3 Simple and Safe Methods to Defrost Steak (For Best Flavor)

Published By Kevin Turner

Last Updated Jan 30, 2024

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Frozen steak ready for grilling
Table of Contents

    If you know how to safely defrost steak quickly, you wouldn’t mind having unexpected guests on steak night.

    There’s no getting away from it, the way you defrost steak matters. Here we’ll explain how to do it safely and still end up with a tender, melt-in-the-mouth steak that requires little effort with a knife. If you do this incorrectly, you’re sure to land up with rubbery, bland steaks.

    The safest thawing method is to remove it from the freezer and place it in the fridge immediately. Raw meat is a delicate food that can become a host of bacteria if it’s not kept cold.

    To avoid food poisoning, NEVER leave frozen meat on the countertop to thaw while you are at work or elsewhere because bacterial growth can cause food-related illnesses.

    Defrost Safety – The Danger Zone

    According to the USDA, leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illnesses like Salmonella, E. coli, and other foodborne illnesses.

    Your refrigerator’s temperature setting should be at 40 °F because bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

    This range of temperatures is often called the “Danger Zone.”

    Contaminated beef

    Maintain Food Safety

    Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone”

    Never leave food out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours.

    If the temperature is above 90 °F, food should not be left out for more than 1 hour.

    Keep Hot Food Hot

    Hot food must be kept at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays, and/or slow cookers.

    Keep Cold Food Cold

    Keep cold food at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.

    Related Reading: How to smoke a steak.

    How Long Will My Steak Take to Thaw?

    The time it will take to defrost your steak will depend on several factors.

    • The thickness of the steaks, how you chose to freeze them, and the method you use for thawing your steaks.
    • Using the fridge is the safest but also the longest method. Large, thick steaks can take anything from 24 to 30 hours, while thinner and smaller steaks can take 18 to 24 hours.
    • The cold-water method can take a couple of hours for thin, 1-pound steaks, while a large 3-pound steak will likely take between 3 and 4 hours to thaw.
    • Your microwave’s defrost setting might thaw your steak within 5 minutes, but most experts recommend using this method only as a last resort.
    • Regardless of what method you use, the way you decided to freeze your steaks will play a significant role in the time defrosting takes.

    NOTE: Revisiting the risk of leaving meat at room temperature, you can do this safely and speed up the defrosting to some extent.

    • However, you will have to be present to monitor the internal temperature of the steak.
    • You can only leave it on the counter until the internal temperature reaches 40 °F.
    • At that time, you must put it in the fridge to prevent bacterial growth.
    • Remember, every minute matters — twenty minutes at above 40 °F can double the risk.

    Preparing Steak for the Freezer

    I can assure you that spending a bit of time preparing your steaks for freezing can save you a lot of time when it comes to defrosting them.

    When I bring steaks from the store, I remove the Styrofoam tray and the moisture pad because they typically freeze onto the meat and extend the thawing time.

    Furthermore, I freeze each steak separately in a resealable zip-top bag, making it easy to defrost the exact number of steaks I need.

    You can either put each steak in its own zip-lock bag, or freeze several in one bag, but with each steak wrapped in plastic wrap. If they stick together when you take them out to thaw, a gentle tap on the counter will separate them.

    You can prevent freezer burn by vacuum-packing each steak.

    The next step is to lay them flat on a baking tray before they go into the freezer. Once they are frozen, I usually pack them in one container to keep order in the freezer.

    Vacuum Packed Steak

    Individually Packed Frozen Steak

    How to Defrost Steak

    I will start with the safest ways to thaw steak and follow up with the methods not highly recommended.

    1. Defrost Steak in the Refrigerator

    This is the ideal way to thaw steaks: however, it is only viable if you plan ahead because it can take days rather than hours.

    Although defrosting steak in the fridge takes the longest, it is the safest and requires no further monitoring or attention.

    This hands-off method gives you evenly defrosted steaks. All you have to do is to make sure the meat goes directly from the freezer to the fridge.

    Place it on the bottom shelf in a food container or on a plate to catch any condensation and bloody drippings that can cause cross-contamination.

    Once you remove it from the freezer, cook it immediately to prevent bacterial growth. Learn a great cooking technique for flank steak here.

    Pack of beef steak in fridge

    Don’t Put Raw Meat Above Other Food in the Fridge

    2. Defrost Steak in Cold Water

    Defrosting steaks in cold water is quicker and mostly hands-off, but it needs some monitoring.

    Make sure the steaks are securely sealed in zip-top bags to prevent water from getting to the steaks.

    Go ahead and put the packs of meat in a sink or large bowl filled with cold water. You can put something heavy on the meat to ensure it stays submerged and thaws evenly.

    Although the frozen steak will keep the water cold at first, you’ll need to check it at half-hour intervals. You can either add ice cubes once the water warms up or replace the cold water.

    Also, keep on checking the meat, and as soon as it is thawed, cook it immediately or transfer it to the fridge if you’re not cooking it right away.

    Related Reading >> How to Defrost Ground Beef

    Frozen Steak in Water Bath

    Defrost Steak in a Cold-Water Bath

    3. Defrost Steak in the Microwave

    Microwave defrosters can work for homemade pasta sauces, vegetables, and some other foods, but with steak, microwave defrost settings can spoil an expensive piece of meat. That is according to Gordon Ramsay.

    Steaks do not thaw evenly in the microwave, even if your microwave has a defrost setting. Because of the uneven defrosting, some spots can be cooked while other parts are still frozen.

    Furthermore, this method of defrosting rids the steak of its juices, leaving it gray, dry, and chewy.

    If you are ever tempted to thaw steaks in the microwave, check it every 30 seconds and remove the steak as soon as you notice the outer edges cooking and turning gray.

    If the center is still frozen, finish the defrosting process with the cold-water bath method. After the initial microwaving, it will likely only take another 10 to 15 minutes in the water.

    If you had to choose between a chewy, dry steak and a perfect steak that is juicy and tender, who would not be okay with waiting those extra few minutes?

    Defrost Cycle in Microwave

    Defrosting Steak in the Microwave

    Other Defrost Hacks

    While not recommended by health authorities, some people have their own favorite defrosting methods, including the following:

    Hot Water Method

    Heat a pot of water to 140 degrees, then submerge a frozen steak sealed in a zip-lock bag in the hot water, keeping it on the stove plate.

    Users of this method say the process is quick enough to avoid having the meat exposed to the danger zone for too long.

    Also, since the frozen meat immediately cools the water near it, the hot bath will not start cooking the steak. If you stir the water all the time, the meat thaws even quicker, and the steak can defrost in only 10 minutes.

    Sous Vide Hot-Thaw Method

    Seal the frozen steak in a zip-lock bag and submerge it in a pot filled with 4 quarts of water. Place an immersion circulator in the pot, set it to 140°F, and turn it on.  A 1-inch, 1-pound steak should thaw completely within about 8 minutes.

    Thaw Steak using Sous Vide Hot-Thaw Method

    Defrost Steak – Sous Vide Hot-Thaw Method

    Electricity Free Steak-Defrosting Hack

    A Taiwanese cable channel, CTi, claims this hack will safely thaw a frozen 1 cm steak in less than 5 minutes. The fastest way of all.

    Here’s how. Turn a steel pot over bottom-up and place your vacuum-sealed steak flat on it. Then fill another steel pot with water and place it, topside up, on top of the steak.

    They suggest the weight of the water and its temperature, conducted by the metal, will speed thawing to be done in a few minutes.

    Perfect Beef on Plate

    Correct Defrosting Method can Lead to a Perfectly Grilled Steak

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: What is the best way to defrost steak?

    A: If you want to defrost steak safely, you should place it in its vacuum-sealed packaging on a plate in the refrigerator overnight.

    Q: Can I defrost steak in warm water or in the microwave?

    A: Although steak can be defrosted in warm water or in the microwave method, it is not recommended since the quality of the meat may be compromised.

    Q: How long does it take to defrost steak?

    A: The thickness of the steak will determine how long it takes to defrost. You can thaw thinner cuts in the refrigerator faster, but thicker cuts might take 24 hours.

    Q: Can I cook steak from frozen?

    A: It’s possible to cook steak from frozen, but it takes longer and may not turn out as you expect. Don’t let the steak defrost on the counter. Always follow food safety guidelines.

    Q: Can I defrost steak at room temperature?

    A: You shouldn’t thaw meat at room temperature because harmful bacteria growth can spoil it.

    Q: How can I safely defrost steak?

    A: There are three safe ways to defrost steak: In the refrigerator, in cold water, in the microwave on the defrost setting.

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

    A: Depending on the thickness of the steak, it’ll take a while to defrost. 1 pound of steak takes about 24 hours to defrost in the fridge.

    Q: How do I defrost steak in cold water?

    A: Make sure you put the steak in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Ensure the water stays cold by changing it every 30 minutes. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to defrost a steak, depending on its thickness.

    Q: Can I defrost steak in the microwave?

    A: Although it is not recommended, steak can be defrosted in the microwave using the defrost setting. Ensure even defrosting by turning the steak over halfway through microwave defrosting.

    Q: Can I cook steak from frozen?

    A: Experienced grill masters recommend grilling frozen steaks. However, for the inexperienced, the problem with cooking steak from frozen is that the cooking can be uneven and may lead to foodborne illness. The cooking time will be longer. It is best to defrost the steak before cooking it.

    Q: How can I tell if my steak is fully defrosted?

    A: Touch your steak to see if it’s fully defrosted. If the steak is fully defrosted, it won’t feel hard or icy in the middle. It’s also a good idea to check for ice crystals, which may mean the steak is not fully defrosted.

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

    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.

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