Here's How Long Beef Can Safely Be Frozen In Its Different Forms

frozen beef steaks
frozen beef steaks - Ilia Nesolenyi/Getty Images

The freezer is one of the best tools you have at your disposal, and all the more so when it comes to things like beef that you may want to buy in bulk. Some forms of beef were never cheap, but nobody can deny that things have gotten a little tighter with the inflation of meat prices in the last few years. Declining beef stocks have been driven by drought, leading to some of the lowest levels of beef production since the 1970s. And whenever anything at the grocery store gets more expensive, buying in bulk always becomes a more enticing proposition. But for even the biggest beef eaters out there, bulk purchases can mean waste, especially for something that will last less than a week in the fridge. That's where the freezer comes to the rescue.

Stocking up on more affordable beef cuts is a sound financial choice, but like any food storage, you have to be safe about it. As much as frozen foods may seem like they last forever, even something in the freezer has a shelf life. Eating old frozen food (as long as your freezer is working properly and the food is properly packaged) should not actually get you sick, but there is a noticeable drop in quality because of freezer burn. And let's be real, shriveled, leathery beef is essentially inedible, so it's wasted just the same. Here is how you should store different types of frozen beef, and how long they each last.

Read more: What Happens If You Accidentally Eat Mold?

How Long Can Ground Beef Be Frozen?

ground beef
ground beef - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

The U.S. Government's food safety program has guidance on many frozen foods, and according to those guidelines, properly stored ground beef and other ground meats can be stored in the freezer for three to four months. The most clear sign that your ground beef has gone bad in the freezer is ice crystals developing and covering the exterior of the meat. Ground beef that has become freezer burned may also show signs of discoloration and desiccation as water it lost to the air.

Ground beef can be frozen in a variety of packaging, but the most important thing is keeping air out. It can be stored in its original wrapping from the store as long as it hasn't been opened and is air tight. If not, ground beef can be wrapped in plastic wrap, foil, or in a plastic bag with the air squeezed out. If you use air tight bags, look for labels saying freezer safe, as some bags are too thin to safely store frozen meat for extended periods. It can also help to flatten and shape your ground beef into a square or rectangle so the packaging can wrap around it with minimal air pockets.

The two safest ways to thaw ground beef are in the fridge and in the microwave, but the refrigerator will give the best results. Wrapped ground beef can simply sit in the fridge to thaw and should do so in under two hours.

How Long Can Steaks And Beef Roasts Be Frozen?

variety of raw steaks
variety of raw steaks - Katarzyna Hurova/Shutterstock

Fresh steaks, roasts, and other popular cuts of beef will last longer in the freezer then ground beef, from four to 12 months. Because of the more variable time frame, it's important to be aware of freezer burn, and like ground beef, freezer burned beef cuts may show ice crystal growth and discoloration. You can also smell it, as freezer burned beef may have a plastic-like scent, especially after being defrosted.

Like ground beef, you can wrap steaks and chops tightly in plastic wrap before moving them to the freezer. It may also help to give your pricier cuts of beef added protection with extra layers. You can double up on wraps with both plastic and foil, and this is a place where parchment paper or butcher paper is very helpful as wax-coated paper is very effective at keeping out moisture. Another good layer is a larger airtight container, like a freezer-safe bag.

Unlike ground beef, you should not make the mistake of defrosting steaks and roasts in the microwave, as larger cuts will cook as they defrost, even on lower settings. The fridge is again the best option, although it can take 24 hours or more for some large cuts to fully defrost. If you need to defrost beef quickly, make sure it is still in airtight packaging and submerge it in cold water, which should defrost at 30 to 45 minutes per pound.

How Long Can Cooked Beef Be Frozen?

cooked steak on black wood
cooked steak on black wood - sweet marshmallow/Shutterstock

Not everyone is freezing beef from the start — you may be in a situation with a lot of leftover steak or beef. If that's the case, it can still be frozen but could go bad in the freezer in as little as two months, although it may last up to six. The signs of freezer burn will still be the same with cooked meat, but discoloration will be harder to spot if the beef is already cooked to brown. Remember, freezer burn happens from moisture being drawn out of your meat by the cold air, and cooked beef is always going to have less moisture than it did raw, so you have less time until it gets burned.

Cooked beef can be stored in much the same way that steaks and chops are. Simply wrap it in plastic or foil, ideally aided with another layer like wax paper or a freezer-safe bag. Because of the lack of moisture, be even more careful to make sure it is airtight. One extra precaution to take with cooked beef in the freezer is to store it below other items just in case any juices seep out of the wrapping before it freezes.

Like uncooked beef, the best way to defrost is to let cooked beef sit in the fridge. However, because it's already been heated, defrosting in the microwave is a safe and more viable option for cooked beef if you want it done quickly.

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