The clock reads 5:30 pm, the kids are hungry, you have a pound of frozen ground beef and want to cook some burgers. So, how do you thaw the beef?
This is a common dilemma as ground beef has increasingly become a staple in home cooking, and 62 percent of the ground beef consumers purchase ends up in home freezers, according to Shenoa French, director of innovation and product solutions at the NCBA. And, French says, about 44 percent of consumers leave the ground beef in its original packaging for freezing. Often, consumers do not think ahead to thaw their ground beef in the refrigerator as recommended, and in fact, about half of family meals aren’t decided until after 4:30 pm.
You could use the thaw cycle on the microwave, but we know from experience that tends to cook part of the package before the rest is thawed and the result is undesirable.
The culinary experts at the Checkoff-funded Beef Innovation Group (BIG) recognized this as a challenge and a barrier to consumers eating more beef, so they set to work on finding a solution, which French demonstrated to a group of trade journalists this week. The solution is surprisingly simple and effective. Here is how to do it.
- Remove your pound of frozen ground beef from its over-wrapped supermarket package (or from your own packaging if you repackaged it in a freezer bag).
- Place the beef in a one-gallon microwave-safe plastic storage bag, and zip the bag shut, leaving a small, pencil-sized opening at one end.
- Place the bag on your microwave turntable and set the oven to run for one minute on high.
- After one minute, remove the package and massage the beef to begin breaking it up.
- Turn the beef over, place it on the microwave turntable and run for one more minute on high.
- If needed, depending on the wattage of the microwave, turn the package over one more time and microwave on high for 30 seconds.
The beef in French’s demonstration was thawed and crumbly, but still cold, with no cooked edges or liquid seepage after the two one-minute cycles. It easily could have been used to form hamburger patties or for any other ground-beef cooking method.
French notes this method will work with frozen ground beef packages of about one pound, as long as the beef is packaged flat, such as in the typical supermarket foam trays. The cylindrical ground beef chubs often sold at retail are not good candidates for thawing with this method as their thick profile will result in some cooking around the edges before the middle thaws.
French also notes that freezing ground beef or other beef cuts in the original supermarket trays is not recommended, as the packaging does not provide a sufficient barrier to prevent freezer burn. The BIG culinary experts recommend repackaging one pound of ground beef in a quart-sized freezer bag, pressed into a flat rectangle about an inch thick. This packaging protects the product’s quality while allowing efficient use of freezer space and, if needed, a thawing process that takes just over two minutes.