How to Safely Thaw Meat in Hot Water

Use this trick to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria when thawing frozen meat.

To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria when thawing frozen meat, we use one of two methods: We defrost thicker (1 inch or greater) cuts in the refrigerator and place thinner cuts on a heavy cast-iron or steel pan at room temperature, where the metal’s rapid heat transfer safely thaws the meat in about an hour. But an article by food scientist Harold McGee in the New York Times alerted us to an even faster way to thaw small cuts—a method that’s been studied by and won approval from the USDA: Soak cuts such as chops, steaks, cutlets, and fish fillets in hot water.

Following this approach, we sealed chicken breasts, steaks, and chops in zipper-lock bags and submerged the packages in very hot (140-degree) water. The chicken thawed in less than eight minutes, the other cuts in roughly 12 minutes—both fast enough that the rate of bacterial growth fell into the “safe” category, and the meat didn’t start to cook. (Large roasts or whole birds are not suitable for hot thawing because they would need to be in the bath so long that bacteria would proliferate.) Note: The chicken breasts turned slightly opaque after thawing. Once cooked, however, the hot-thawed breasts and other cuts were indistinguishable from cold-thawed meat.

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