Picture this: you are at the grocery looking for some extra ingredients for the scrumptious steak dinner you are having. Your parents are on the way to visit you and you can’t wait to impress them with your new cooking skills. You’re starting to feel like a real adult!
But then you remember that you forgot one crucial step, something that would take up most of the time in your cooking process. Something so crucial you’re worried about the success of your dish; this could make or break it, after all…
You forgot to defrost the steak!
You hurry home and you look for the easiest — and quickest — way to defrost your steak. And now you’re here!
Worry not. Home cooks make this mistake all the time; even I have fallen into the trap of thinking your steak is thawing in the refrigerator as you prepare your ingredients. However, you’ll find that there are several ways to defrost a steak, and why it’s even necessary at all!
To start, defrosting a steak will cut your cooking time by half of the time it takes to cook unthawed meat. Defrosting a steak is less tricky to do than cooking it longer; you mostly don’t have to keep an eye on it as it thaws and you just let it be.
It’s important, however, that your defrosting method is done properly. In this case, we don’t want to follow in the footsteps of our moms when they used to leave anything on the counter to defrost.
Surprisingly, your safety is at risk here! When you start to defrost your steak (or any meat for that matter) at temperatures warmer than 40 °F (or 4 °C), the bacteria that was present before freezing will then start to multiply. This is why, as you defrost your meat, you have to keep it at low temperatures.
You’re also risking the quality of your meat when you don’t defrost properly. If you expose it to higher temperatures instantly in an attempt to quickly defrost your meat, you’re bound to have a rubbery and grey steak.
Ways To Defrost Steak
There are several ways to defrost a steak (or any meat!). However, I’ve chosen the top two methods that would easily and safely defrost your steak. These methods have brought me a lot of success, both to improve my cooking methods and to quickly cook a great steak. These are also FDA-approved methods, so you are sure these are truly safe methods.
The safest and easiest way to thaw a steak is to move it from the freezer to the refrigerator. What this does is it keeps your meat at a lower temperature while defrosting it. This way, you will be able to prevent the buildup of bacteria, keeping your steak in the safe zone.
This is also a way to defrost steak with the lowest effort possible. However, this method requires planning ahead of time; defrosting in the refrigerator must be done overnight.
If you’re someone like me who constantly forgets these minuscule preparatory tasks, especially in cooking, you are probably already a big fan of the reminder app. Placing a note or alarm on your phone reminding you to defrost your steak will most likely help you remember to do so.
The second method that I would recommend is to use the cold water technique. This is a quicker way compared to the refrigerator method. First, place your frozen steak in a ziplock bag or any plastic in such a way that water would not be able to get into the plastic when you submerge the steak.
Get some cold water and put it in a bowl that would fit the steak and water. Then, place your packaged steak and submerge it in the cold water. You can do this over a sink to prevent any spilling.
Make sure to check the cold water from time to time, maybe around an hour or 30 minutes, depending really on how cold you make your water to be. Ideally, though, it has to be at 40 °F (or 4 °C) and below. When the water gets too warm or tepid, make sure to replace it immediately.
We replace the cold water regularly in order to keep the temperature in the safe zone. This way, you’ll be able to defrost your steak quickly and at a safe pace. However, do not expect this to be an instant fix; this will probably take at least 3 to 4 hours.
The idea of this method is that the temperature difference between the water and the steak helps the meat increase its temperature gradually. The “heat” from the water flows into the steak slowly, and since the water is also exposed to air, the heat from the surroundings also adds to the heat in the water. This is why we have to constantly replace the cold water.
Since you are essentially very slowly exposing your steak to heat, bacteria may still build up in the steak. This is why you cannot refreeze this steak raw after doing the cold water technique.
You must cook the steak immediately after it has been thawed through this technique. You can only refreeze the steak after cooking. The refrigerator method, however, would help your meat safely freeze even after thawing.
The touch test is a simple way to determine if your steak is thoroughly defrosted. After washing your hands, try to poke it! It should be firm and there should be no icing left. Otherwise, keep your steak defrosting for longer or expect a longer cook time.
Mistakes and Myths
There are a lot of myths out there, especially for home cooks such as I that have simply learned to cook by observing what other people do. You might think that the best ways are done based on experience, but debunking home cooking myths can be a helpful way to level up your cooking experience and skillset.
- Microwave defrost
I get the appeal of microwave defrosting. I mean, there must be a defrosting option on your microwave for a reason! It also seems like a quick and easy way to defrost your steak and instantly cook it.
I can tell you from experience that this is also a quick and easy way to lower the quality of your meat. This is because the sudden introduction of heat to the steak will tense up the meat, keeping it that way even after you properly cook it.
It is also heat that is simply not hot enough to cook the steak properly but too hot to simply thaw the steak. This is why, after doing this method, you will get a chewy texture and a slab of greyish meat, something that is simply not appetizing.
If this is your last resort, though, you must do this in intervals of 5-10 seconds. This is so that the effects of sudden increases in temperature are not as drastic as it would be when you thaw it for, say, 2 minutes straight. You also must cook it right after.
- Leaving steak overnight on the counter
This is a method that home cooks usually do for all kinds of meat, ranging from chicken to turkey to steak. Although this is the easiest and the quickest way to defrost meat, it is also the most dangerous one.
If you defrost meat this way, the bacteria that might have been frozen along with the steak will multiply as the temperature increases to a number above 40 °F (or 4 °C). You don’t want to risk your safety for convenience.
- Steak in a bowl of water
This method might be quick and easy, and will definitely defrost your meat quickly, but it will also quickly lower the quality and taste of your meat.
Although some cooks swear by this method, I personally would not recommend this. This method will make your steak lose some of its juices which contain the flavor and essence of the steak. Putting it under running water will even speed up the process of removing and draining your juices.
- Frozen is a no go
Some people think that frozen food cannot be cooked and that it is imperative to defrost your meat. However, it is definitely safe to do so! Since you are raising the temperature of the meat continuously – unlike when you raise the temperature suddenly and bring it back to the breeding temperature of bacteria – you are safely hitting two birds with one stone.
The catch, however, is that you’ll be cooking for 50 percent longer than the time it takes to cook fully thawed meat.
Although cooking steak itself is already a trick feat on its own, defrosting it is even trickier if you don’t give it the right time. Make sure to always plan ahead in order to prevent you from resorting to methods that would risk both the safety and the quality of the meat.
Try to set an alarm to remind you to defrost your meat a day before cooking. This will give you much success not only in cooking your steak but also in cooking in general. After all, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.