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How-To

Freezing and Thawing 101

How to get safe, delicious results

Fine Cooking Issue 67
Photo: Scott Phillips
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We all have a favorite kitchen appliance, one that we couldn’t imagine being without. For me, it’s the freezer. It holds everything I need—frozen tortillas and breads, an assortment of vegetables and meats—to make tasty meals within minutes of arriving home from work. And when time is on my side, I know I’ll have chopped herbs, homemade stock, berries, pastry dough, and many other ingredients at hand to prepare more elaborate dishes.

It might seem like the only role you play in freezing is finding space in the freezer, but actually there’s a lot you can do to streamline the freezing process and to keep your food in optimum condition.

There’s one thing I don’t like about frozen food: thawing it. From a food-safety perspective, that’s when you court trouble. As food thaws, the outer surface warms up first. Cells that were damaged during freezing release nutrients and moisture. And in some foods, this can create ideal conditions for pathogens to grow and multiply.

The table below lists foods that freeze well and those that don’t. Before you put an item in the freezer, stick a label on it. Write the item’s name and the date it was prepared. The guidelines below will help you calculate a “use-by” date.

Foods that freeze well

  • Red meat: 4 to 12 months
  • Poultry: 9 to 12 months
  • Seafood: 3 to 6 months
  • Raw bacon: 1 to 2 months
  • Some casseroles: 1 to 4 months
  • Soup, stew, and stock:
  • 2 to 4 months
  • Cooked legumes: 4 to 6 months
  • Whole berries: 8 to 12 months
  • Peeled ripe bananas:
  • 2 to 4 weeks
  • Blanched vegetables:
  • 2 to 12 months, depending on the vegetable
  • Bread: 6 to 8 months
  • Pie dough: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Nuts: 6 to 12 months
  • Butter: 6 to 9 months
  • Egg whites: 12 months
  • Flour: 6 to 12 months

Foods that don’t freeze well

  • High-moisture vegetables like lettuce, celery, and cabbage become watery.
  • Cream and custard fillings separate.
  • Meringue toughens.
  • Milk undergoes flavor changes.
  • Sour cream and yogurt separate.
  • Heavy cream won’t whip after being frozen.

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