How to Defrost Ground Beef

It’s a busy weeknight and you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table. You gather all of your ingredients only to realize you forgot to thaw the most important one—the ground beef! We’ve all been there. But don’t throw up your hands and head to the drive-thru; thawing ground beef is easy, and it doesn’t have to take hours.

With so many ways to spin it, ground beef is the ultimate meal-saver to keep stocked in your freezer. Not only is it easy on the grocery budget, it stars in so many favorite family meals from burgers and ground beef casseroles to Mexican recipes of every kind. It also hearties up pasta dishes, like baked ziti (a favorite in the Drummond household) and Ree Drummond’s spaghetti and meatballs. But when it comes to defrosting ground beef, it’s important to do it the right way. The USDA recommends three different methods for thawing ground beef: in the refrigerator, in the microwave, or in cold water, so no matter if you only have a few minutes to spare or remember to plan ahead, there’s a method for you. Read on for when and how to try these thawing tricks.

how to defrost ground beef

Will Dickey

What’s the best way to thaw ground beef?

Just pick one of the methods below next time you need to thaw frozen ground beef!

How to defrost in the refrigerator:

According to the USDA, this is the safest method for thawing ground beef, and if you plan ahead, it’s also the easiest! Keeping the meat cold while it defrosts prevents any harmful bacteria from growing. Be sure your refrigerator is set to below 40 degrees and place your ground meat—in its packaging or sealed in a zip-top bag—on a plate or in a dish with sides to catch any drips. Place the dish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator (the coldest part) and allow it to thaw. Cook the meat within one or two days of defrosting. With this method, as long as the meat never gets above 40 degrees, you can even refreeze it within a few days if needed.

How to defrost using cold water:

Quicker than thawing in the refrigerator but not as quick as using a microwave, this method may take some babysitting, but it works like a charm. To start, make sure the beef is in a watertight, zip-top bag. Next, place the bag in a large bowl and pour cold water over it so that the meat is submerged. You’ll want to change the water every 30 minutes until the meat is thawed. With this method, be sure to cook the meat immediately and never try to refreeze it.

How to defrost in the microwave:

When you need thawed ground beef in record time, turn to the handy dandy microwave. Make sure you remove the beef from the original packaging or a zip-top bag (neither are typically heat safe) and place it in a microwave-safe dish. Using the defrost setting (or 30 percent power), microwave the beef for three to four minutes, flipping it halfway through. All microwaves’ wattages differ, so keep an eye on the beef. You may need less or more time. It’s important to cook the beef immediately after you’ve thawed it in the microwave because some parts of the meat may have already begun to cook while defrosting.

How long does it take to thaw ground beef?

It depends on the method and how much beef you have to defrost! With the fridge, it could take a day or two. Thawing in cold water can take one to two hours. The microwave, however, typically takes less than 10 minutes. There’s a method for every time budget!

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Senior Food Editor/Writer

Georgia Goode is the Senior Food Editor/Writer at When she’s not editing recipes and sneaking bites from the test kitchen, you can find her scouting out the best eats around town and dreaming up dinner party menus with friends. 

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