Freezing prepared meals and uncooked ingredients is a smart way to space out visits to the market. Fortunately, cuts of meat that hold up well in the freezer, whether raw or cooked, also happen to yield the most comforting dishes.
As a general rule, freeze cuts of poultry and meat that will end up intentionally beyond well-done after being cooked low and slow. When meat is frozen, ice crystals form, damaging the cellular structure of the meat and potentially making it mushy once cooked. That means thawed steaks, pork chops or chicken breasts may not grill or sear properly, and won’t achieve that satisfying balance between tenderness and chewiness. Better to stick with big, sinewy cuts — bones and all — that braise into fork-tender dishes saturated with sauce. Or go for the fattiest ground meat available, roll into meatballs, use as a filling for dumplings or mix into a thick sauce. As a bonus, these cuts tend to be the least expensive.
How to prepare meat for the freezer
If your meat isn’t already packaged to go straight into the freezer — that is, vacuumed-sealed in plastic — prepare it yourself as soon as you get home to minimize freezer burn and maximize tastiness later. Label a resealable freezer plastic bag with the cut of meat, its weight and the date. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and place it in the bag, arranging any smaller individual pieces in a single layer. Seal the bag, leaving 1 inch open, then squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing that last inch. Stack sealed bags in the freezer from oldest to newest, so you can see what needs to be cooked first. According to the USDA, frozen foods will keep indefinitely, but according to my years of taste-testing thawed meat, they’re best within six months.
How to thaw meat from the freezer
To thaw, transfer the meat in its packaging to a shallow baking dish or tray, which will catch any leakage. Refrigerate until thawed through, about a day for 1 to 2 pounds of meat, then proportionally more — two days for 3 to 4 pounds and so on.
If you’re in a hurry and dealing with a smaller piece of meat, place the package in a deep baking dish or bowl and add enough cold water to cover. Weigh down the meat with a saucepan or heavy dish and let stand for 30 minutes. Pour out the water and refill the dish with more cold water. Repeat until the meat is thawed through, about an hour for a pound of meat, then proportionally more.