slowly in the refrigerator.

                I used to know someone who routinely roasted beef from frozen. I have no idea what timing and temp she used but she got very nice medium rare roasts thanks to the colder interior of the cut of meat. If pressed for time, I would not hesitate to put a roast with an unthawed core into the oven, though I'm not sure it would save any time in the long run since roasting time would be longer.

                1 Reply
                1. re: greygarious

                  >>> The water stays plenty cold thanks to the icy temps of the meat.<<<

                  Yes, that's the problem, and it's precisely why you want to keep the water running, or at least moving, as the article points out. You don't run the water to keep it cold; you run it to keep it warmer and to avoid the halo of icy cold water surrounding whatever you are defrosting, which will insulate it and slow down the process.

                2. It's a scary thought (thawing meat in hot water), but if it doesn't take much more than 1/2 hour to thaw and you start cooking it immediately, there isn't going to be enough time to grow enough bacteria to be a problem.
                  However, I would propose an experiment. Take two pieces of frozen meat and thaw one with tap water and 1 with hot water. Put a timer on them and keep checking. Without a doubt, the hot water will defrost faster but how much faster? If it is only 2-3 minutes, is it worth arguing about?

                  Now that we are discussing this, there are ways to make sure your meat thaws as quickly as possible.
                  1. Thaw it in a sink full of water.
                  2. Use a grate to keep it off the bottom and another grate to keep it submerged.
                  3. Remove as much air out of the package as possible. Air insulates very well. If the water isn't touching the meat or at least the plastic touching the meat it won't thaw as fast.
                  4. Keeping the water moving works better. This improves the convection thawing action. Running a small amount of water into the sink would work or stirring the water would help or a submerged aquarium pump/bubbler would do it too.
                  5. Freezing the meat in plastic works well. A ziplock bag will work if you evacuated as much air out of the bag as possible prior to freezing. A Foodsaver bag with the air pumped out works even better and doesn't get the meat wet.

                  If you are thawing steaks or chops, it won't take longer than 30 minutes to thaw. It could be a different story with several chicken breasts stuffed into the same bag because of the thickness of the package. Even a couple of chicken leg quarters could take a little while.