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Everyone’s seen those videos of people cooking a steak right on top of their engine with a pan in the hot desert sun. Although this may work swimmingly in a pinch in some cases, some people get some strange ideas from seeing such a feat in action. For instance, is defrosting meat in the sun bad?
Well, yes. Defrosting meat in the sun is a bad idea. This is especially true for poultry, such as chicken or turkey. It will cause spoilage because the outside temperature of the package will get warmer than the meat itself. Such a thing sets the stage for foodborne illnesses like bacteria infestations and salmonella poisoning.
There are many ways to defrost meat, but putting it in the sun is not one of them. If you’re short on time and need your meat thawed quickly, ensure you follow one of the five safer practices: running it under cold water, thawing it in the refrigerator, cooking it straight from frozen, soaking it in hot water, or defrosting it in the microwave (which is the least advisable).
Defrosting Meat with Cold Water
One of the best ways to defrost meat quickly is by using cold water. All you need to do is either fill up a bucket (clean and sanitized) or the kitchen sink with water that’s between 35°F and 40°F. Ensure the package of the meat is tightly sealed in its wrapping so no water gets in and no raw meat juices leak out. When in doubt, use your own plastic wrap to safeguard the meat as well as the sink/bucket water.
Put the meat in the cold water and change it out every 20 to 30 minutes. It should only take about one to two hours for the meat to fully thaw. However, this length of time will depend on the weight of the meat, its thickness, and how frozen it is. Due to these varying factors, you will have to keep an eye on the meat as it thaws when using this method.
If it thaws completely before you’re fully ready to cook it, put it into the refrigerator to wait, but do not put it back into the freezer. When you do finally place the meat on the counter, don’t let it sit for more than two hours or spoilage will occur. This can do the same type of damage as allowing it to thaw in the sun.
Defrost Your Meat in the Refrigerator
The most highly recommended way to defrost meat is in the refrigerator overnight or, at most, for about two days. The temperature doesn’t fluctuate, and this method gives the meat all the time it needs to soften enough for cooking without posing any health risks. It is arguably the safest way to thaw meat without risking foodborne illnesses whatsoever.
However, when thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator, you will likely want to put a dish or tray of some sort underneath the package of meat. This is so it will catch any blood, water, and any other drippings that will occur as a result of the thawing process.
Defrosting by Cooking Meat Straight from Frozen
Cooking meat straight from frozen is good mostly for beef and pork. While it’s still okay to use this method for chops and cutlets, it’s primarily better for cooking cuts like roasts. It’s not advisable to use this method at all for poultry unless the manufacturer indicates such on the packaging.
When cooking from frozen, you should estimate on average that your cooking time will be about 50% longer than when cooking defrosted meat. This means that you will have to take even more time when it comes to preparation and making accurate calculations. Also, in the case of roasts, you won’t be able to include fresh veggies from the get-go if you want to prepare the meal by starting with frozen meat. You will have to cook those separately.
Defrosting Meat with Hot Water (CAUTION)
There is one way you can use warmth without putting your meat in the sun: thawing frozen meat by using hot water. However, you will need to take great caution with this method and avoid using this technique if you’re planning on thawing any duck, chicken, or turkey. Any meat that has the potential for increased chances of salmonella should not undergo hot water defrosting.
That said, many professional chefs and the USDA approve of this technique under the right conditions. Cover the packaged meat with a Ziploc bag; but, before you seal it, ensure all of the air is out of the bag. You will then need to put the bag into a bowl of hot water with a temperature of 140°F. This will thaw the meat within 12 to 18 minutes and ensure it is ready to cook.
It’s important that you maintain a temperature of no more than 140°F, though. Otherwise, you run the risk of doing the same damage to the meat as you would by laying it out in the sun.
Defrosting via Microwave (LEAST ADVISABLE)
You can always use a microwave to defrost meat quickly if that’s what you want to do. However, you should know that it’s not really “defrosting” in the truest sense. While it does make the meat appropriate for cooking, it changes its natural texture.
Some spots will seem more rubbery than others once you cook it on the stove or in the oven after having initially thawed it in the microwave. This is because the electromagnetic energy combined with emitting radiation translates into actually cooking certain spots while barely defrosting the other and likely thicker parts. Microwaving provides an uneven thaw that tends to make your final product rather lackluster, unappealing, and unappetizing.
However, if you monitor the thawing and do so using just small time increments—and also don’t just press the “defrost” button—it should turn out okay enough if there’s really no other way to get the task completed.
In conclusion, defrosting meat in the sun is bad since you cannot safely control the temperatures to ensure safe thawing practices. You would simply create a situation in which harmful bacteria can develop and other foodborne illnesses, like salmonella, would become a significant problem. However, there are other ways you can thaw meat faster and stay within the safe limits regarding temperature and preventing bacterial breeding grounds. As long as you use the techniques above, you should have nothing to worry about.