Ice crystals—the culprits behind the notorious phenomenon “freezer burn”—are the enemy of frozen meat. They rupture its cell walls, resulting in the release of juices during cooking and ultimately, dry and unappetizing meat.
As someone who likes to keep my freezer full of at-the-ready steaks, chops, tenderloins, and chicken parts, I do everything I can to minimize ice crystals. I wrap chicken using the test kitchen’s preferred method (step one: lose the supermarket packaging) and I don’t refreeze it once it’s already been defrosted (here’s why).
But the most effective step I take in combating ice crystals takes place between wrapping the meat and transferring it to the freezer: I quick-chill it in a mixture of water, ice, and salt.
Why salt? The salt depresses the freezing point of the mixture so that more of the ice cubes turn to liquid. Since ice cubes from most home freezers can be as cold as zero degrees (the temperature that most home freezers are set), this process introduces very cold water to the ice bath. In the test kitchen we were able to achieve slushy ice baths with temperatures as low as 17 degrees.
The faster the meat freezes the smaller the ice crystals that form, so chilling it in a very cold environment before hitting the freezer speeds up its freezing.
If you’re as determined as I am to keep the meat in your freezer freezer-burn-free, here’s how to quick-chill your meat and chicken:
- Combine 1 cup of ice, 1 pound of salt, and ⅓ cup of water in a container. (This is enough mixture to chill four steaks or chops.)
- Wrap the meat in plastic wrap, place the pieces in a zipper-lock bag, and submerge the bag in the ice bath.
- Once the meat is frozen solid, remove the bag from the ice bath and transfer it to the freezer.