How to Thaw a Steak the Right Way

Raw ribeye on a red cutting board
Raw steaks lined up

You’ve just purchased some prime beef, and plan on cooking a beautiful meal for your friends Friday night. Now you want to ensure your top quality steaks turn out perfectly. The most important first step is thawing. It may seem inconsequential, but it is vital to preserving the integrity of the meat and the quality.

If you’re going to spend money on the best steaks for the best steak eating experience, then you want to make sure that you prepare it properly before cooking it, and that includes the crucial step of thawing it correctly, so that it does not lose any juiciness or tenderness. 

Why Frozen Steaks Anyways?

For the ultimate steak experience, getting frozen steaks in vacuum-sealed bags will help them maintain their ultimate fresh factor until you’re ready to cook those babies.

You might be wondering - isn’t it commonly thought that anything fresh is better than anything frozen? Well, yes. But in the case of steaks, frozen is generally the freshest. 

The reason that steak is frozen in the first place is because it slows the movement of molecules, therefore, preventing the growth of organisms that might cause food borne illnesses.

At your local grocery store, you really don’t know how long that meat has been refrigerated before you took it home. Although the meat has an expiration date on the package, it’s not stamped with the date it was cut or the date it was packaged. And who knows about the date that it was displayed? 

The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) says that if you purchase meat that was previously frozen, you can refreeze it if it was handled properly. 

This means that the meat you buy at the grocery store was probably frozen before. This is often the case, as grocery stores purchase bulk quantities of meat that have to be kept frozen. They can then defrost it and sell it to you, and if it’s handled properly, you can take it home and refreeze it.

Keep in mind - when meat is defrosted it begins to deteriorate and when it’s refrozen, it’s no longer fresh top quality meat! Things such as color, flavor and texture might deteriorate. Long story short -  the meat will not taste as good. 

So, yes! When it comes to buying meat, frozen = fresh.

After the meat is dry aged or wet aged to bring out the flavor and tenderness, it is packaged and frozen at the peak of this flavor and tenderness, where it then waits for you to defrost and cook it at that peak. 

Plan Ahead and Thaw Your Steak the Slowest and Safest Way

The best way to thaw a steak, and the safest, is in the refrigerator where it stays a safe cold temperature while it defrosts. Above all, avoid the danger zone - between 5°C and 60°C (41°F to 135°F). Bacteria will love your steak in the danger zone, but you won’t love them when you eat that steak! When you have time to spare before serving up that steak, leave it in the fridge overnight. Depending on the thickness of the steak, it needs anywhere from 12-30 hours to properly thaw in the fridge. Go ahead and poke that baby when you want to check if it’s defrosted. It should be firm, have some give, and have no visible icing. 

Thaw Your Steak Quickly, but Safely

Starving? Getting your hangry on? No need to fuss. There is a quicker way to safely thaw that steak from The Kitchn. Don’t fret if you forgot to leave your steak in the fridge overnight. Submerge your vacuum-sealed steak in a bowl of COLD water. Be sure the steak is vacuum-sealed or sealed in a ziplock bag. Be sure to check the water every 30 minutes. Stay on top of that and make sure the water remains cold! Your steak should thaw in 1 - 4 hours, depending on the thickness of the cut. Once again, just give it a poke and see if it’s firm but has some give, and make sure there is no visible icing. 

Steak Thawing Hack - the Unconventional Method

Want to get creative in the kitchen? Impatient to thaw that slab of steak? Try this hack to defrost it quicker - all you need for this is water and a pair of pans. You can use this hack to defrost a 1cm piece of steak in under 5 minutes, and thicker cuts probably will take a little longer. Grab a baking sheet, or a pan, and turn it over (or use any surface that is clean and solid). Then, grab a pan, fill it with water, and set that on top of your vacuum-sealed steak. It will defrost in a matter of minutes from the combination of the weight and the pan’s ability to conduct heat. (Downside: you might end up flattening your steak a little with this method.)

What Not to do to Your Steak

No matter how tempting it might be, don’t microwave your steak to thaw it out! Yes, it will defrost it, but it will also start to cook it. Unless you want your meat to start turning gray and to attain an enticing chewy texture, avoid the defrost button on the microwave when it comes to steaks. 

Don’t leave it unwrapped and under cold running water. While the cold water will assist in keeping it out of the danger zone, the steak will lose its juice and leave you with something stringy and dry. 

Last of all, don’t leave it out on the counter. This will put it in the temperature danger zone. 

Be sure to thaw your frozen steaks the correct way. Don’t play around when it comes to this. Even if your date takes a turn for the worst, you don’t want to deal with food poisoning on top of that.


READ NEXT: How to Season Your Steak Like A Pro