How to Defrost Ground Beef (3 Safe Methods)

Published By Kevin Turner

Last Updated Apr 23, 2023 is reader-supported. If you buy something using the links on our site, we might earn an affiliate commission at no added cost to you. This helps us pay our staff to keep making awesome content for you!

Ground beef in bowl
Table of Contents

    Deciding how to defrost ground beef will depend on how much time you have. 

    Nevertheless, it can be a tricky process. I bet there’s not a home cook with a meat-eating family who does not have several go-to packs of hamburger meat in the freezer. 

    Beware, if done incorrectly, it can lead to foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli or Salmonella.

    Fortunately, there are several safe methods to thaw ground meat that can help ensure your family’s safety.

    In this article, we will explore the best and safest methods for defrosting ground beef.

    We’ll look at how long it takes for each method, how to store the ground beef once it’s thawed, and tips for making sure the ground beef is properly defrosted.

    By following these simple steps, you can ensure that you and your family are safe while enjoying your favorite ground beef dishes.

    But before we get to how to defrost ground hamburger meat, we’ll take a quick look at how NOT to thaw it.

    Ground Beef on counter top

    Don’t defrost ground beef on the counter top

    The Risks of Thawing Ground Beef at Room Temperature

    Have you ever left for work leaving a pack of frozen ground beef on the kitchen countertop to defrost and be ready to make a quick dinner when you return?

    Food safety is crucial when you work with raw meat.

    No way should you leave frozen beef out on the counter to thaw – it could get contaminated super-fast since bacteria grows quickly in the danger zone between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Note that children and older people are most vulnerable to food-related illnesses.

    Frozen Ground Beef

    Frozen Hamburger Meat

    When is Defrosting Beef at Room Temperature Safe?

    If you want to thaw ground beef at room temperature, it’s vital to keep an eye on it.

    Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat often. According to the USDA, the danger zone starts at 40°F. Once the internal temp gets close to that, move it to the fridge immediately, or start cooking it right away.

    However, this will not cut the defrosting time significantly, and it will need your attention and time throughout the process, or risk contamination that could cause food poisoning.

    Related reading: How to reheat a steak

    Tips to Cut Defrosting Time

    If you buy raw ground beef that you’re not using immediately, pack and freeze it in a way that will cut down on defrosting time. Here’s what I do:

    1. Remove the ground beef from the original packaging like the Styrofoam tray, and also remove the moisture pad — both of which slow down defrosting.
    2. Use a scale to weigh off 1-pound portions of beef.
    3. Place each portion in a zip-top or other well-sealing freezer bag.
    4. Use a rolling pin to flatten the beef to fill as much of the bag as possible, leaving little or no space for air. Rolling the meat in the direction of the bag’s opening will also get rid of most of the air trapped in the ground beef.
    5. Seal the bags and get them into the freezer as quickly as possible.
    6. A half-inch thick slab of frozen ground beef will thaw much faster than a thick blob of frozen meat.
    7. This method will also prevent freezer burn.

    Alternatively, you can shape the ground beef into hamburgers before freezing.
    Here you can learn how to grill frozen burgers.

    Frozen beef burgers

    Frozen Hamburger Patties

    3 Safe Ways to Defrost Ground Beef

    The best way for you to thaw hamburger meat will come down to whether using ground beef was planned or not.

    1. Defrost Ground Beef in the Refrigerator

    The best way for thawing meat is to transfer it directly from the freezer to the fridge for 10 to 12 hours or longer.

    That way, it won’t enter the temperature danger zone where germs can grow.

    The beef will thaw slowly and evenly, giving it the best texture.

    Place it on the lowest shelf, below your produce, in the fridge, and put it on a plate or tray to catch any juices that could drip on other raw food and cause cross-contamination.

    Ground Beef in Plastic Container

    Use a container to prevent cross-contamination

    This is the safest way to defrost ground beef, but it takes the most time.

    The amount of time it takes to thaw in the fridge depends on how cold your fridge is set. The colder it’s set, the longer it takes.

    Plus, the weight of the beef affects thawing time too. A large pack of ground beef could take a day or two, but if you’ve portioned and flattened it as I suggested, it could be ready for cooking within hours.

    The same 1-pound pack of frozen ground beef could take up to 12 to 18 hours to thaw if it was not flattened before freezing.

    Once thawed in the fridge, you must cook the meat within two days.


    Thaw ground beef in the fridge

    2. Using the Cold-Water Method to Thaw Ground Beef

    If you want a quick way to thaw hamburger beef, the safest and quickest way is to put it in the sink filled with cold tap water or a large bowl of cold water and make sure it’s covered.

    Make sure the meat is sealed in a leak-proof zip-top bag.

    Place a plate or saucepan on top of the beef to keep it down in the water and make sure it thaws evenly.

    The water must be cold throughout the defrosting time.

    Using warm or hot water might seem like the way to go to hurry the thawing process, but the outer layer of the beef will heat up too fast, which can lead to harmful bacteria growth.

    At first, the frozen meat will keep the water cold, but as soon as the meat begins to thaw you will have to start changing the water every 30 minutes, or add ice cubes to keep the water as cold as possible.

    Bowl of water and ice cubes

    Add ice cubes to keep the water cold

    It takes different amounts of time to thaw different weights of food if you use the cold-water method. In my experience, small packages usually take around an hour, while bigger packs (around 3 to 4 pounds) could take between two and three hours.

    Related reading >> How to Grill Burgers

    3. Using the Defrost Cycle of the Microwave

    Take the ground beef out of its packaging and put it on a microwave-safe plate.

    If your microwave has a defrost feature, follow what it says.

    Otherwise, put it in the microwave at 30% power for about 5 minutes per pound and flip it over halfway.

    This is my least favorite method, and I avoid it as far as possible. Although that’s the fastest way to defrost frozen hamburger meat.

    Microwave oven

    Use the defrost cycle of the microwave

    This method of defrosting meat in the microwave isn’t a hands-off process.

    It won’t defrost the meat evenly either, so the edges of the meat will start cooking before the middle is defrosted.

    When I have no other option, I use this method but prevent this by just microwaving it for a minute at a time.

    After each minute, I remove any meat that’s been defrosted and put the rest back for another minute.

    After one or two minutes, I also break the meat in the middle apart as it defrosts to speed up the process.

    I never just leave it in the microwave to defrost unevenly with some parts overcooked and some still frozen.

    However, the fact remains, with this method, you can have dinner ready in 15 minutes, even if you’ve just taken the meat out of the freezer.

    Related reading >> How to cook frozen steak


    If you followed my advice to make flat packs of ground beef for freezing, here’s another quick defrosting method. It is for packs of meat less than 1 inch thick.

    • Place the flat pack between two kitchen towels and pound it with a mallet. Breaking up the meat will significantly speed up the defrosting process.
    • You can also break up a thin flat package of ground beef by rolling it with a rolling pin between two towels.

    Can You Refreeze Raw Defrosted Ground Beef?

    Whether or not it’s safe to refreeze ground beef after thawing depends on how you defrosted it.

    If the internal temperature of the beef stayed below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re safe. If you defrosted it in the fridge, it’s not likely that bacteria will grow, and you can safely refreeze it.

    But not if you used the microwave, cold or warm water, or let it thaw at room temperature. Refreezing it could lead to bacteria growth.

    To be safe, we suggest cooking the beef immediately. Let it cool, and then freeze it. The list of ground beef recipes is endless, starting with hamburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, tacos, etc.

    Related >> Best meat for beef jerky

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: Can I defrost ground beef in the microwave?

    A: Yes, you can thaw ground beef in the microwave. Make sure you use the defrost setting and keep stopping the microwave to make sure it’s thawing properly.

    Q: How long does it take to defrost ground beef in the refrigerator?

    A: If you need one pound of ground beef, make sure you give it 24 hours before you need it. Put it in the fridge to defrost. That way, you won’t run out of time.

    Q: Can I defrost ground beef on the kitchen counter?

    A: You shouldn’t thaw ground beef on the kitchen counter ’cause it allows bacteria to grow and make you sick.

    Q: How can I defrost ground beef quickly?

    A: To quickly defrost ground beef, put it in a sealed plastic bag and put it in cold water. Change the water every half an hour. It should take around an hour to defrost one pound of ground beef this way.

    Q: Can I cook ground beef from frozen?

    A: Don’t cook ground beef straight from frozen — it’ll get cooked unevenly and there’s a greater chance of food poisoning. Thaw it out first for best results.

    Learn More About Grilling

    If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources!


    7 Delicious Chicken Breast Recipes for a Healthy Dinner


    How Long Can Chicken Sit Out? Quick Answer Here

    Type of smoker

    What To Look For In Your First Smoker

    grilled chicken

    Why Chicken Breasts Are a Lean Protein Option


    Minimize the Danger When Preparing Raw Meat at Home


    Flavorful Grilled Chicken Breast Techniques

    Kevin Turner
    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you. You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional to grill great food!

    About The Grilling Master

    Hi there, I'm Kevin Turner, Founder and CEO of

    My passion has always been grilling, smoking and BBQ delicious meats that satisfy my inner carnivore!

    I started this website to share my passion and knowledge with you, the hungry reader who wants to prepare the perfect meal. 

    You can leverage my years of experience as a pit master and professional. 

    Send me a message and let's connect on Twitter here.

    As Seen In

    Recently Published Posts