Have you ever pulled something out of a forgotten part of your freezer only to find that it was freezer burned? It might seem best to throw it away, but wait, there is some hope even for freezer-burned meat. If you prepare it carefully, you can turn freezer burn meat into a clever palatable dish!
The good news is, freezer burnt meat is perfectly safe to eat. By knowing how to recognize freezer burn, proper preparation, and creative cooking, you can create a meal that tastes delicious and even looks great.
What Is Freezer Burn And Why It Happens?
Before you cook freezer burned meat, it is important to know what it is and how it looks like so you can prepare it accordingly.
Freezer burn is the drying of food caused by poor moisture and temperature control inside a freezer. It is also caused by inappropriate freezing practices like insufficient freezer-safe backing or lengthy freezing periods.
To put it in layman’s terms, freezer burn happens when moisture in food is replaced with oxygen as the moisture is pulled out of the food and freezes on the surface. The process is also called dehydration or sublimation .
Freezer burn is also likely to occur if a frozen food gets above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) and then refreezes. It can also happen when there is a hole in food packaging or if the packaging is thin or not sealed properly.
Most foods with higher moisture content like meats, fish, ice cream, fruits, etc., will eventually develop freezer burn when frozen for extended periods of time.
How Long Does It Take For Freezer Burn To Develop?
The first signs of the freezer burn can occur as soon as 2-3 months after the meat is put in a freezer, depending on how well it is packed. Under perfect conditions, frozen meat should stay freezer burn-free for up to a year.
What Does Freezer Burn Look Like On Meat And Poultry?
On most meat items, freezer burn looks like a layer of frost or ice crystals on the surface. Freezer burn can also change the color and texture of meat, changing beef from red to brown and chicken breasts from pink to gray or tan.
Although freezer burn does change the appearance, taste, and texture of the food, it is still considered perfectly safe to eat. It can be made into a tasty meal if you know how to work with it.
There are a few uncommon instances when fatty meats that have been in the freezer for a long time become freezer burned and rancid. Always check the meat to make sure it doesn’t smell like it’s gone bad.
Preparing Freezer Burned Meat (Thawing)
Preparation is the key to success when working with freezer-burned meat. The first step is to carefully defrost the meat.
It is best to slowly raise the temperature. Instead of using the microwave to thaw the meat, try placing it in the refrigerator overnight or using a cold water bath.
The best way to thaw freezer-burned meat is in the refrigerator or cold water bath. This process can take up to 24 hours, and it is important to keep the meat wrapped or placed on a dish covered with kitchen foil or plastic wrap.
The goal of this process is to maintain as much moisture as possible while the meat thaws.
Avoid any fast thawing methods like using the microwave, which will further dry out already dehydrated meat.
Attention! While thawing meat in cold water, keep a close eye on the progress; the USDA advises that meat thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately once thawed.
Seasoning Freezer Burned Meat
Next, think about how you want to season your meat.
Freezer burn can affect the taste of the meat and typically makes it taste bland and tasteless. So, find your favorite spices and consider a marinade to bring some life back into the meat.
A good option is to use intense, bold flavors to enhance the flavor of your freezer burnt meat.
Below are some herbs and spices to consider to add some color, taste, and aroma to your dish.
- Cayenne pepper
- Black pepper
- Dark chilis
- Red pepper flakes
- Paprika powder
- Mustard powder
- Curry powder.
- Bay Leaves
- Garlic powder
To enhance the flavor of other seasonings and keep the meat succulent, chefs recommend using Kosher salt.
If you are cooking freezer burnt chicken, soak it in buttermilk marinade. Buttermilk will give the chicken a rich flavor and keep it moist and succulent.
Cooking Freezer Burned Meat
Once you have chosen what marinade, herbs, and spices you want to use, it is time to cook.
The first thing you want to do is trim off some of the areas of the meat that seem most noticeably affected.
Since freezer burn dries out meat, consider incorporating the meat into juicier recipes. A few examples are dicing the meat and adding it to stews or soups. The broth will supplement the moisture and flavor pulled from the meat in the freezer.
When you cook freezer-burned meat, try not to make the meat the main part of the meal.
For example, if you were going to have steak and potatoes or a chicken breast with rice, try shredding the meat and having chicken or steak tacos or pulled steak sandwich instead.
Doing this will allow the flavors of taco shells, tortillas, cheese, mashed avocado, tomatoes, hot sauce, and salsa to combine and make the meat taste delicious and succulently.
When cooking freezer burnt meat in the oven, sear it on all sides in a hot pan before butting it in the oven. Make sure you cover the meat, or even better if you wrap it in aluminum foil or cook it in the roasting bag. That will help trap the moisture, resulting in more moist and tender meat.
You can add salt, pepper, and other seasonings, along with vegetables of your choice, as well as water and bouillon cubes to the roasting bag.
Getting creative as you cook with freezer-burned meat will allow you to forget the meat was ever freezer-burned at all. This can be a fun way to try recipes or cooking techniques you otherwise may not have considered.
Who knows, you might even find a dish that becomes a new family favorite. But it doesn’t mean you have to deliberately start freeze-burn your meat now.
Cooking Methods To Avoid
The first tip is to avoid the microwave when cooking meat. Microwaving is known to result in dry, rubbery meat, freezer burnt or not. Heating the meat up slower and more consistently will give you the best chance to undo some freezer damage.
Avoid the slow cooker. It may sound a bit contradictory now, but a slow cooker can also dry out the meat. Don’t use the slow cooker if you have very lean cuts of beef or pork or skinless, boneless chicken breast.
However, the slow cooker is a good option if you have more fatty cuts of meat like shoulder, ribs, tenderloin, lamb shank, or chicken thighs and drumsticks.
Also, keep in mind that crockpot needs liquid to give you a moist and tender result, so make sure to add some water, stock, or even wine.
Make sure you cook low and slow; plan for 7-8 hours of cooking time. Don’t worry; slow cookers are very energy efficient.
Avoid pressure cooker unless you are a pressure-cooker pro. In a pressure cooker, you are cooking in a humid, high-pressure environment; you would have deliciously moist and tender results if done right.
Unfortunately, it is pretty easy to overcook your food in this high-pressure environment like a pressure cooker. Once it happens, there is no turning back; your meat would be tough and chewy, and even shredding may not save it.
Don’t boil. When meat is vigorously boiled in hot water, the meat juices and fats will seep out of the meat and into the water. Instead of boiling, go for a gentle simmer instead.
How To Prevent Freezer Burn On Meat?
Stopping freezer burn before it ever begins is all about the packaging, the right temperature, and time. Before you put meat or any other food in the freezer, try to make sure that all or most of the following conditions are met.
- Adjust your freezer temperature to 0°F (-18°C).
- Cool the meat before freezing it.
- Package the meat into small batches.
- Don’t cram the freezer with food.
- Label the food with the date of freezing.
- Pack the food in freezer-safe bags, containers, or vacuum-sealed bags.
- Push out as much air as possible from the freezer bags.
- Double up the packaging or use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or wax paper for an extra layer of protection.
- Keep the freezer organized using up the older food first.
- Don’t leave the freezer door open for too long.
My favorite and probably the most effective way to prevent freezer burn is to use a vacuum sealer. It is straightforward to use and works not only for meat, but you can also vacuum seal liquid foods like marinades, stews, and soups before freezing.
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Vacuum sealers suck out all the air around the food, which will help the food stay fresh much longer and prevent freezer burn. After vacuum-sealing a bag, make sure to check the seal for any holes where air can get in.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer or thick packaging, you can double wrap food that is going in the freezer while removing as much air as possible. You can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or butcher paper and then place it in a plastic container, sandwich bag, or reusable bag.
The longer food is in the freezer, the more likely freezer burn is. There always seems to be neglected food somewhere in our freezers. It may be helpful to do an inventory of your freezer to see what food you have and if you can use it before the freezer burn sets in or becomes worse.
Saving Food And Money
According to statistics, food prices are only going up; rescuing freezer-burned meat is a great way to save money. You can also be assured that you can freeze meat before it goes bad and cook with confidence, even if it becomes freezer burned. You can avoid wasting food and also have a good meal.
There are many easy ways to minimize freezer burn; but if it does happen, then using some of the tips and tricks above can help you turn your meat into a decent, edible meal.